Discussion: Annoying Book Tropes

Discussion: Annoying Book Tropes

I’ve seen a number of posts like this, but I wanted to dive a little deeper into some of my bookish pet peeves. Let’s get ready to RAMBLE!!!!!

Heroes having a huge moral debate about killing the bad guy

I absolutely hate when the protagonist agonizes about killing the villain. It’s an interesting moral question in general, but it gets old really fast. I much prefer J.K. Rowling’s approach to this topic. Harry continues to use ‘stupefy’ or disarming spells and finally the adults around him point out “THIS PERSON IS TRYING TO KILL YOU- REACT ACCORDINGLY!”

This internal debate is also the backbone of countless movies and T.V. shows (season 3 Aang comes to mind, from Avatar: The Last Airbender). Every single time a protagonist decides to jail their opponent I think of the final scene in the X-men trilogy, when Magneto realizes he has some power left. Leaving them alive is not a good idea. It’s going to come back and bite you in the ass.

Having re-read that paragraph, I’m not sure what this attitude says about my personality… something not good, probably. In real life, things are seldom so cut and dry, but in fiction, I want my good guys to commit to a course of action and move on.

 

Sex is either amazing or traumatizing, there is no in-between

This one really makes me angry. Generally speaking, there are two types of sexual content in books: it’s either mind-blowing and orgasmic, or it’s some kind of deep, dark secret. On the mind-blowing side, you have the unrealistic first-time experiences, or sex that is always phenomenal and earth shattering. On the dark secret side, sex is the source of shame or emotional distress.

Both of these approaches have their place, but what about middle-of-the-road experiences? Your first time can be perfectly pleasant, but unremarkable. Sex with a new lover can be awkward and mediocre. Additionally, sexual trauma can be dealt with in a healthy way.

I really think that this topic would benefit from more nuanced writing. At a bare minimum, can we please see some more dialogue about sex? I’m not talking about moaning or screaming of names, but actual discussion between consenting partners.

 

Diversity as the driving force in the plot

I write about diversity. I read books specifically looking for diversity. Diversity is amazing and representation is incredibly important and undervalued.

Having said that, I would love to see diversity incorporated into books without it being the source of conflict. I love when a book includes diverse characters, but doesn’t go out of their way to draw attention to that fact. ‘Shadowshaper‘ does this really well. The characters are racially and sexually diverse, but that diversity isn’t the source of conflict in the book. The characters are all different, but equally valued and their race/gender/sexual orientation is simply accepted as fact.

Racism, sexism and general bigotry have their place in literature. I 100% believe that those stories are important to tell. However, it is actually possible for different people to peacefully coexist.  For example, I’d love to see more LGBTQ+ characters who have already come out, and are accepted unconditionally by their family. As another example, the story line for a character with disabilities doesn’t need to revolve around that disability. I want more books that feature a fat character who isn’t trying to lose weight.

Again, I just want more nuanced writing, and more inclusion of real-life situations.

***

What do you think of these tropes? Do you have any others that really annoy you?

 

Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time- that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity towards conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”

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Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Book Cover for Shrill by Lindy West

Publisher’s blurb (taken from Amazon): “Shrill is an uproarious memoir, a feminist rallying cry in a world that thinks gender politics are tedious and that women, especially feminists, can’t be funny.

Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.”

What I liked:

West does a good job of blending serious discussion topics with funny and heartfelt anecdotes. **Sensitive content warning** A lot of discussion points in this book are really heavy. Lindy talks at length about rape and rape culture, as well as threats of violence and trolling** Some of the comments she’s received (and published in the book) are truly horrifying, but unfortunately they aren’t uncommon. West is honest about the psychological effect of those comments, yet still manages to pull something positive out of the troll swamp.

This book is honest in a way that is sometimes uncomfortable, but I liked it. West doesn’t shy away from anything; body functions, family crises and humiliation are all on full display. At some points it’s a little cringe-worthy, but only because it’s so relatable.

‘Shrill’ isn’t just about being a woman. It isn’t just about being fat. It isn’t about being a comedian, or having an online presence. It’s a mash-up of all those life experiences, as told by someone who’s currently living them. This is a collection of essays, but it’s also a memoir about finding your voice when people just want you to shut up.

What I didn’t like:

I was hoping I’d come away from ‘Shrill’ feeling empowered and energized. Instead, I felt a little depressed about the realities of the world. I mentioned this same feeling in my review of ‘I Am Malala’. I think the book is meant to be inspirational, or at least heartening, but I didn’t feel that way when I set it down. I felt demoralized by how cruel and hurtful humans can be. Lindy is happy to claim the small victories, but for me they highlighted how far we have to go.

Would I recommend this book:

Yeah, but I’d let you know up front that it’s a solid “like”, not “love”.

Additional thoughts:

I appreciated the fact that West made sure to touch on issues of race and social class. She doesn’t go into a ton of detail, but those elements are mentioned. As a white, well-educated woman, her experiences aren’t totally universal, but I think most of us can relate to her basic points.

I’d categorize ‘Shrill’ as an essay memoir, or a collection of think-pieces about feminism. I’m not saying that categorization is either good or bad, but I’m not sure I agree with the publisher’s “rallying cry” description. To me, “rallying cry” implies a call to action, which ‘Shrill’ doesn’t do, or at least didn’t for me. If you’re looking for something that’s more instruction-oriented, I’d recommend ‘Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls’ by Jes Baker.

I wanted to end on the same note that West does, because I really loved this closing quote: “Fighting for diverse voices is world-building. Proclaiming the inherent value of fat people is world-building. Believing rape victims is world-building. Refusing to cave to abortion stigma is world-building. Voting is world-building. So is kindness, compassion, listening, making space, saying yes, saying no. We’re all building our world, right now, in real time. Let’s build it better.”

Friday Sneak Peek

Friday Sneak Peek

Today I’m combining two different book blog memes: Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader and First Lines Fridays hosted by Wandering Words.

The idea for each one is to share the first line of a book, and your first impressions of it, so let’s begin!

First Line(s): 

“Why is, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ the go-to small talk we make with children? ‘Hello child. As I have run out of compliments to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future?'”

First Impressions:

 Yeah, I’m going to like this book. In two sentences we already have funny social commentary, an overwhelming amount of sass, and existential anxiety about life in general. These are a few of my favorite things (who needs raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens?) (Just kidding, I love both of those things too). In all seriousness, though, I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, and the first lines didn’t disappoint. I’m in need of some fiery feminist reading to counteract the crap happening in the world right now. I’m glad I picked this up.

***

What I’m Reading:

Book Cover for Shrill by Lindy West

 

Publisher’s Blurb (taken from Amazon):

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY:
NPR, ESQUIRE, The LA Times, and NEWSWEEK

WINNER OF THE STRANGER GENIUS AWARD

Shrill is an uproarious memoir, a feminist rallying cry in a world that thinks gender politics are tedious and that women, especially feminists, can’t be funny.

Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.”

***

My full review will be up on Monday.

What are you reading this weekend?