Jul. 29th, 2009

rockinlibrarian: (librarians)
Well, I said I would try to blog more often, and so I shall. I do want to put up an essay on geeks and exercise, which I alluded to the other day. And I do want to start writing more book reviews on here, because dangit, I love talking about books, and you all NEED to know all the great stuff that's out in kids and YA fiction lately because not enough people outside The Industry DO (and pretty much everyone I KNOW on here is outside The Industry, though it looks like a FEW insiders are reading me, too).

But last week in the YA lit blogs there was a big discussion about race in books, inspired by this snafu here. Most of you haven't been following the same blogs as me, I know, but I'm not going to rehash EVERYTHING EVERYBODY said on the variety of discussion. I'm just going to write about something I thought about while reading all this discussion. See, eventually among all these blogs this week, somebody posed a challenge: since we need to HEAR more about books with non-white main characters, book bloggers, seek such books out and BLOG about them please! And I thought, well great, I finally decide I'm going to blog about books more, and the challenge goes up to blog about books that are NOT the books I just read and was GOING to blog about. Although, this is not actually true-- TWO of the books in my current pile from the library, Marcelo in the Real World and A Wizard Alone, have Latino main characters, which supposedly counts as "non-white" in this discussion, though personally I think that's part of the confusion-- there's race, and ethnicity, and nationality, and so on and so forth... but anyhoo, I actually WAS going to write about those books eventually, but the ethnicity of the main characters wasn't even going to come up in discussion. And no wonder! I got the first book out because it's about a kid with PDD like my brother (who happens to be Latino), and I always check out the ASD-related books; I got the second out because I friggin' LOVE the Young Wizards series (although curiously THIS particular book ALSO involved an ASD character, coincidentally), the first of which I got out just because I love fantasy and it sounded good, and I never thought about Kit's family background when the fact that he's a WIZARD might be slightly more important to the plot.

So when people challenged milky-white folks like myself to really THINK about whether you WOULD pick up a book with, for example, a black person on the cover, I had to think... because hmm, I probably wouldn't, but that's because the books like that DO tend to be REALISTIC PROBLEM NOVELS, which I hate.* If the publishers took a CHANCE and put a black person on the cover of a fantasy novel, we'd have a different story! Why, that's exactly what this controversy is about in the first place! I understand why everyone is up in arms now! The publishers are convinced minorities on the cover won't sell to white people, but that's because they DON'T TRY!

Anyway, to the beef of what I wanted to add to this discussion: all this got me thinking about ethnicity in fantasy novels, which is, it turns out, something I have thought about before. In library school we had an assignment: with a 500 dollar budget, take one subject-- not too specific, but not too broad-- and create a Core Collection in that subject for a middle school library. We were to decide what the very most important books on a middle school level were for that subject, and one of the requirements was to be as inclusive as possible-- represent a broad variety of viewpoints, through gender, economics, politics, sexual orientation, ethnicity, et cetera. Anyway, I took, surprise surprise, Fantasy for my part of the collection. And I was genuinely surprised, when I started to sort to see how broad my viewpoint variety was, just how LITTLE I was finding of books that didn't take place in European-like settings. I mean, FANTASY. Think of all the cultures and mythologies the world over that could be mined for story fodder! Why, I specificly asked in my project summary paper, were there not more fantasies taking place in Asia-like settings? That seemed like a brilliant set of mythologies to draw up a fantasy around, to me. The dragon-lore ALONE has so much potential!

One of my favorite books is The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer. It is an awesome book for many reasons, but one of the things that struck me MOST about it was the setting: 22nd century Zimbabwe. TWENTY-SECOND CENTURY ZIMBABWE! Tell me you have ever read another book with that setting! It was so awesome! And it struck me that, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever read any other books that take place in Zimbabwe, period! I was struck by how little I've actually read about Africa at all, outside of Egypt(Ancient Egypt, at that). And there is so much richness to be explored there! In some Internet survey I did recently, there was a question about a book they should make into a movie, and I thought of this one, and wondered why nobody had thought of it before. Now after reading all this discussion about marketing and minorities this week, I wonder if it DID come up, and the Hollywood Execs shot it down because they didn't think scifi starring black characters who aren't your typical cool-funny-streetwise-African-American would sell! That and the title doesn't exactly roll off ones tongue, but still. It's a cinematic enough story.

If marketing types honestly think people don't want to read about people who aren't Just Like Them, then they obviously are ignoring us SF/Fantasy fans. In the language of High Fantasy, after all, "race" has nothing to do with human skin color-- it refers to humans, and elves, and dwarfs, and orcs, and so on. I am not a Hobbit, and yet I named my son after one. I think, you know, I'm okay reading about HUMAN BEINGS who look different from me! So if you put a minority on a book cover, and, you know, include enough interesting fantasy elements to grab my attention, why do you think I'm going to pass it by? The logic doesn't follow. Sell it as "multicultural" and maybe I WILL think it's some boring getting-to-know-people-different-from-you! thing, but sell it as "an exciting funny fantasy-adventure!" and I'll be all over it no matter WHO the characters are. But you never TRY. You try to pretend, to use a famous example, the Earthsea characters are Caucasian, or that The Hero and the Crown doesn't take place in a very India-like setting, and then just ASSUME that your pretending is the only reason we boring privileged white folks would buy it! If you marketing types would TAKE THE CHANCE, you may find your previous understandings don't play out in reality after all.

And that is my contribution to the discussion.

*(Granted, Marcelo in the Real World is technically a Realistic Problem Novel, but it's a Problem I'm INTERESTED in, so it's okay).


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