Friday, 17 February 2023

Paperback's Pondering's: "Performative" Reading: When Reading Books by Marginalized People Became Popular

CW: this post will discuss the murder of George Floyd, the discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C., residential schools, and anti-Black racism 

On my social media feed, I never saw more people reading books written by Black people than in the first few weeks after the murder of George Floyd. Suddenly, my timeline was flooded with people reading THUG by: Angie Thomas, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by: Reni Eddo-Lodge, and So You Want to Talk About Race by: Ijeoma Oluo. I too joined the cause to read more books by Black authors, and even books written by other marginalized groups, as I recognized that Indigenous folks in Canada face similar prejudices. But, after a few weeks passed, action on social media seemed to quiet down, and some Black creators began commenting about how the fight needs to continue way beyond when a Black person is murdered. 

I can't remember the exact video they said this, but I remember when Jesse @ Bowties and Books asked poignantly why a Black man had to die for people to start reading books written by Black people. I thought they really put into words the culture of social activism that occurs when something terrible happens, when everyone wants to get involved, but how the activism doesn't always continue past the tragedy. This quote also allowed me to consider when I read books by marginalized authors, but more specifically, what books by marginalized authors I read. Yes, it's important to educate oneself about the trauma that marginalized folks face, but it is also crucial to integrate books of marginalized folks experiencing joy. We need to see marginalized individuals beyond the stereotypes of "victims and perpetuators" (which Eve Tuck so eloquently puts in her article: "Suspending Damage," link below!) 

So, why I am I bringing up this conversation in 2023? Because earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a talk with Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who is a Mississauga Nishnaabeg writer, and Robyn Maynard, who is a Black Canadian writer. One person in the conversation asked the two writers about allyship, which prompted me to ask them how they felt about the performative activism regarding reading that occured in 2020 and even in 2021 after the discovery of unmarked graves near a former residential school in B.C. I wanted to get their opinions on this very polarizing and complicated discussion, as it has been something I have been pondering over the years. Is all reading for activism good, even if it is performative? When does reading for activism become performative? Is it when Indigo puts out a table in their stores during Pride Month to celebrate LGBTQ+ voices? Is that enough? 

Robyn Maynard answered first, and she said something that really opened my eyes. She started off her statement by saying that she had a "controversial" opinion on the subject, which is that she doesn't really care how non-Black individuals consume Black abolitionist content, as long as they are doing so. She said that if someone thinks that reading books on abolition is "cool" then who is she to stop them? She did consider that continuity is a problem, so if someone is not consuming Black-led content on a regular basis, then we can look critically on that, but overall, she sees any reading of Black books to be a good thing, regardless of intention. 

Maynard's comments allowed me to think about performative reading and how BIPOC writers and readers may have a diversity of opinions on the subject. I think I had limited myself to the viewpoint that if someone is really only reading activist books for the "hype," then they are not contributing to activism as a whole. But Maynard really helped me to see the chain reaction that occurs once someone reads a book. They may like it, they may post about it on social media, and that inspires other people to pick up the book. Yes, hype may be a factor in this reading, but if someone does take something away from the book, then something was gained from the hype. Continuity is something that needs to be addressed, but at its core, performative reading may help to gain more readership in a positive way. 

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson expanded on Robyn's comments by noting how social media activism played a role in the Idle No More movement. Overall, both of these scholars note that we can often critique performative activism and reading for its intention, but there is also major positives to be gained when someone shares and posts these texts. This conversation helped me to recognize that I need to look at different perspectives on this subject because I think I put my opinion in a box and just looked at the critiques, while I failed to listen to BIPOC authors who suggested other viewpoints. 

Overall, all of this is just to say that yes, performative activism and performative reading should be critiqued when continuity comes into question. Also, it is completely valid for BIPOC folks to be angry when books become hyped only at the time of trauma. I think this problem reflects widely on capitalism capitalizing on when things go viral on social media. However, it is also important to see the positives in privileged folks consuming activist content, and perhaps we can trick the system so that capitalism ultimately becomes a way to get more of these books into the hands of people who need to learn from them. This talk inspired me to listen to different viewpoints and understand that not all BIPOC artists will have the same opinion on a subject, and that's okay! Learning involves diversity, and sometimes a question doesn't have just one answer. In this case, I think Maynard and Betasamosake Simpson answered my question quite well. 

What do you think about performative activism/reading? Have you ever put your opinion into a box and failed to see differing perspectives? 

Eve Tuck's article: Suspending Damage 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Wednesday, 8 February 2023

Dancing with the Octopus by: Debora Harding

Genre: memoir

Published: August 27, 2020 by: Bloomsbury 

Pages: 384 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: kidnapping, sexual assault, PTSD, familial abuse 

Debora Harding grew up in Omaha Nebraska, with a temperamental mother and an absent-minded father. In the winter of 1978, she is abducted a knifepoint and held for ransom by a man who will show no remorse for his crimes as Debora's life continues. While Debora is rescued and her captor is persecuted, her young adult life is forever changed not only because of her assault, but because of her parents' lack of concern for the PTSD she may be suffering. As Debora moves into her adult life, she begins to undertake a project to meet with her kidnapper in order to attempt to bring herself some closure from a life not only corrupted by a terrifying assault, but also significantly impacted by her absent and abusive parents. 

I picked up this book on a whim from the library in the "true crime" section. I am incredibly weary of true crime texts because I think the general public's obsession with reading about other people's trauma should be looked at critically. But something about the title of this book, and the cover, intrigued me. I am always willing to read a memoir, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I was amazed at Debora's intelligent prose, her willingness to integrate dark humour into an incredibly traumatic story, and most importantly, her ability to highlight that her assault and kidnapping were not the only abusive events she encountered in her childhood. I think Harding is an incredible writer, and I would encourage all those who enjoy memoirs to give this one a read. 

I am pretty receptive to dark humour within texts. But, a book that manages to integrate dark humour into a crime involving kidnapping and assault seems daunting. Harding's humour may be tough for some to digest. But, I could really see how humour was used by her as a coping mechanism as she tried to deal with her trauma without any help from her family. When her family wasn't there, humour allowed for her to escape from all of the harsh realities of her current situation. I admired Harding's willingness to be open about such a difficult time in her life in the events after her kidnapping, and her humour I think helped for me to see just how seriously she was neglected by her family after her assault. 

Harding characterizes her kidnapper, and her parents, with honest portrayals that is needed in order for the reader to see how serious her situation was. She absolutely does not sugar-coat anything, and she often refers to her kidnapper as a "fucking asshole," and recounts in visceral detail the insensitive and victim-blaming statements her mother said to her after her assault. These statements are difficult to get through, and I would encourage everyone to go through the content warnings and approach this book with caution. It is tough. However, I can see that through writing this book, Harding was able to hold nothing back because she was told to hold everything back within her childhood. This book gives her the ability to unload her trauma when her parents would rather have had her forget about it. If you can get through these harsh portrayals, then you can really see why using visceral details is therapeutic for Harding. 

A key moment in the text that I found was handled with sensitivity and incredible intelligence is when Harding talks about the race of her kidnapper. Harding was kidnapped by a Black man, and as a white woman, she is very much aware of the conversations that arise when considering racial stereotypes and crime. Harding's explanation is thoughtful and very informative. She acknowledges the stereotypes that Black men face when it comes to crime, and she also explains how Black people are disproportionally incarcerated in US prisons. She also recognizes that this man happened to be Black, but cautions readers against making her crime an example that these stereotypes are true. I don't think Harding had to discuss race at all in her book, but the fact that she took the time to explain racial stereotypes and how her kidnapper's crime does not invite readers to perpetuate harmful stereotypes was incredibly thoughtful. 

Overall, this book was a shocking, deeply personal account of what happens in the aftermath of a crime to victims who do not have familial support. I think Harding's story is one that everyone who is interested in true crime should read, as this book shows that behind the glamourization of criminals within popular culture, there are real victims whose lives are anything but entertainment. 

Have you read Dancing with the Octopus? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 3 February 2023

Month in Review: January

We all survived the first month of 2023, go us! This month was filled with loads of stress, but also loads of reading. Here's what happened: 

What I Read: 

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by: Gabrielle Zevin: 4/5 stars 

Funny You Should Ask by: Elissa Sussman: 4/5 stars 

Slash by: Jeanette Armstrong: 4/5 stars 

Time's Convert by: Deborah Harkness: 4/5 stars 

One Italian Summer by: Rebecca Serle: 3/5 stars 

Bridgerton Series books 1-3: avg. rating: 3.5/5 stars 

I read a lot this month! When I'm stressed, I read, and this month was full of stress reading. I would say my favourite book would be Tomorrow x3 by: Gabrielle Zevin. I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did, but it was a really poignant character-driven novel that will tug at your heart strings. 

What I Blogged: 

I'm still on top of reviews, which meets one of my New Year's Resolutions. My review on You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty would probably be my favourite review I wrote this month, as it was fun to try to put my complicated feelings towards this book into words. 

Favourite Blog Posts: 

Claire reviews Emily Ratajkowski's "My Body." 

Nicole's releasing her Debut MG Novel in Verse 

Cee says: You Can't Do All of the Things, All of the Time (And That's Ok) 

Life Stuff: 

As I mentioned before, I was a bit stressed this month. Writing the research proposal for my PhD applications (due on February 1st) was a very trying time, as I had a lot of different opinions on how the proposal should go that I just really ended up writing in circles. It's submitted now, and all I can really do is wait. I really don't know what I'm going to do if I don't get in, but I'm trying to tell myself now that I can't predict the future or what the committee's going to think, and that rejection is a part of life. (Even though it really sucks). 

Other than that, I've been working as a teaching assistant at the university I did my degrees at, and it's been fun! I really enjoy leading seminars and grading papers, and it's been a welcome distraction from the chaos. Next week the students start learning about The Marrow Thieves, which as some of you may know, is a book really important to me, and it's going to be really rewarding to share with the students why this book is important to learn from. 

So now we start the waiting game for hopefully some acceptance letters, and just continue going though the motions of life. I do hope all of you guys had a good January. 

Emily @ Paperback Princess