blogging, books, reading, writing

The Extremely Unpopular Opinions Post

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Prepare yourself: This will be a rant of epic proportions. I truly hope I don’t offend anyone, because my goal is to promote open discussion and a new way of thinking. But I have been silent on some of these things for a very long time, and now I feel I can be silent no more.

(We’ll see what the reaction is later. Here goes nothing, eh?)

If you push for diverse and more tolerant novels, but insist that this cannot possibly include conservative Christianity/Judaism and/or some currently un-PC views, then you are in fact being prejudiced yourself. There is a massive difference between agreeing to disagree with someone or a group, and standing on your soapbox and yelling through a megaphone that any views that don’t line up perfectly with your own should be banned. This approach is how dictatorships get started. If an author has written something that you don’t agree with, then love the free society you claim to be fighting for and revel in your ability to choose not to read it. Trying to force everybody around you to feel exactly the same way you do — about anything from religion to the price of apricots in Japan — is a very slippery slope.

This is a very personal subject for me, as I subscribe to a Judeo-Christian belief system, and many of my social media folks are reporting being bullied for standing up for their beliefs. That is wrong, people. If you don’t agree with me, and in fact think I’m wrong, well, I’m sorry — but I one hundred percent support your decision to have that opinion. I just ask that you respect my right to do the same.

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There are several really popular series that I simply cannot get on board with, and I am done with feeling like I need to apologize for not liking them. The Hunger Games, Divergent, Six of Crows, Throne of Glass, A Court of Thorns and Roses, all the Shadowhunters sagas… Sorry, folks, but none of these do it for me. In some cases, it’s very personal (I just don’t like reading sex scenes, and I shouldn’t have to apologize for that, either); in other cases it’s because I felt the writing was bleh and the characters weren’t well-developed, and the premise was thin… All reasons we’re supposed to be able to say this is why we didn’t like a book. And we should all be able to say this without getting our heads ripped off. Remember that free society thing that so many people are screaming about?

Fiction should not need to meet a checklist of current social issues to be judged on its artistic merits. What if to “make a work more diverse” would mean wrecking its historical accuracy? The Book Thief and anything about WWII and the prevailing views/concerns in that time period immediately springs to mind. To Kill a Mockingbird as well — racism was the point of the whole story. What if portraying a character as biased or non-forward-thinking presents a discussion the author is hoping we have? Just because somebody writes a novel about, say, the antebellum South — in all of its slavery-was-good unfortunate-trueness — does not mean for one second that they condone those ideas.

People, please, please do not write in books. Even books you own. Of any kind. I know some bookworms/bloggers/reviewers are doing this as they read, so that it helps them remember certain things for their reviews. But for crying out loud, you could use anything from your laptop to an old grocery list for taking notes!!! I seriously find this disrespectful to the written word, to the work of the author/editor/publisher, and to anyone else who may read that copy. (Library books and re-sold textbooks instantly come to mind.)

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Remember when I posted about the importance of not liking something just because “everybody else” likes it? Don’t try to coerce others to share what is just your individual perspective. Yes, it’s great when we go onto blogs/forums and find lots of people who are flailing over the same book we are currently flailing over. However, if we come across a lovely nice almond who simply thought that series was a bit rubbish, please do not spend the next 156 hours of your life making them feel like utter crap. Especially if they state their thoughts in a kind and respectful manner. If they present a “well, live and let live” attitude, then for the love of mercy and humanity, please follow their example.

There is far too much swearing, violence, sexual references, and bad-behavior-made-acceptable in YA fiction, and I don’t want my children reading it. Authors need to sit up and take notice of what parents think, if they want to keep making sales to their target audience. (Or maybe they need to change their target audience.)

Can we please find some more original ideas than zombies, “chosen ones,” young women who need to get married before their 18th birthday, and the world is about to end? This is one of those more personal-taste things, but I am so tired of picking up (and then immediately putting down) “new” releases that sound 96% like four dozen other bestsellers from the past few years. Re-tellings in particular are getting on my nerves. Why not try to find a story/concept that hasn’t been done to death in the last decade? Like an updated take on the works of Jack London, given that things like the Iditarod race is in extreme controversy these days? Or put The Twelve Dancing Princesses in a modern ballet company? Or truly break gender stereotypes by having the princess rescue the whiny, self-absorbed prince, then dump him to go rule her own queendom?

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Authors really need not to write about a very serious subject unless they are doing it justice. The number of published novels that misrepresent — for example — autism, or mental illness, or blindness/deafness, PTSD, being a veteran, being in a minority culture, having an anxiety disorder, ADHD, or even being allergic to ferrets is way too many. What’s the oldest piece of advice given to writers? To write what you know. If you honestly don’t know much about these things, leave it alone. Let those with firsthand or secondhand experience write the truth of their lives.

All right, I’m done whinging. Again, I honestly don’t want to make anyone feel bad, or start calling me a hater. (Be warned — I’ll just delete any nasty comments, anyway.) But these are topics that are growing in my awareness, and I think it’s necessary to present both sides when we’re having a conversation — not just a conver-stop.

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22 thoughts on “The Extremely Unpopular Opinions Post”

  1. I totally agree with the mature content in YA point. I don’t read a lot of YA but what I do read or read about is literally all about romance/sex, and a lot of the time, the characters are in high school, which I think is too young to be sexually active or promoting sexual activity.

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    1. Totally. Wasn’t there a bunch of research in the late 20th century stating that sexually active teenagers are more likely to have unhealthy relationships as adults, experience anxiety disorders, self-esteem crises, engage in drug use or cutting or too much alcohol, and have greater chances of being suicidal? We really need to encourage kids to stay away from things they’re not ready for.

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  2. I think the wonderful thing about this “rant” is that you are doing something about the issues you have in “YA” or “kidlit”. You are writing what you would like to see and I deeply respect that.

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    1. Thank you! I honestly wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d get to this post, but it’s been pretty positive – and from feedback I’ve seen on other sites discussing similar topics, I get the idea that those of us who see the need for change in these areas is a growing number.

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      1. Also, I didn’t realize that A Court of Thorns and Roses was considered YA! YIKES! Come on publishers, call it what it is, ADULT romantic fiction. I’m seriously stunned. I enjoyed ACOTAR & the following ACOMAF, but I enjoyed them as an ADULT woman reading a sexy series. The fact that this series is YA blows my mind and is very inappropriately marketed.

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      2. Yup, it’s the same with the Throne of Glass series. I mentioned in my discussion post on YA vs. NA that I don’t have an issue with Sarah J. Maas writing in this style – as an adult author, that’s totally her choice – but it bothers me intensely (and it should) that her publisher selected YA as her market. After discovering things like this, I’ve devoted myself to reading first everything that White Fang might want to read. Unless it’s an author that I know we can trust (for example, Neil Gaiman is excellent about separating his adult fic/juvenile fic content).

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      3. I’m going to do a book review on this series at some point on my blog. I will make sure to mention that this book is considered YA but that I feel it’s mislabeled. (Is mislabeled even the correct word?) LOL. I’m glad I read about this on your blog!

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      4. I guess you could say “mislabeled” – though I think it’s more accurate to say it’s being marketed as YA and is very clearly NA. So the publishers are apparently making this mistake on purpose. “Mislabeled” makes me think of a busy librarian accidentally putting the wrong sticker on a few books that were in a stack of a hundred she had yet to catalogue.

        All I can think of is that publishers are capitalizing on the trend for women ages 21 and up to read YA (The Hunger Games and dystopian trilogies that had a teenage protagonist being read more by adults than by kids really started this). If publishers are aware that many women over the age of 18 are still gravitating towards the YA section in bookstores, then they’re going to market a series like ACOTAR next to The Princess Diaries. I think it’s very important for parents to speak up about this idea, because I don’t feel it’s beneficial to the next generation.

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  3. Amazing post! I agree with you on so much of it!! This post should be titled “Extremely Unpopular Opinions Post (But Secretly A Lot of People Agree With Me)”. Anecdotally, I can say that I received a huge response when I spoke about similar issues on my blog, but what surprised me most was a lot of people actually surprised me in that they felt the same way, but didn’t feel like they could speak about it. And for me personally, I find it exhausting every time I read a book pushing an agenda and thinking “can I talk about this without being called a bigot?” (If the answer is no, I’ll probably do it anyway to be honest). I definitely agree that books shouldn’t just be a checklist of social issues- cos ironically those kind of books often gloss over the issue and don’t do it justice anyway. And yes, one hundred percent agree- everyone should be free to like whatever they like- and other people shouldn’t feel like they’re being coerced into joining the party.

    I will disagree with you on the writing in books thing- because that would make me a massive hypocrite, given I just spent 2 hours annotating a psychology book (one I bought) 😉 . It’s pretty standard practice for students and academics, for purely practical reasons. I find it really helpful for exposing the layers of meaning in a book. While I’ve made fun of this before on my own blog I can tell you that the example of the “existential Goodnight Moon” is a pretty accurate portrayal of how a good poem, for example, can end up looking. To me, it is simply a tool to encourage thinking. Other people say it’s a way of making a book more personal too- which is fair- cos I do feel like people reading my books are getting a bit of a more personal experience. It’s a bit like picking up a used book and finding someone else’s inscription in it (it’s a weird quirk I have, but I really love those). Plus I can tell you I keep a ton of notebooks to hand too- but it’s not sufficient for everything and there are downsides for doing a proper thorough analysis that way- a lot of books need both to do it justice. And while I wouldn’t personally write in a library book, I’ve found other people underlining passages in non-fiction helpful and add to the debate/discussion the book is having. Although, having said this, it’s one of those really divisive issues and a lot of people agree with you.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, seeing this sort of discussion on other blogs/forums (including yours) really emboldened me – it seems we are not alone, after all…

      For me, I feel writing in books is just wrong. Especially borrowed ones that you know other people will be using. If you own the book, then there are points that could be made about personal property. But recently I saw photos of a novel (personally owned by a blogger) that had been written in literally cover to cover, and as a writer (who’s about to publish), I couldn’t help thinking, “What would the author think of that?”

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      1. You’re welcome! That’s really great 🙂 Yes!
        Ah well as I said, I wouldn’t personally do it in a borrowed book and I can see your argument there. But I have to say that as a writer if someone did that to my work, I can’t imagine anything more flattering, cos it would be saying “look how many thoughts I had because of what you wrote!”

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  4. Great post! We don’t all need to agree on everything, and I think people forget that. Sometimes I hold my tongue or don’t speak up because I just don’t want to get into it with someone. I just don’t have the energy!
    I was quite honestly surprised when I read the latest Throne of Glass entry – I thought it was far too racy to be categorized as Young Adult. There seems to be this push towards sex in marketing, and it’s quite disturbing how that trend is now focusing on teens.
    I love your point about “writing what you know”. Many times it feels that something has been included in a book just to make it more diverse, and doesn’t feel organic to the plot or characters. I’m all for diversity, as we live in a diverse world, but it must be believable.

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    1. Thank you! A lot of the trends we’re seeing in the “elite” areas of society (pushed by corporations that own the marketing/advertising) greatly disturb me. Not all that long ago, teens were being told sex is bad until you were 21, and drugs, and all of it, so that hopefully there would be less teen pregnancies, less kids in rehab, etc. Nowadays the opposite seems to be the case – sex is categorized as “natural, so they should feel free to experiment,” and messing around with drugs and alcohol is considered “a rite of passage.” No wonder the high school graduation rate is in jeopardy in some cities, and teenagers are statistically proven to be more anxious than at any other time in the last few decades. We need to get back to the common sense way of raising kids – meaning not pushing them to grow up before they’re ready, and that includes in fiction.

      Lately most of the YA fiction I come across (especially contemporary) feels like it was written to a checklist – “discussion on racism? check”, “minority characters? check”, “disabled character? check” – rather than, like you said, because it actually is part of the story. That seems to be having the opposite effect on promoting acceptance and tolerance, because people feel they’re getting “an agenda” shoved at them, instead of meeting real people they could relate to.

      And, yes, all of it feels very exhausting anymore!

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic post!!! I don’t read a lot of YA, mainly because of the stuff you went through in your post. My issue is homosexuality. I’m Christian–and I don’t believe in homosexuality, nor do I support it. And yet EVERY SINGLE YA book has to contain “bi” or “trans” or “gay” representation. Look, I have nothing against authors writing about what they believe in. That’s the POINT of literature. But a YA novel doesn’t just include a gay character, oh no, they shove that character in your face until you accept them–or you’re labeled a homophobe and a bigot. That’s why I prefer adult literature, I suppose, because I’ve found that in books usually marketed for adults, homosexual characters are presented in a “take it or leave it” fashion, while YA actively advances a certain agenda. And yep, underage sex is also a big problem, as well as profanity–you hit the nail on the head. I know the sway of conforming to some tropes can be quite powerful; I have found myself plotting a novel and then going, “Oh crud–all my characters are white. I’m gonna be labeled as racist,” when in reality, due to where I live I ONLY know white people and there’s no point in sticking in a Chinese girl just for the heck of it if I have no clue how to do her “diversity” justice. Anyway, I really admire you writing about this–again, lovely post!!!! ~Hermione

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    1. Thank you! This post came out of what I was reading on several other blogs – definitely the idea that Christians or socially conservative people who carry currently unpopular opinions are being marginalized in mainstream publishing. Which, then, of course, is being a bigot yourself, publishing companies.

      When I decided to market my own series as YA (for a while I wasn’t sure if it would be borderline NA – but I would’ve made that very clear in my summary), I carefully monitored how “far” certain things went. Being very, very aware that I now have a teenage son – and he or his friends may want to read my work – became my guideline far more than any standard of the publishing industry. (I’m self-publishing, anyway.)

      It’s been my experience that we live in a world where the word “tolerance” has lost its true meaning, and that people who claim to push for it really don’t want it if you disagree with their ideas. In a free society, you can’t have that. This includes in fiction.

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    2. And by the way, I definitely think that there’s something to be said for not wanting to follow a trope in pursuit of historical or literary accuracy. When I decided to make international settings a major part of the premise for my contemporary fantasy series, I knew that meant naturally there would be plenty of different cultures involved. And when it’s naturally a part of the story, that’s fine. But you’re right, when it’s just conforming to an agenda, then it could ruin the whole idea.

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