If you want to publish a truly subversive novel, have a main character who’s fat


Beth Younger, Drake University

Banned Books Week, held this year from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, is an annual event designed to draw national attention to the harms of censorship. Created in 1982 by the American Library Association in response to a growing number of “challenged” books in schools and libraries, the week is really about celebrating the freedom to read.

Much of the practice of book banning takes the form of challenging a book deemed subversive and objectionable, with profanity or sexual content often the book challengers’ source of ire.

These days, such campaigns can elicit an eye roll: everyone knows that teens are regularly exposed to profanity and sex online and on TV. (Rather than try to ban books, a better approach is to instead teach media literacy so young people are better able to contextualize what they’re exposed to.)

The problem is that when you go after books for swears or sex, you might also be threatening books that are truly subversive: the ones that confront our unconscious biases, whether it’s weight or race, and question the way we tend to think about ourselves and others. One frequently challenged book – Rainbow Rowell’s 2013 young adult novel “Eleanor & Park” – does just that.

Challenged in Minnesota

“Eleanor & Park” is a romance novel about two misfits who become friends, fall in love and endure the cruelties of the world: abusive parents, poverty and bullying.

The same year it was published, a parent group in the Anoka-Hennipin school district in Minnesota tried (and failed) to get the book removed from the curriculum and school libraries. But they did manage to get the author’s visit to Anoka High School canceled.

Citing 227 instances of profanity, the parents alleged that “Eleanor & Park” was “littered with extreme profanity and age inappropriate subject matter that should never be put into the hands and minds of minor children, much less promoted by the educational institutions and staff we entrust to teach and protect our children.”

What are we afraid of?

Banning books in the United States is nothing new, and there’s a long history of trying to prevent people (mostly kids and teens) from reading things some think they shouldn’t read.

It seems that the only thing worse than sex or the “f word” in young adult literature is being a lesbian. Depicting a gay couple got copies of Nancy Garden’s 1982 lesbian romance novel “Annie on My Mind” burned on the steps of the Kansas City School District headquarters in 1993.

Young adult author Judy Blume.
Carl Lender/flickr, CC BY

Judy Blume’s books are famous for pushing the “decency” envelope. Her 1972 novel “Forever…” is also frequently banned for sexual content and for profanity. (Pretty much yearly since its publication, “Forever…” has been challenged by Focus on the Family or The Christian Coalition.)

But there’s another aspect to “Forever…” that’s rarely discussed: It has a fat character who has lots of sex. Sybil is often seen as a foil to the main character Katherine, a rail-thin control freak who loses her virginity deliberately and with purpose.

Sybil is the other side of the body image spectrum: She’s fat and “has been laid” by six guys. At least she gets to have sex, which is pretty uncommon for a fat girl in 1972 young adult fiction. (And there’s a penis named Ralph in the book, yet another reason to read this classic.)

But “Forever…” is an extreme outlier. The way the media depicts fat characters – and fat people – has been a problem for generations. In 2011 NPR aired a piece on fat stereotypes in pop culture. The report dissected the typical fat character in TV shows and films: someone “self-loathing” and “desperate to be loved.”

Of course, the lives of fat people aren’t much different from those of thin people. But you wouldn’t know that from the way fat bodies are portrayed on TV and in film. Research on “weight bias in the media” suggests that most representations of fat people in media are stigmatizing. More research suggests that shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “More to Love” reinforce anti-fat bias rather than fat acceptance.

We were all teenagers once

This is why “Eleanor & Park” is so refreshingly different.

Like many protagonists in young adult novels, Eleanor is a teenager who’s desperate to be an adult so she can escape her awful circumstances. But while the parents trying to ban the book pounced on the profanity, they ignored one of the novel’s biggest triumphs: Eleanor is fat. Yes, Eleanor is a fat female protagonist in a young adult romance novel and she’s in love – she even has a cute boyfriend named Park.

The cover art for Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Eleanor & Park.’
Amazon

As author John Green wrote in a review of the novel, “…the obstacle in ‘Eleanor & Park’ is simply the world. The world cannot stomach a relationship between a good-looking Korean kid and Big Red.” (Big Red is Eleanor’s nickname.)

Last year, Buzzfeed writer Kaye Toal penned a beautiful personal essay about discovering Eleanor in an airport bookstore. Part of what struck Toal as significant about Eleanor is that she is fat yet is not required to become thin or change in order to be loved. Despite the recent increase in fat characters appearing on television and in movies, many of them are required to change in order to be accepted. Not surprisingly, another study published in 2013 connects the prevalence of the “thin ideal” in popular literature to low self-esteem in female readers.

Letting Eleanor be fat and be loved is much needed in today’s climate of “the obesity epidemic” and misplaced concerns with fatness. Park loves Eleanor; she loves him back. A simple story, but with a difference. Eleanor’s fat is not really a crucial aspect of her being. She doesn’t need to be fixed.

That’s what makes this lovely and painful novel subversive – and what makes efforts to ban it all the more misguided.

The Conversation

Beth Younger, Associate Professor of English & Women’s and Gender Studies, Drake University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Book Review: Currently Reading – Print is Dead, by Jeff Gomez


I have been reading ‘Print is Dead – Books in our Digital Age,’ by Jeff Gomez and have now completed my reading of it. The final chapter ‘Will Books Disappear?’ asks the obvious question concerning books in a digital future. The answer is both yes and no I think. Certainly books will still be around for the foreseeable future – niche products, throw away copies, second-hand books, collectors items, etc. However, traditional book production will certainly slow and far fewer will be printed and distributed in the ‘traditional’ manner.

In the digital age, Print on Demand services may grow and maintain popularity for a period, with services like Google Books allowing the ability to print an out of print work cheaply and quickly. Allowing these works to also be accessed via the World Wide Web and in ebook format will limit the use of this technology I would think.

With the content of books still being the main resource, employment around the content of books should also remain. The need for editors, publishers and the like, will still be required for excellence in ebook production. The quality of books should continue undiminished, though there will also be avenues for lesser quality works via the World Wide Web. So the book will not disappear, only its appearance will be transformed and the content remain the same.

 

Closing Thoughts on the Book

‘Print is Dead – Books in our Digital Age’ covers no new ground, but it does cover the same ground of the traditional book versus the ebook very well. It presents its case and does it well. Traditional book champions will more than likely remain unmoved by the arguments of Jeff Gomez and those that herald the arrival of ebooks will probably agree with the sentiment expressed in the pages of this book. I believe ‘Print is Dead’ presents a very balanced argument for ebooks in the digital age and presents a future for books that is upon us, in inevitable and that offers up some wonderful possibilities if we are willing to embrace them. I would recoomend this book to anyone interested in the traditional book versus ebook debate.

See also:
http://www.dontcallhome.com/books.html (Website of Jeff Gomez)
Podcast (Excerpts from the Book)
Google Books
Amazon

Site Libraries and At the BookShelf


I have been working on the two book libraries (of sorts) that I have on two of my websites. These libraries are being redeveloped and there is quite a bit of work to be done on both of these sites. Let’s look at the two libraries in a little more detail.

 

Tracing our History – History

The first library is hosted at Tracing our History and this library is part of the History section of the site. This library is the smallest of the two libraries, though it will continue to grow in size over time.

History is the main page of the History section of the Tracing our History site and doubles as the main directory to the History library. At the moment the library is a library of links to works on Australian history in particular and other areas of history that I am interested in. Works that were previously hosted at Tracing our History are currently unavailable until they have been reviewed and made available in pdf format. There are however a number of books available via links that are of a high quality and in my opinion, very important and/or valuable works.

Visit the History page at:
http://tracingourhistory.com/history.html

 

The Book Room

The second library is hosted at particularbaptist.com and is called simply ‘The Book Room,’ where old books are not forgotten. It is also known as The Particular Baptist Library, with an emphasis on Particular Baptist and good, solid, Reformed works. The Book Room features a directory to the various sections of the library in the right column of each page. This makes navigation of the site a relatively simply exercise.

As with the previous library at Tracing our History, there are a large number of books available via links to other sites. Most of these links should now be in working order, having recently been checked. As with the previous library, works hosted at particularbaptist.com are being reviewed and being replaced by PDF versions. This will take time to complete and currently those works are still available in HTML format.

Future plans for The Book Room include having dedicated pages for each work hosted at particularbaptist.com, including sections on each book page for book reviews, a Scribd widget for reading and downloading PDF versions of the book, additional resources on the book, links to other versions of the book and purchasing options for the book via online bookshops like Amazon. An example of this approach is ‘The Sermons of Hugh Latimer,’ which can be found at:

http://particularbaptist.com/library/latimer_sermons_contents.html

The Book Room can be found at:
http://particularbaptist.com/library/libraryindex.html

 

At the BookShelf

This Blog, ‘At the BookShelf,’ will be linked to both of these libraries, being the vehicle whereby news of added content, book reviews, and so on, will be broadcast. Of course At the BookShelf will remain a place for reviewing books and sharing my experience of them, but I do plan for At the BookShelf being a way of sharing what I read in a more valuable way also – by actually making available what I read to those who are entering into my reading experience, be that by way of an ebook hosted on one of my sites, an ebook hosted elsewhere or by links to places where the book may be purchased.

At the BookShelf and the two libraries already mentioned will also interact with my other book reading and sharing activities on the World Wide Web at such places as Goodreads, Shelfari and Book Crossing, as well as at other sites that I may become involved in over time. There will also be interaction with Quotista (a site for sharing quotes) and possibly another Blog I maintain for the purposes of quotes from books (which currently I use for private purposes).

With all of my involvement in book sharing social networks, web applications, web sites and the like, At the BookShelf will be a rich meeting place for all things to do with books and should be the better for it. I hope it will be a place of interest and usefulness for others. It will also be a place for sharing my personal experiences with books, which may or may not be of interest to visitors of this Blog. I guess time will tell.

 

Visitor Interaction

I welcome visitor interaction on all of my sites, including this Blog. On all of my sites I try to make available the means for interacting with visitors for sharing information, making comments, etc. Please make use of the means for doing so, though I do reserve the right for removing content that I don’t approve of (such as Spam, offensive comments, etc).

 

 

‘Shameful Flight – The Last Years of the British Empire in India,’ by Stanley Wolpert


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

‘Shameful Flight’ relates the history of the final years of the British Raj in India, including the partition of India into both Pakistan (West and East) and India, and the early hostility of the two new nations destined for perpetual warfare in such regions as the Kashmir.The history of this era of political instability on the subcontinent includes all the main players from Great Britain, India and Pakistan.These main players include Winston Churchill, Viceroy Louis Mountbatten, Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah. There is not a single figure in this history of India’s partition who comes out of it in a good light, though several seem to have had very well-intentioned aims and motivations. It is the true story of lost opportunity and the devastating consequences of human pride and selfishness that have reverberated down through the decades to the present day and remain visible in the continuing clashes between India and Pakistan, as well as in the extremism expressed in both the Islamic and Hindu communities throughout the sub-continent. It is a story of perpetual tragedy and human suffering with no end in sight.

This book is extremely easy to read, passes on a wealth of historical information and whets the appetite for further research on the India/Pakistan situation. It provides enlightenment, by bringing understanding to the current political instability in both India and Pakistan, by clearly revealing the root of the problem – the manner of the birth of both nations out of British imperialism and that nation’s final haphazard departure aptly described as a ‘Shameful Flight.’ This is a great book for understanding the sub-continent and the wounds it still carries to this day.

This book was provided to me for review by Oxford University Press – www.oup.com

Yes – I’m a Bibliophile!!!


OK, I admit it – I’m a Bibliophile. What is a Bibliophile? Basically, a bibliophile is someone who loves books and loves collecting books. I am a book collector – but not in all topic areas. I only collect books in the areas that interest me.

I also love to read books – which I guess makes me a bookworm. Once again, I only read books in the areas that interest me.

See the article below for a discussion on Bibliophilia, etc:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliophilia

So what areas interest me – well the list below is not an exhaustive list, but it does cover the main areas of my literary interests:

  • Theology

  • Church History

  • History

  • Wilderness

  • Genealogy

There are other areas into which I sometimes dip my toes, such as horticulture, cooking, etc. However, it is the above areas that really interest me.

LIFE AT THE BOOKSHELF: A Life Around Books


I have spent a lot of my time around books. I love books. I can’t have enough books – at least it certainly seems that way. I’m always on the lookout for books. I don’t buy a lot of new books these days, however, if there is a good one – well, I just have to buy it.

I’ve always read a lot. Early in life I probably read more out of necessity in order to pass subjects and exams. It wasn’t until I left school that I really got a passion for books. What spurred my passion for books was my growing interest in Christianity and my subsequent embrace of it. I just wanted to learn and to learn as much as I could. So I started to buy books

Somewhere along the track I became interested in reading books of other subjects as well, especially books to do with history. I also read novels, but for me to read a novel it has to have a great plot. One of my favourite authors is Tom Clancy, which probably gives you some idea of the type of novels I read.

Of course I collected books on horticulture (I trained as a horticulturist), cooking, computers, travel, wilderness and other areas that I was interested in. However my real passion in books has always been theological and historical.

At the moment my life is in a ‘treading water-like’ situation. I’m probably still another 6 months away from moving into another home to rent (I currently live in a caravan park in a cabin), so the vast majority of my books are in storage and I can’t get at them because they are quite some distance away and I don’t have a car. There probably isn’t a day that goes by that I wish I had access to some book or another. I am longing for the day when I’ll be able to make use of all my books again.

I’ve probably managed to collect another couple of boxes of books in the time I have been away from them and I am slowly accumulating a collection of them in the cabin. They are enough to get me by at this stage, but my various interests are crying out for the books to assist me in them.

I have begun to place a listing of the books I own on my web site at particularbaptist.com and will eventually add them to my Shelfari presence as well. A look at the list (which is nowhere near complete) soon gives an idea of the number of books I have.

See the list at:

http://www.particularbaptist.com/kevins/kevinslibrary.html

See my Shelfari Profile at:

http://www.shelfari.com/particularkev

I have also started accumulating books online at both the particularbaptist.com website and the Kevin’s Family – History Site. These two virtual libraries encapsulate the two main areas of my passion for books – theology and history.

It is for these two libraries (other than my own interest of course) that I am buying out of copyright theological and historical books. Gradually I am building up my collection of online books in these libraries, sharing my passion for books and the wealth in books with a much wider audience.

Visit the libraries at:

http://particularbaptist.com/library/libraryindex.html

http://particularbaptist.com/matthewshistory/library/articles.html

Not only do these libraries contain the works that I have collected and put online, they also have many links to others works that others have placed online. In short, these two virtual libraries have an enormous amount of resources in them – enough to keep the most avid reader going for a life time.

I have now started the ‘At The BookShelf’ Blog and the ‘Reformed Reading Group’ at Shelfari to provide another aspect to sharing my passion for books, especially in the two areas I have mentioned – theology and history. With these two latest sites I will be able to interact with visitors and discuss various books, what we have learnt, questions and issues raised, enjoy fellowship, etc. So I am really hoping that my visitors will join the Reformed Reading Group (I am thinking especially of Reformed Christians here obviously – though others are most welcome) and get involved in the discussion, as well as having visitors interacting via the comments provision here at ‘At The BookShelf.’

Visit the Reformed Reading Group at:

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/36946/about

What I intend to post here in the Blog are reviews of the books I have read and possibly some quotes from some of the books also. I will probably also be posting URLs for new books (old books) I post in the two virtual libraries also.

What else is left to say but please get involved at some of the sites I have mentioned? You won’t regret it.