Are Editorial Decisions an “Author Behavior”?

Roughly a dozen reviews of books edited by Trisha Telep were deleted recently in the purge of reviews about “author behavior” on Goodreads. All of the anthologies had been shelved do-not-read because of the editorial decisions of Telep concerning the anthology Wicked Pretty Things. Gather round for this story, friends.

Now, I don’t have the lowdown on everything that went on, but the broad strokes are as follows: Jessica Verday submitted a story to Telep which had, for its romantic leads, two boys. Everything was very g-rated in terms of content, but still, boys fell in love. It was rejected on the grounds that Telep thought a YA anthology should be “light on alternative sexuality”, and Verday was asked to change one of the boys into a girl. She refused, and pulled out of the anthology. Verday wrote about why she was pulling out of the anthology, which resulted inseveral other writers pulling out of this anthology. Additionally, a couple writers pulled out of other Telep edited anthologies, and more than a few calls for boycott of all of Telep’s work, if not Running Press entirely, went out. More than a few writers spoke publicly. Running Press issued a bizarre statement, somehow standing by both Telep and the LBGT community. Telep did eventually issue real sounding apology, though it was buried in a comment thread and apparently posted under someone else’s account. Running Press, in an op-ed in Publisher’s Weekly, wrote a nasty, inaccurate hatchet job of Verday, presumably to get her blackballed in the industry for being a trouble-maker. Eventually, the anthology was cancelled, presumably because so many people pulled out.

Here’s the thing: I see a lot of chickenshit marketing decisions made by editors, from whitewashing to…what is this called? straightwashing?…usually for the usual bullshit marketing reasons that “people racists won’t buy a book with a black face on the cover” or “OH NO TEH GAYS”. It’s out of my hands, they say, and I have to pander to the racist/sexist/homophobic common denominator because otherwise the book won’t sell. Also, occasionally, TEH CHILDREN: THINK OF THEM.

And it’s a tough call, as a reader, as to how we deal with these chickenshit editorial decisions. I have a collection of editions of the book A Wizard of Earthsea because that book is my heart. Earthsea has a black protagonist, and has, since its publication in the 60s, been whitewashed both in covers and in movie versions, and a lot. The original 1968 Ace paperback depicts a shirtless, well-cut blond man, arms outstretched in a Christ-like pose, with a blue-black beastie hulking on his shoulders.

In addition to being hideous and dated, this cover turns the main character, Ged, into some kind of gym-bunny with white skin, when he’s specifically described as having black skin in the book.

One could argue that the original cover was just a product of its time, but the whitewashing has persisted for decades. The 1991 Macmillan hardcover is slightly less egregious, at least in terms of art stylings, but Ged’s still a white boy. A figure in a blue monk’s cloak, or possibly a dress, fights off a shadow being with a staff.

(Or maybe he’s a girl? I don’t even know what’s going on there, given that all of the conflict in the story is emotional.) The 2004 SyFy channel miniseries “Earthsea” – which uses material from the first two Earthsea books -cast Ged as the blond, blue-eyed Shawn Ashmore, in addition to greater sins of adaption.

Or let’s take this more current. I was really discouraged by the cover for The Best of All Possible Worlds, which looks to me like a whitewashing. I presume that’s the main character, who is, again, specifically described as having dark skin in the text. A white face in close up is superimposed on a blown out white background. It’s possible this is just a dark face hyper blown out, in a nod to Kubrickian science fictional style, but it doesn’t exactly sit well given that he novel itself addresses race in interesting, clever, and sly ways, very carefully talking about how appearance informs culture and vice versa. I, personally, was able to overlook an editorial decision to get at a book that was so much better and more thoughtful than the cover.

But the editorial decisions by Telep, at the very least in this one instance, cut out the other and the sly, straightwashing these stories into the heteronormative usual. Buying this book wouldn’t be me overcoming an editorial decision to get at a more interesting content; it would be me buying into a vision of young adult literature that’s afraid of “alternative sexuality.” (I object to this phrasing.) Not that I can buy this book anyway, but the point stands: there are times when I think editorial tempering is so bad that I don’t want anything to do with the book, or the editor in general.

I’m too damn lazy to look this up, but I get the impression that lots of young adult literature is consumed by old adults, and pandering to the prejudices of a bunch of fully formed bigots instead of writing to the forming sexualities of teens, many of whom might be OH NO TEH GAY, is the worst kind of editorial cowardice. I know many people read young adult literature because they are scared of cussing and sex scenes, which I guess is fine as a personal preference, and of course the prim deserve reading material too. (But also kinda fuck those people, btw.) But I’m going to draw the line at coddling pearl-clutchers who can’t handle even the idea of gay teens in books for teens, as there was no sexual content in Verday’s story.

It is my firm belief that young adult literature should be for young adults, all of them, no exceptions. I do actually read young adult books, and have, mostly by accident, read one book edited by Telep, so this isn’t the idle thoughts of someone outside the genre. I thought the one Telep-edited book I read, Clockwork & Corsets, was pretty terrible, so maybe my decision not to read other books edited by Telep isn’t what you’d call a hard choice. I honestly don’t know if there’s been a capitulation on the part of Running Press or Telep since the mess two years ago. There is the one public apology, weird as it is, that seems to be earnest, although at least one writer who came forward saying that Telep had asked them to “de-gay” characters before (though anonymously) and it could be a more widespread thing with her editing. I’m not trying to tell you what to do, just give you the information as I see it.

But to bring this back to the review deletions: there is absolutely no good reason that Goodreads should be deleting reviews that mention this controversy. We all have to make choices about how we deal with the editorial decisions surrounding books, and straightwashing and whitewashing are so prevalent in the industry that silencing mention of them is not just foolhardy, but on the wrong side. For example, there’s been criticism of the casting of the movie version of Divergent for casting Four as white, when he has been described as biracial by the author, though interestingly, not in the text itself. Or the howling by racists that went up when Rue from Hunger Games was cast as black because –  surprise racists! – she was described as black in the text. Let us decide for ourselves with the full knowledge of the situation. We’re not idiots or children, and I resent immensely being treated like one.

And Goodreads should also get out of individual people’s decisions to boycott an editor or a writer for political reasons, and for reasons that are so inextricably bound in our notions of genre. I doubt very strongly that there would have been even the one apology if there hadn’t been significant pressure both from the writers pulling out of this edition, or readers putting their personal boycotts to bear. This anthology would have gone to press, and the bigots would have won. Public mention of this editorial decision is and was vital engagement. Goodreads has absolutely no business getting in the middle of this, silencing readers who have made choices about how they define and engage in a genre. Trisha Telep has one vision of young adult literature, and I reject it. I think erasing gay people from narrative is pretty terrible.

The thing that burns me is Goodreads’s continued silence, their lack of a clear definition of “author behavior”, and this mulish insistence that what they have in their FAQ is good enough. People keep saying that Goodreads apologized to the 21 users that had their reviews deleted, when what they really apologized for was deleting the reviews without notice. The original 21 were all warned not to repost of any of their reviews. I take this to mean that I am outside TOS right now, and that mentioning editorial interference is an “author behavior,” never mind how asinine that is. Never mind that this book cannot have reviews strictly about its content because it was never published; never mind that all the reviews standing are about this controversy as a result. The more I look into the delete list, the more incoherent and unworkable Goodreads’s definition of “author behavior” seems to be.

Goodreads owes us a godamn definition of “author behavior”, and they owe us a site-wide announcement. I swear to god I’ll keep writing these “author behavior” reviews about the reviews they deleted until they delete me or I get one.

Rise up while you can.

Is Being a Racist an “Author Behavior”?

(This was originally posted on Goodreads)

This is one of the books that had reviews deleted in the recent purge about “author behavior” here on Goodreads. You wanna know why? This author is an asshole and you shouldn’t read the book because of that.

But let’s talk about what exact kind of asshole Theodore Beale slash Vox Day is, and why you shouldn’t read this book. (The nom de plume Vox Day is a clever pseudonym meaning “voice of god”, gag.) Then let’s talk about how it’s egregious bullshit that Goodreads is silencing discussion of an author’s political and cultural views, views he has absolutely no qualms about voicing publicly and often, views that make me absolutely sick.

But let’s back up a bit. I’m an unapologetic science fiction nerd. So much so, that I actually pay attention to the teapot tempesting that goes on in SFWA. SFWA is the Science Fiction Writers of America, “a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres. Esteemed past and present members include Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury, and Andre Norton.” SFWA is responsible for the Nebula Award, which, along with the Hugo Award, constitute the two most prestigious awards that the genre offers (in the US of A at least.)

Nebula nominee N.K. Jemisin delivered a speech in Australia last year on the subject of race in science fiction. As much as love the crap out of the genre, science fiction and fantasy can be embarrassingly heternormative and whitewashed, a series of idyllic futures and perfected pasts that erase, ignore, and otherwise delegitimize the voices and personhood of huge swaths of people. Her speech was was just balls-out fantastic, putting voice to all kinds of things that I, science fiction enthusiast, hadn’t seen articulated that exact way before. Big <3s, Jemisin.

Which is why I watched with horror when Theodore Beale took a racist dump in the SFWA Twitter feed, calling Jemisin a “savage” and…let me just let Beale speak for himself:

Jemisin has it wrong; it is not that I, and others, do not view her as human, (although genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens), it is that we do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious reason that she is not.

She is lying about the laws in Texas and Florida too. The laws are not there to let whites “just shoot people like me, without consequence, as long as they feel threatened by my presence”, those self defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend themselves by shooting people, like her, who are savages in attacking white people.

Jemisin’s disregard for the truth is no different than the average Chicago gangbanger’s disregard for the law…

Unlike the white males she excoriates, there is no evidence that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support. Considering that it took my English and German ancestors more than one thousand years to become fully civilised after their first contact with an advanced civilisation, it is illogical to imagine, let alone insist, that Africans have somehow managed to do so in less than half the time with even less direct contact. These things take time.

Being an educated, but ignorant savage, with no more understanding of what it took to build a new literature by “a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys” than an illiterate Igbotu tribesman has of how to build a jet engine, Jemisin clearly does not understand that her dishonest call for “reconciliation” and even more diversity with SF/F is tantamount to a call for its decline into irrelevance…

Reconciliation is not possible between the realistic and the delusional.”

I…do I even have to explain why this is the fucking worst? He was expelled from SWFA for this bullshit. Educated but ignorant savage? Genetic fucking science that a black woman is somehow less than human? Are you fucking kidding me?Ugh, omigod, I have to go walk around a while and calm down.

Okay, I’m back. Heretofore, all these discussions of “author behavior” in the sf/f world have focused on the canonical but, um, problematic writer Orson Scott Card. So he’s a vociferous anti-gay activist, Ender’s Game is fucking sweet! Which, fine, compartmentalize the author from the work; that’s totally valid. When you’re dealing with hugely successful, important formative works of the genre, maybe compartmentalization is a thing. But here we’re dealing with some pseudonymous asshole who purports to speak with the voice of God, calls black women savages, and thinks that his racist “science” supports him.

Why on God’s green earth should I spend my money on this dick’s books? More importantly, why should Goodreads shut me down when I talk about this in my review space? Why have they shut down this discussion in even one instance?

To put this review on-topic – I see you, Intern Jimmy – I have almost an allergic reaction to high fantasy that’s all about fearsome Witchkings and mighty Amorran legions, a post-Tolkien stew of Elves and Men, with a bunch of apostrophes in the names to prove the situation is serious and whatnot. I would rather eat glass than deal with yet another Tolkien-clone that strips out the folkloric baby and leaves the bathwater. Which is one of the many reasons I’m not reading Beale’s book, his racist asshatery aside. I shouldn’t even have to put in this on-topic disclaimer though. That is both stupid and ridiculous, and one of the many reasons I want Goodreads to explain their policy, and what the fuck they think they are doing. Right now, they are on the side of racists and child pornographers, and it doesn’t look that good.

Is Plagiarism an “Author Behavior”?

(This was originally posted on Goodreads.)

I’m going to talk a little off-topic here for a while, Intern Jimmy, so read to the end before you summarily delete this review. Thanks.

This whole Goodreads “author behavior” thing has gone on a number of tangents, at least insofar as the garrulous activities of the most invested Goodreaders are concerned. I’m not saying this is a problem. I think any community works best by the active engagement of its citizens. I’ve been around for some controversies here on GR, from Semennact to VirJohn, to the before-my-time Ginny Jones plagiarism mess. This sometimes very, very heated discussion thing is something we Goodreaders have always done. It gets ugly and personal a lot, and I have seriously considered punching and/or unfriending a number of people in this whole mess. It’s a testimony to our commitment (whichever side we’re on) that it’s such an emotional, fractious, wide-ranging issue.

Which is why the deletions for “off-topic” really bother me: instead of allowing the argument of one group of Goodreaders, Goodreads has opted for silencing them. Setting aside the Hydra reviews (which haven’t really been my thing, as I think they alienate and annoy people) it is absolutely ludicrous that Goodreads deleted a review of a book about censorship when the reviewer herself was talking about the concept as applies to Goodreads. That’s an unbelievable dick-move, and also bullshit. These are both technical literary terms. Sorry to be so litcritical.

But rather than chase down tangents, I want to back up and talk about why I’m so damn irritated with Goodreads in the first place. The narrative got set real early that the initial deletions were about bullying and trolling. Isn’t is reasonable that a book review be about the book? Why should we defend ad hominem nastiness? To the second question: threats and the like were already forbidden on Goodreads, so the policy change seems to be aiming at something else entirely. And to the first: many of the reviews deleted under this new policy had nothing to do with “author behavior”.

A lot of the reviews I’ve been writing recently have been test cases, because Goodreads refuses to talk about what exact kind of author behavior they deem actionable. I’ve written about a writer being a convicted pedophile, and about an author being a serial plagiarist. I even wrote a review about the single book in the serial plagiarist’s catalog not recalled by the publisher warning people off. Science writing has standards, friends, and Jonah Lehrer does not have them. People have flagged these reviews for me, and both kinds of reviews were deleted in the initial purge, and sometimes for the exact same book. (You can find a list of the deleted titles here.) The reviews the initial 21 had deleted did nothing different from mine, and they were deleted while mine still stand.

I would like some clarification on this point, Goodreads. Fuck you for deleting reviews that ask for that clarification in a review field, when you’ve completely abandoned your own Feedback thread weeks ago. Intern Jimmy, here comes the on-topic part.

Which brings us to this book. Three four people (at least) in the initial 21 had reviews of Amazingly Broken deleted. They all noted, just like almost literally all the reviews on Goodreads for Amazingly Broken at this point, that Jordin Williams plagiarized from (at least) Tammara Webber’s Easy and Jamie MacGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, and the book was removed from sale because of that. Given my test reviews, and others I’ve written in the past about plagiarized content (Q.R. Markham’s book being one), Goodreads doesn’t have a problem with me noting this “author behavior”, so why did they delete these three reviews? What standard are they using? Why won’t they even talk about this?

Also, who vandalized the Goodreads database to remove Jordin Williams’s name from this book? That’s galling. Her(his?)  name should be on the record, just like that dipshit Jonah Lehrer and all his fabulations. Removing this information, which is highly pertinent information about the book in question, is wrong. This book IS a book. Presumably copies exist, as it was a popular download there until it was unmasked as containing plagiarized content. It’s just a book no one can read at the moment, but before the book came down on Amazon, the information was important to readers considering spending their money. Presumably, some of these reviews were written then.

Maybe now it doesn’t matter because the book is off sale, and resurrecting this little controversy just looks like pettiness on my part. I’m okay with that. I am feeling incredibly petty after being ignored and condescended to by Goodreads. After having to go through the deletion lists of the first 21, there are scads of titles like this one, where the users in question shelved a book for reasons that have fuck all to do with author behavior. I’m going to keep writing my little off-topic reviews about these titles until someone can explain to me what the fuck is going on.

Next set of reviews: is noting a book is pulled-to-publish fan-fiction really about author behavior? You tell me, Goodreads. Your deletions certainly suggest that’s the case.

Review: Walking Dead: 30 Days Without an Accident

Walking Dead offers very few meta moments where the writers tip their hands and remind you this is a show. It’s far too earnest for that, blending tightly constructed spectacle against the almost drearily telegraphed lack-of-soap operatics of living post-apocalypse. So it was fun to a see a little fan moment, where Carol and Daryl are chatting about Daryl’s new standing as trusted badass with the new members of the prison group, and she tells him to accept the love. She also calls him pooky. This was a just adorable nod to Reedus’s fan-favorite status, and threw a bone to us Carol/Daryl shippers who want acknowledgement that Carol and Daryl are going to get married and have like a million babies.

As far as the rest of the episode went, it was a fairly perfect example of the things Walking Dead tends to get right with just enough stuff to worry me about what the writers think they are doing that I’m not too comfortable. Which in some ways is meta in it’s own way. This season looks to be about how the prison population has adjusted to the new normal with a modicum of safety and competence, and how that’s going to go to shit. Everything from the cold open, which was, per the best of them, wordless and packed with meaningful detail, to the almost casual beginning as the group goes to loot the Piggly Wiggly shows how our group has built strategies and coping mechanisms for their new world. They’re not running anymore; they’re not just sitting still; they’re building.

One of the things Walking Dead has always knocked out of the park are their gory action set-pieces, and “30 Days Without an Accident” delivers in spades. Because of the Big Bad last season, many of the set-pieces felt small or freighted with emotional weight that the characters cannot deliver (though the actors sometimes could, despite writing failures.) The zombies-as-threat had given way to humans-as-threat, which is a perfectly cromulent dramatic shift, but I don’t think Walking Dead has ever pulled off character work that convincingly. Too many torture sequences, too many growled conversations, too much posturing, not enough fucking zombies eating your face. There was too much set in the set pieces, like the zombie MMA sequences that felt like they were occurring on a sound-stage in Burbank.

But the Piggly Wiggly sequence: this was awesome. My husband and I screamed and sang “It’s raining zombies!” though the whole thing, shrieking when the bodies hit the ground, doing that thing where you shift out of the way like you can make the character see the zombie coming right for them! It was glorious and disgusting, and maybe more importantly, it established the themes for the season. So yeah, you’re clever with drawing out all the walkers with a boombox wired to some car batteries and you’re tight formation but you didn’t factor in the rotting infrastructure of a World Without Us. (One of Weisman’s observations about what happens to human-built structures with no maintenance: if you want to take down a house, cut an 18 inch square hole in the roof and stand back. About a year should do it.)  The crew have adjusted to zombies, but they haven’t adjusted in many ways to the changing parameters of the world. The rot isn’t just in the splashing bodies, but in everything, even the living. We’re all just meat sacks in the end. We kill or we die. Or we die and then we kill.

Which brings me to  the disease outbreak in the prison. This storyline has a lot of potential, and seems a logical extension of the whole zombie mechanism we have here. If anyone who dies turns, and anyone can die from even mundane illnesses, you have a situation were there needs to be a lot more security even within relative safety. But I’m a little perplexed by the conversations about naming things – the pig, then the walkers – and what this was supposed to be about. Here we are, three plus years from the zombie apocalypse, and people (though admittedly children) are having conversations about the relative humanity of walkers? Who even does that? If this is supposed to be some broad semaphore that the kids from Shelbyville are out of touch, then that’s pretty lame, given what they’ve undoubtedly been through since the shitshow at the end of last season.

Rick’s conversation with Crazy Irish was a similar mix of good stuff and perplexing. I liked her truncated and obviously obfuscating stories about what happened to her and her group after the world went to hell, but this sequence (fairly long sequence) didn’t do much other than set up an unsurprising reveal, and did almost nothing for Rick’s character that hasn’t been done before. (Also, thanks for the bullet point conversation with Hershel. “I could be her” indeed, Rick.) I did like the bit where Rick didn’t even go to look at the zombaby, because in a world of horrors, who needs another one? But like the conversations between Glenn and Maggie, this was mostly wheel-spinning retreading of “conflicts” that have never had much juice, and are getting thin with reiteration. If that isn’t a mixed metaphor. Moving on.

I think I’m in the stray observations part of the essay. I’m pleased to see Michonne both smiling and joking! – who even knew that was possible – and I liked seeing Beth doing something other than having huge liquid eyes. She’s given a boyfriend and a fairly interesting monologue after he’s dispatched, which makes me wonder if she isn’t bullseyed for death next episode. Walking Dead has a fairly annoying tendency to dispatch minor characters right after they are given absolutely anything to do – RIP T-Dog, and mustached pedobear, and every black character not still living, and Milton – so I don’t have much hope for her continued survival. I still hate gravitas-mouthpiece Hershel with a white hot intensity. The dude who got stuck under the wine bottles: this was a fairly hilarious sequence where he’s obviously telegraphing his temptation to the drop and then WHAM, a huge metaphor just fell on your legs. I almost took joy in it, because it was so ham-fisted.

This episode felt mostly like scene-setting, which I don’t count as a bad thing. Here is our new normal, and here are the threats to that normal. So far, I don’t see anything (or anyone) arising as the new Big Bad – Michonne’s obviously off on a hunt for the Governor, but that’s not given much time. I’m not sure that’s a problem, exactly, because Walking Dead seems to falter when drawing out conflicts based on personality or (God help us) philosophy. I would be incredibly happy to see a season based on more mundane, personal, physical survival mechanics, the heretofore interstitial pieces like Carol’s knife lessons given more prominence.  Much as I like watching them die, I want to see how they live, and not as some abstract conceptual piece, but on a nuts and bolts level. We’ll see how that goes for me.

The Last 24 Hours on Goodreads

If you’re coming into this mess cold, a little back story:

On September 20, Goodreads “announced” by posting a thread in their Goodreads Feedback group that they would be deleting reviews focused on the ill-defined concept of “author behavior”. I’ll note here that the Feedback group has a little over 13,000 members, a fraction of a percentage point of the 20 million users Goodreads claims. Posts in Feedback do not go out as a general announcement even to the group’s membership. This was also done on a Friday, and Goodreads is notoriously absent on weekends. Customer Care Manager Kara eventually noted that Goodreads had only deleted the reviews of 21 people.  She refused to comment on the content of their reviews, only giving a hypothetical review – “the author is an a**hole and you shouldn’t read this book because of that” – that would be forbidden under the new policy. The thread was  quickly abandoned by Goodreads; it’s currently at over 5,500 comments, and climbing.

Kara’s characterization of the reviews they deleted turned out to be a miscaracterization, at least according to my research. A group of Goodreaders including myself started tracking down the original 21 people who had reviews deleted, and we eventually found 13 of them. Many of the reviews Goodreads deleted had no content – neither a rating nor anything in the review field – and Goodreads had taken action solely on the content of the threads below. (A quick note on nomenclature: it’s called a “review” on Goodreads whenever you shelve a book at all, even if the book isn’t rated, or there isn’t any written essay that you would normally call a review.) From the book list given to me by the people affected, the reviews about “author behavior” Goodreads deemed actionable ranged from plagiarism to faking or paying for reviews (which I’ll note is illegal in some places), to pedophilia to racist or homophobic statements to pulled-to-publish fan-fiction to just the usual gamut of social media meltdowns.

At this point the protest reviews started. I reviewed The Secret of Castle Cant by convicted pedophile K.P. Bath, because at least two people had their reviews of this book deleted in the new policy about “author behavior” in the initial 21. So far, none of the protest reviews have been taken down. Mike reviewed Mein Kampf using almost the exact wording of Kara’s hypothetical review – “This author is such a dick. I’m not even going to read it!” Many reviews of this book followed suit, and as far as I’m aware, none of them have been taken down. Reviews of books by plagiarizers and sexists followed, again, with none of the reviews coming down. Some of the protest reviews found books or titles that the reviewers used as a springboard for criticism about the new policy, books like Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship or Civil Disobedience or, most importantly, The Hydra.

Here’s where things start to get interesting, because Goodreads started deleting these reviews as “off-topic”. Apparently you’re cool going after the books Goodreads initially targeted in their purge, but use the review platform for dissent, and you better watch yourself. The email to users who had their reviews deleted says at the end, “Please note that if you continue to post content like this, your account may come under review.” Goodreads has taken its gloves off; they may delete your account for your naughty behavior. A good round up of the initial deletions can be found here, but the upshot is, Goodreads began deleting the often-playful, arguably off-topic, and absolutely critical of Goodreads reviews of some of their most prolific users.

hydraAt this point, it’s far too difficult to detail the number of protest reviews out there, cheerfully thumbing their noses at Goodreads management and their ill-defined and self-serving review rules. I’ll just note one case for example. Manny’s review of The Hydra served as a template for the protest reviews, the image of the hydra being a call for other Goodreaders to copy & paste the original content of the review if they were worried about their review being deleted by Goodreads. Some of these Hydra review have been deleted by  Goodreads as plagiarism, despite the explicit call for re-posting. Some users have added disingenuous (but hilarious) “reviews”  of the book to to keep the review under guidelines. Hydra reviews are proliferating all over the site, a full on revolt. I’m honestly interested to see if Goodreads is willing to play whack-a-mole with their most active users, slapping their wrists and threatening their accounts with deletion as the days wear on. I’m interested to see whether they will start deleting accounts. In the past, the Goodreads MO has been to simply freeze us out – witness the complete abandonment of their own Feedback thread – so I’m guessing this will be their course of action now.

But the actions of Goodreads, and their generally closed-mouth and inscrutable actions don’t really worry me at the moment. What worries me is the gutting of the Goodreads community as Goodreads’s top users jump ship for less censorious locales. Elizabeth, one of the top 20 reviewers worldwide, (who is fellow Soapboxer, in full disclosure) wrote a piece today about how she’s no longer posting reviews on Goodreads, making her just the most recent casualty of the new “policies”. I myself (also on that list) have begun taking down my 500+ reviews. From anecdotal evidence, dozens of very prolific users have taken down their content or deleted their accounts, people like Abigail A, BunWat, and Archer, often people who had been users since the very beginning, with thousands of reviews.

Maybe this is no thing. Maybe, as people keep telling me, there at 20 million Goodreads users out there willing and able to review two books a week on a wide variety of subjects, with a broad following and the trust that they’re not just corporate shills, only these hypothetical new users are willing to play ball. That’s why Amazon bought Goodreads, after all, isn’t it? To find a stable of reviewers to aid in the discovery process, a process much hampered by Amazon’s own review strictures: no profanity, no ties to the author, no personality, and downvoting outlying opinions into oblivion. Relying on the 1% rule, likely the active membership of Goodreads is significantly less than their bandied 20 million, a community of lurkers watching the output of the very few. Goodreads has it in their best interests not to lose these people, unless they are relying on the most narrow and inflexible ideas about what constitutes a good readership. Which, certainly, they may be.

In a Forbes article about the top 25 reviewers on Goodreads, the writer notes:

For me, there are no “professional” critics that matter anymore. In our new social world, the crowd must decide. That means authors and readers everywhere now have greater access to each other and the best books won’t be held back by traditional road blocks. Obviously, for authors, this makes it more essential than ever to have a solid social media plan, to be accessible and to build a following – because relying on the old publishing guard won’t cut it anymore.

That age is over.

Goodreads is trying to sand the edges off the crowd, silencing the voices most trusted, most invested in their reading, because sometimes the crowd decides certain books aren’t worthy of either reading or review, and that apparently can’t be allowed under the new mercantile system. With the proliferation of self-published works, the avid readers on the frontlines are acting as slush-pile readers for million of books, and if they (we) decide a book shouldn’t be undertaken because it’s likely that a negative review will result in the author flaming or doxing you, that’s not on Goodreads to get in the middle. It’s not on Goodreads to police reviews as “off-topic” when it’s clear that they’re just silencing dissent. There is no “off-topic” in a robust social media, which is ultimately the problem here, right?

So far, I’ve been writing as bloodlessly as possibly, doing my citizen journalist shtick to the best of my ability. But this change on Goodreads’s part is killing me. I haven’t cried so much about social media in a long time, each review I take down feeling like a lost thumb, each time I see posts by [deleted member] another lost companion. Due to my call to find the initial 21 users, and then later to hear from anyone who had deletions, I’ve had an inbox full of messages from users detailing their deletions. So many of these messages were confessional, long stories about being hounded over multiple media platforms by people who are technically “authors” for something the reviewer said or did, often not even about the “author” in question. I can take 50,000 words, not even in any particular order, and upload them to SmashWords or Kindle, and poof, I am an author. So many of these reviews about “author behavior” were the personal reactions of people being harassed on social media by other people hawking unedited ebooks that would never, ever make it off a slush-pile. That this is out of bounds on a social media platform, that I can’t decide what’s on-topic, that’s a shift in policy quiescent content-generation and away from a social media. We Goodreaders are either a product, or a community, and right now the fight is on.

 

Giving Offense: Full on Revolt on Goodreads

I’m reposting this review from Ruby Tombstone with her permission:

Would GoodReads Censor A Review On A Book About Censorship? Let’s find out, shall we…

I’ve been an active GoodReads contributor for a couple of years now. I review every book I read, I run a discussion group, I’m a GR Librarian. I spend countless hours every week, (well, they are probably countable but I can’t be arsed), on this site creating content for GoodReads Amazon. I won’t pretend I’m happy about that last bit.

When I first joined GoodReads, I spent a lot more countable-but-not-presently-counted hours up to my eyeballs in administrative tasks associated with the book data we all use. I stopped doing that when the mountains of data and content that I had created was sold to Amazon without my seeing a cent of the profits. Since Amazon have been here they’ve done some pretty shitty things, and they really don’t seem to value the hard work I’ve done for them. They seem to be quite content making out that they are doing us all a favour, providing us with a free (albeit dripping-with-advertising) service – rather than acknowledging that they’re making a fortune from our content and data.

Now it seems GoodReads has decided to go hard with a policy of deleting reviews and bookshelves* they don’t like. I really can’t be much more specific than that, because that’s about as specific as GoodReads has been. From what little they have communicated to us, it seems to be “anything anyone working for GR thinks could offend anyone else or could potentially be perceived by anyone else as an insult to a writer”. There is no way of knowing what that might be. We’ve been told that any posts or shelves focussing on the author’s behaviour will be deleted. This includes authors who harass GoodReads users, and presumably precludes us from even discussing something like Mein Kampf. This is censorship, as if you need me to point that out, and that is a very slippery slope.

The author of this book, J.M. Coetzee is a famously reclusive, reportedly humourless bloke. Am I allowed to mention that anymore?

GoodReads made these policy changes sneakily: no emails to us, no warning or notification of any kind for the people having their reviews deleted, no response to our reasonable concerns. Reviews and shelves are quietly being deleted, and there have been plenty of screenshots around to prove it. So now I am not only outraged by the knowledge that our posts are actively being policed and censored, but I’m quite frankly creeped out by the whole thing. Who is making the decisions? What are their criteria? Why do they refuse to talk to us about it? Why are they doing it so stealthily? Why can’t they notify someone who’s about to have their content deleted?

Most importantly of all….. where will it end? That last question I CAN actually answer: A site where the bulk of the reviews are positive and critique-free – whether or not that book deserves it. Where any negative reviews are limited to “it’s my fault for not picking a book which is more suited to my peculiar tastes”. A site where people can’t talk about the elephant of author behaviour in the room.
A site where all reviews are suspect.

The whole value of GR has been that we can see honest reviews from people we trust. If people can’t write an honest review about their experience with the book (and its author), then that review has no value.

GOODREADS: Please just do the right thing. People have invested a lot of time and effort in this site. They will cooperate with you IF you treat them respectfully. Censorship, though….. obviously that’s going to go down like a tonne of bricks on a literature site.

*For the benefit of people who don’t use GoodReads – “bookshelves” on GoodReads aren’t just used to sort our lists of books, they are a tagging function. They are what we use to comment succinctly on a range of issues relating to that book. They are also what we use to warn each other about spammers, abusive authors, sock-puppet (fake) accounts, and anything else that a potential reader/reviewer may need to know before they engage with that book. I say “engage” because even shelving a book as “want to read”, alerts the author that you have shown interest and can open the door to that author targeting you.

[edit] Postscript:What annoys me no end, is that the media and some other commentators are portraying GR users as if we’re simply refusing to accept the corporate reality of a “free-service” that Amazon are providing us with. What they don’t seem to be aware of is that, unlike many other sites, it’s the users that created this database, including the book data, as well as all the content, as well as taking care of a lot of their administration, as well as a big chunk of their “help” functions etc etc. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to have certain expectations of the site we built & maintain.

[edit] Please also see Carol’s excellent summary of ways you can help spread the word about this issue: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3…

[edit] Must ReadCeridwen’s Brilliant Analysis of the Deleted Review Data:http://soapboxing.net/2013/10/by-the-…
This shows the authors associated with the deleted reviews & bookshelves as well as showing the real target of GR’s censorship – The comments threads.

 

——-

 

The reason I’m reposting this review is  that last night and through today, Goodreads has gone on a binge deleting “potentially off-topic” reviews – their words – which also happen to be kinda sorta absolutely critical of the new censorship policy they enacted two weeks ago. They’ve been playing whack-a-mole with dozens of hydra-like reviews that keep popping up as fast as they can delete them, slapping the wrists of some of their most copious users and threatening that their accounts will “come under review”.

Dear God, you guys, what is going on here?

Heretofore, so much of the media about the Goodreads policy change has focused on the alleged bullying of a self-published author, and how “both sides were wrong” and a bunch of other mealy-mouthed garbage. I’m not even going to get into the definition of bullying, and how it’s being used without any real rigor in this whole mess. (I’ll just say the self-published author attributed her misunderstandings of Goodreads to PMS and leave it at that.) The shift to deleting content about “author behavior” was one thing, but now that Goodreads is going after the “off-topic” review, now, that’s something else.

Goodreads has always had a light hand when it comes to the content of reviews. To quote Kara, Goodreads Director of Customer Care:

What we try to do is provide room for our members’ own personal approach within our overall principles rather than set rigid guidelines. We’ve found it has worked well for the community overall so far and is something that readers value.

Or CEO Otis Chandler, talking about five-starred “pre-reviews” by fans well before the book had been read:

I agree that it’s a shame some books have to suffer ratings that clearly are invalid. However I can’t think of a way to prevent it, and I didn’t see any ideas in the thread either (I did skim though). I hope you’ll appreciate that if we just start deleting ratings whenever we feel like it, that we’ve gone down a censorship road that doesn’t take us to a good place.

As for manuscripts or yet-to-be-published books, I have no problem with them being in the database. It’s kind of cool to have a record of in-progress books, and I don’t think it hurts anything. I do think we’d need to remove any that weren’t serious in their intent to be a finished book one day.

I’m not even trying to cherry-pick quotes from Goodreads management, I’m just trying to show how its been for a long time: Goodreads hasn’t cared about off-topic reviews until now, because off-topic reviews are what have made this social network. Reviewers have been given wide latitude to rattle and chatter, tell stories and goof, make friends and enemies, the whole gamut. Sure, a lot of it has been tempestuous teapot stuff, but who really gives? To quote the author of one of the books used as a protest:

I don’t understand exactly what’s going on, but Goodreads shouldn’t be deleting reviews, period. People are smart enough to look at them on their own and make up their mind, and deleting reviews undermines the integrity of the site.

We are not academics or professionals, but citizen readers on a social networking site. We haven’t so far been required to be “on-topic”because this was our party, a gathering place for discussion and socializing and just plain messing around. Now that the community has been bought and sold, we have to prove our utility though, and all of our social shenanigans must come to a halt. I resent this immensely.

Our anger at high-handed and vague policy decisions is not off-topic at all. It is the heart of a dispute about a database and a social network that is largely user-built, from the millions of hours Goodreads Librarians have put in correcting the database, to millions of reviews people have added to this site. It absolutely burns me that Goodreads can turn around and wave this changed terms of service at me like I’m some unruly child who needs to be checked. I’m not your product, or an idiot. I can see what you’re doing with these deletions, and I can tell you, Goodreads, it’s not going to work. I’m still fighting for a community I believe in.

Posts From Overshare Planet: Dune by Frank Herbert

When my grandfather died, he had a paperback of Dune sitting on his bedside table. Finding it there was like a revelation to me, like the sort of experience only Taoists and Catholic philosophers have a name. He was nearly 70 years older than me, a teetotaler, a hymn singer and dramatist in the Celtic vein, a schoolteacher, a ham. We didn’t have a lot in common, as you may might imagine, two generations removed and a gender divided. But I loved him, and he was gone, and here was this book that was intimate to my adolescence, a shared experience revealed. Ah. Damn.

I sat on the edge of his bed and paged through the book. On the front page, in his spidery hand, he wrote page numbers with notes. I checked the page numbers and correlated passages, and found that many of the sections he marked dealt with fathers and sons: Mu’ad Dib and the Letos, the Old Duke. This shook me, shakes me still. A man, a man in his nineties, on the edge of his own death, whose father is long, long dead, noting the expectation, education, and disappointment that characterizes the relationship between father and son. Ah, and damn, again.

My relationship with Dune began with the Lynch film. As a young teenager, I watched it many times at slumber parties and the like. (I can be forgiven; I was young, and who didn’t want to see Sting in rubber underpants in the late 80s? This is before he became embarrassing, smooth jazz Sting.) The movie was trippy and cool, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense, and eventually lead to me reading the book. I wolfed Dunedown, several times, and the following books.

Most science fiction occurs 10 years in the future, 25, 100. This all happens 10,000 years from now, in a future constrained by a past that is fully realized. At some point humanity develops AI. It goes badly, cylon-style. There is an event, a war called the Butlerian Jihad, that renders computers taboo. People are trained to become computers: the Mentats. Women start their own secret political guild, complete with a breeding program, much like you’ve always suspected they have: the Bene Gesserit. There is a drug/resource that makes instantaneous interstellar travel possible: the spice melange. Without the spice, travel between worlds becomes impossible, and commerce, communication, and the Empire end. The spice has mind-changing, anti-aging qualities, but like any drug is still addictive. The spice comes from one place, and one place only: Arrakis. Into this milieu, add a messianic figure: Paul Mu’ad Dib. He galvanizes a native, marginalized culture to reorder society, government and the environment through the control of a finite, indispensable resource.

Reading this time, again, using my grandfather’s paperback, I noticed different things. I’ve been hanging out in Herbert’s universe for so long that I forget that it doesn’t, you know, exist as a kind of history that he just channeled into novels. It had to start somewhere, and that somewhere is here. Stray thoughts: There’s a lot of world building to do, and while Herbert refrains from the most blatant info-dumps, the beginning is slow. Duncan Idaho, despite his almost constant presence in the later books, is almost a cameo role. Herbert has a tin ear for dialogue, sometimes. I’d forgotten/misplaced all the bull-fighting and its attendant metaphors. Grandpa may have noted the relationship between fathers and sons, but there’s a lot about mothers and sons that he didn’t note. Okay, that’s enough of that.

I’d always taken home the society-is-shaped-by-ecology message in Dune. It’s a good one, and one SFF writers would do well to remember more often. Herbert more or less proposes that harsh environments create cultures comprised entirely of bad motherfuckers. As an inevitable consequence of environmental constraint, a culture will develop the following attributes: ritualized violence without guilt, honor-bound individualism that translates to rigid adherence to a local clan-like leader and individual responsibility for collective failure. I personally think this theory may be bullshit, but it makes for a ripping story. (Go read Manny’s review about having the revelation, as an adult reader, that Herbert is using Arabic words, for crying out loud, and that he’s talking about the Middle East and nomadic, desert cultures. Fremen = Arabs, spice = oil, House Corrino = decadent West. Seriously, go read it.)

This is not the message Grandpa was taking home, insofar as I can divine his mind from a collection of page numbers and almost illegible notes. (I can barely read them now, and it makes me sad. There are many things you lose with the passage of time: the sharpness of grief, the presence of absence. You also lose the sense of an antique hand, I’ve found.) Each section of Dune starts with a quote from a mysterious source in a sort of long-form aphorism style: this is the future of the tale imposed on the events occurring in the “now” of the story. In later books, this gets painfully lame, but I think here it’s done pretty well. Here’s a few Grandpa noted:

p 41? “How do we approach the study of Mu’ad Dib’s father? …Still, one must ask, what is the son but an extension of the father?” (Why did he put a question mark on the page number? Damn again.)

p 102 “There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man – with human flesh.” Grandpa was raised in a steel town by a father who was a steelworker, and worked in the mills to get his education and get the fuck out out of the mills. Grandpa had no sons; this quote can only be about his own father.

p 172 “Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife – chopping off what’s incomplete and saying, ‘Now, it’s complete because it’s ended here.’” Judging by the notes, Grandpa never finished reading this book. This is the last one. The thing that blows my fucking mind is that this is the last thing he noted, before his life was chopped off and completed. (I have a tendency to drop f-bombs when I’m upset, and I’m sorry, gentle reader, just to pay homage to my Midwestern need to apologize for everything.) This was the end, or one of the ends, for him. Damn. Fuck.

This is where that difficult to describe emotion comes in. It kills me that he didn’t finish it, that we didn’t get a chance to talk about a book that has been near and dear to me for forever. I can see from the notes he took that he was reading an entirely different story, taking home an entirely different message. We were divided in life by age and gender, personality and distance. We were united by some things too: a tendency toward the maudlin, a love of Dylan Thomas and associated Welshiness, a chin. We read the same book. But, just because we both read the same book, doesn’t mean we read the same book. Reading Dune again, with his notes, is like reading his diary, conjuring his mind. A novel written by another man, with a collection of notes in the margins, gives me a strangely intimate picture of my Grandpa, even if it’s shimmery and insubstantial.

This is profoundly strange. Reading is profoundly strange. We sit, quiet and alone, and hear the words of other people in no ear, in the voice of the mind. Some books are comforting, something we return to again and again. I’ve read Dune a hundred times. A couple times, my husband and I have plowed through the series in tandem, making conversation out of the personal experience of reading. Each reading is a layer of experience, each experience of reading another layer. I love this book. It’s bound up in my life, and each reading causes me to remember the bonds that readers share with other readers, not the least of whom is my grandfather, in the last days of his life. I miss him. The book brings him back.

I Aim to Misbehave: Books by Pedophiles

Look, I know everyone is sick of talking about the new moratorium on writing book reviews about “author behavior” here on Goodreads – dudes, that was so last week – but I’m not. I’m still pissed as hell.

Last week I compiled a database the book reviews Goodreads deleted from 13 of the 21 people affected by the “policy change”. (And in your link-whoring department, full analysis of the deletions here.) Two of the users had reviews from this book deleted. Here is a screencap of one of the deleted reviews, because while Goodreads can delete something, Google cache is forever:

This book was written by a convicted pedophile. 'nuf said.

K.P. Bath was convicted of owning child pornography and sentenced to 6 years in prison. And it is ‘nuf said. This children’s book was written by a pedophile. Please tell me how this “author behavior” doesn’t have a direct bearing on the content.

I’m not going to link to the dozens of reviews that note this fact and nothing else, but they are still up on Goodreads. You know why? Because this policy about author behavior is complete bollocks. This “policy change” was a witch hunt, pure and simple. 21 people had their reviews deleted because the management at Goodreads didn’t like them personally.

21 people.

I aim for 22.

Faking It: Gif Party

My husband and I are sitting around talking about this book. I’m on the topic because I’m using one of the characters as an example of something, but I keep losing my argument and shouting about other things. He asks me to cast this book, as I’ve told him about the thing in YA/NA reviews where you cast the novel with pop stars, minor celebs, or even just romantic looking stock photographs of pretty white people. (I’m not going to link to any, because that’s probably a dick-move, but do a search for reviews of any New Adult title, and you’ll find just scads of these castings.)

“Franka Potente for the girl,” I say. “She’s got dyed red hair in Run Lola Run, and she’s hot and punky, like Max a little.”

My Max:

Red haired girl stands in the street

I don’t know who to cast as Cade though. I get stuck on Chris O’Donnell because he’s what my mind conjured when I think “clean-cut”, but I think he’s a shitty actor. “What about my boyfriend, Bradley Cooper?” my husband asks. The man has a serious thing for Limitless. Ok, sure.

My Cade:

blue-eyed man looks off in the middle distance

“You know what you’ve done here,” my husband says. “This is Casting by Somebody’s Mom.”

“You shut your whore mouth!” I yell, but he is correct. I have zero idea who the crop of new actors/celebutants/famewhores are, and, in general, when I watch teen movies, I cannot tell those people apart, which makes for general confusion by me as to what is even going on. (“Wait, isn’t that her boyfriend?” “No, that’s the other guy.” “Do they stamp these kids out of a mold? Top off my drink, darling.”)

At this point in the review, I think we’re in for an animated gif of the boys from Supernatural to evidence my feels. I can’t even, so we’ll go Clueless.

"The PC term is 'Hymenally Challenged'."
Stacey Dash sux now tho

Oh wait! Google is awesome! Here is your Supernatural gif:

dude blubbering

Though that’s not nearly as good as Dawson:

Dawson crying

Honestly, nothing in this post has anything to do with the book. And now for your b&w softcore:

a woman and a man in bed together

Rarr, Franka Potente is fiiiiine.

Anyway, I eventually work around to my point, which is that here, in Faking It, the girl is cast as the bad girl, and the dude is the one who’s all sensitive and clean-cut, which is a reversal of the ways these New Adult titles tend to go. Hell, the way contemporary romance (which this is, mostly) tend to go. Usually panties are wetted over serious bro psychos who box. So I dug that Max was a Bad Girl, even if I didn’t believe for a minute that she was one. I’m not claiming ever to have been a bad girl, but I have known quite a few, and Max’s badness is costume more than content. Girl, do you even lift? But that’s fine, because she did actually have some real-looking issues, stuff about her relationship with her parents and blowback from her sister’s death that felt realish.

The set-up is romantic comedy silliness: she needs a fake boyfriend who isn’t her lame, caricatured real boyfriend to front for her folks over Thanksgiving. After a meet-cute in a coffee shop – seriously, a coffee shop? That’s baaaaad, Max – puppy dog Cade who’s hurtin’ gets roped into hijinks. Cade and Max do honestly have some good tension though, and the sex writing is totes croms. (That’s old speak for “totally cromulent.”)

So that’s my review!

A girl falling down the stairs

 

Losing It: New Adult Read by an Old Adult

So this is my first foray into the New Adult genre, if I don’t count The Piper’s Son and Fifty Shades of Grey, which I’m not sure if I should. They do seem to fall broadly into the category though. For those not up on your recent marketing distinctions, New Adult is, to quote Wikipedia (of course):

New Adult (NA) fiction is a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket. The term was first coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009 when they held a special call for “…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult’.” New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices. The genre has gained popularity rapidly over the last few years, particularly through books by self-published bestselling authors like Jamie McGuire, Colleen Hoover, and Cora Carmack.

Hey, this is a book by Cora Carmack!

I don’t want to get too pointy-headed here, but the concept of genre is an interesting one to me, so I’m just going to ramble a little about that. I have some discomfort with calling Young Adult or New Adult books a genre, because it seems to me that genre is not as simple as who reads the books, or who the books are aimed at. It’s like Atwood claiming her MaddAddam trilogy isn’t science fiction, because please. It has all the earmarks: an exploration of culture through invented technology, a thought experiment about current treads extrapolated into the future. What she’s saying, when she says she’s not writing science fiction, is that she’s not writing fiction for science fiction nerds.

When I get done bridling – y u no write for us, Peggy? – I think this is kinda legitimate. Genre can be an engagement with the tropes agreed upon by readerships or fandoms, and she is not writing to that genre engagement, whatever the motifs she might hit. I’ve argued in many a review against a book being classed as Young Adult, because despite the age of the protagonist (which is a motif often used to class the genre), I felt the sensibility was off. The Reapers Are the Angels or The Age of Miracles are examples of this: while they may occasionally have the concerns of the young adult – coming of age, emergent morality and social understandings – they lack the tone of novels aimed at teens. I’m not even saying that because they are literary – whatever that’s supposed to mean – that they are not young adult. I’ve seen plenty of literary YA novels that were still squarely aimed at teens.

I guess what I’m saying is that genre, as a concept, is a slippery beast, and can be defined in multiple ways, whether by marketing distinctions made by publishers about intended readership, or authorial intent in who s/he was writing to, or agreed upon motifs that define the genre. As the definition of genre has overlaps and fractures, so too are there books that sit uneasy in one genre or another. I can think of at least two books that switched marketing distinction upon publication in different countries – Pure and Tender Morsels – marketed as young adult in one place, and sold to adults in another. Both made me uncomfortable, although I thought the latter was better than the former in deliberately widening my upset about the way the book charted the uncomfortable middle ground.

If you pay attention at all to the most voted on reviews on Goodreads any given week, you can see just scads of reviews for New Adult titles making the lists, and also just a ton of emotion. People are reading these titles passionately and a lot. Enthusiasts have a whole review style that includes casting the protagonists with photos of milquetoast looking models and soft-core b&w images to telegraph their feels, and the detractors are often meticulous in their hatred. There are a lot of gifs, animated or not.

There’s also a lot of flamewarring coming from writers and fans and non-fans, and it’s pretty fascinating to see this emergent genre get sorted out on the threads. I don’t ever see this kind of flamewarring in more established genres, like romance, where both the well-defined readership and those who don’t define themselves as romance readers more or less know what to expect from a romance novel. I’ve shat on my share of romance novels (and loved a few too) and I rarely get flamed because romance fans can take just one look at my review and dismiss me as not part of the in-group. But because New Adult is so new and contested, there’s a hand-to-hand combat going on over how this genre is defined, who constitutes the readership, and what the motifs are. Everything is up in the air.

Point of my long-winded digression being: so New Adult? To the untrained eye, much that gets classed as New Adult looks to me like either contemporary romance with college-aged protagonists, or young adult with sex scenes, or an engagement in the concerns of emergent adulthood. Losing It falls into the first and second category, but fails at the third, and as such, pretty much is not for me. We find Bliss Edwards, College Student, opening the novel by enacting an unbelievably stupid plan to lose her virginity by picking up a stranger in a bar. It’s a young adult situation in a contemporary romance setting, complete with a meet-cute and rom-commy flighty-but-funny behavior for everyone from the sass-talking roommates to the protagonists. I have precious little patience for either the concept of virginity or stories about its loss, and romantic comedies and their situational fremdschämen make my skin crawl. (This is my asshole fancy way of saying I hate situation comedies based on people being embarrassing.) So far, we’re in it’s-not-you-it’s-me territory with this book.

My real problem is that the dude Bliss brings home and then abandons like a lunatic – Garrick – turns out to be Bliss’s new professor ZOMG. Putting aside that he is perfect and hot and British in a way that makes me feel tired, this is an entirely plausible ethical situation to be in – fucking a professor (or even being Clintonesque with a professor, which is mostly what happens here) – that is treated so lightly as to be uninteresting. It’s been a while since college, but university can be an over-sexed hothouse with profs, adjuncts, students, TAs, RAs, undergrads, overgrads, and everything in between all getting it on in every permutation. Most schools have forbidden prof/student dalliances, at least within the same department – I think anyway, and I’m too lazy to look it up – but these power dynamics and sexual dynamics are important parts of college sexual life.

I’m not even saying that Bliss and Garrick’s relationship is unethical or unmatched. I myself am the direct product of a professor and a student falling in love – though as both my folks like to point out, things were different in 1969. (Hi Mum and Dad. Sorry I’m talking about you on the Internet again.) What I’m saying is, as a reader, I was bored by a sit com that breezed over the parts of their relationship that had an ethical import. Which is fine, and if you’re looking for light entertainment, you could certainly do worse. Much as I hated the character of Garrick – not because he’s an asshole, but because hot British people written by Americans are dodgy as bubbles and squeak, cheerio – Bliss does have some active engagement with theater, her chosen major, which read to me as not-bullshit. That aspect of the New Adult motif-set was fine.

I read this and its sequel, Faking It, pretty much in a sitting, in the middle of some dire personal stuff that is both none of your business, and of course I’ve already written about on the Internet. Losing It was serviceable and inoffensive, and my two-starring it has more to do with retrospective consideration than my feelings about the prose at the time I was reading it. I liked the sequel considerably better, and Carmack seems to improve as a novelist. I’ve got some other NA titles on deck, and given my general malaise, I’m sure I’ll be reading them well before the smart stuff I’ve already assigned myself as a reader. Young adult, new adult, can be attractive to me as a reader, because in lots of situations, I’m looking for inoffensively silly and light. That the ethical concerns are so much simpler can be a plus when I’m in the middle of exhausting, brutal, depressing situations in my real life. Being an old adult is no picnic.

So, that is my first foray into the New Adult genre. You’re welcome.