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>Shoulda stuck to their guns

>Colleen has a great post up summarizing the drama that’s been going on around Bitch Magazine’s publication of “100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader.” The comments on the magazine’s site are the best–incensed that Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (among others) had been removed from the list because it might “trigger” victims of rape, other writers who have books on the list (Maureen Johnston, Ellen Klages, Scott Westerfeld, etc.) are demanding that their books be removed, too.

But these “triggers.” I dunno–while I don’t deny that subsequent experiences can unpleasantly or even horrifically cause a previous trauma to reemerge, who knows what is going to do what to whom?  It seems like the ultimate drama queen trump card: you can’t say/write/show/do anything that might cause somebody/somewhere/sometime to have a panic attack? Shoot me now.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Laura Ruby says:

    >I think the problem is/was is that they didn't have any particular guns to stick to, that is, they had no specific selection criteria, and thus no way to explain why any particular book was chosen in the first place.

    — Laura

  2. Anonymous says:

    >And very little credibility once McAllister admitted she hadn't read all the books before putting them on her list.

  3. >I wondered about criteria, also. The website says the 100 books featured "inspiring feminist themes." That isn't very specific, but, even so, it suggests that someone had decided that each book had an "inspiring feminist theme." So when questions arose about Tender Morsels and the other two books, the people who compiled the list should have been able to argue that the books had an "inspiring feminist theme" and stated what it was.

    Of course, to do that someone would have had to have read the books.

    If a group of people had a lot of time, they could have some fun reading all those books and debating whether or not they had inspiring feminist themes. That would entail figuring out what an inspiring feminist theme is.

  4. >I disagree with their reasoning, but you have the reasoning wrong about Tender Morsels. They did not remove Tender Morsels because it was triggering, but because they felt that it did not adequately convey that using rape as a tool of revenge was problematic.

    Living Dead Girl was removed because of it's triggering nature.

    "We've decided to remove these books from the list — Sisters Red because of the victim-blaming scene that was discussed earlier in this post, Tender Morsels because of the way that the book validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance, and Living Dead Girl because of its triggering nature."

  5. Christine says:

    >What does it mean for a book to be a "trigger"? Who gets to decide? Isn't having a book be a "trigger" a description of an individual's response to a book?

    I looked up "trigger" online and was referred to "trauma trigger" which (wikipedia, natch)

    So it sounds like a book being a "trigger" is when an particular reader reads a particular book and responds to their reading (or listening) by recollecting or reexperiencing a trauma from that particular reader's past. But we also know that one reader's response does not predict another readers response, right?

    Should Mary, a teen who was raped, read a particular book in which a rape is depicted? Will the book trigger Mary's previous trauma? Doesn't the answer to this question depend entirely on Mary herself? Maybe a book depicting rape might be the *last* thing Mary would want to read (in which case she'd probably put it down). But perhaps Mary would read a book with said depiction and weep with relief to realize that others have had similar experiences? that she is not alone?

    Can a book be a "trigger"? for an individual reader? Well, yeah, probably….but according to the description of trauma trigger (yes, from wikipedia): "Triggers can be quite diverse, appearing in the form of individual people, places, noises, images, smells, tastes, emotions, animals, films, scenes within films, dates of the year, tones of voice, body positions, bodily sensations, weather conditions, time factors, or combinations thereof. Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate."
    So what would *not* be a potential trigger?

    OK, I need to stop.
    Thanks for listening 🙂
    this a very very individual response to a book?

  6. Christine says:

    >oops..didn't proofread thoroughly…text drift strikes again….
    DELETE the last line
    "this is a very very individual response to a book?"

  7. >Roger,

    I know I am coming to this late, but I wonder if I could poke you to talk about jacket copy. I'd hoped that someone in this fracas would want to discuss jacket copy in regards to trigger warnings, but no one has.

    Has the Horn Book ever noted in a review that a book's jacket copy is misleading? That people expecting a middle grade novel are going to be blindsided by the rape scene, or the YA language, or the suicide half way through?

    Most jacket copy I have seen seems to do a good job of providing exactly the trigger warnings that some commenters at Bitch seemed to want. They can't be explicit, but they can be filled with code words to queue the reader about content. I'd love to see a discussion about what expectations we have for jacket copy because I think it is incredibly difficult to write. You posted about the cover of The Romeo and Juliet Code. What's the jacket copy like?


  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >M, we often don't see jacket copy–what's on the ARC is generally more abbreviated or in any case preliminary.The finished jacket copy of The Romeo and Juliet Code does mention the WWII time setting but almoat in passing, while paying rather too much atention to the heroine's crush, a minor aspect of the book.

    We do note if an element of a book seems out of genre–I remember there was some dissonance in the latest Francesca Lia Block book we pointed out. We also mentioned the clueless cover of Romeo and Juliet.

    The discussion of "triggers" over at Bitch seemed very unsophisticated to me–aren't triggers often deeply personal–smells, sounds, etc.? Not topics. At least that's what I know from TV.

  9. >Unsophisticated is the word. I'm sure there is an infinite number of triggers in the world. Also, the result of a trigger can range from discomfort at being reminded of something unpleasant right up to complete incapacitation and days or weeks of recovery.

    But we know some of the triggers, don't we? I think we recognize certain subjects that some topics might be more than uncomfortable for some readers.

    Last year Tony Buschbaum had his own flame war at January magazine after he read Will Grayson Will Grayson and suggested ratings stickers for books. I remember wondering how anyone could pick up that book, look at the cover, read the jacket copy and be shocked shocked that there was such bad language in it.

    What I don't understand, either about the trigger issue, or the ratings issue, is why people want to throw over the nuanced, socially constructed system of jacket design and copy and shelf placement for a flat, useless, one note Trigger Warning or Mature Content Rating. But they seem to want just that. So, maybe if we talked more about things like Jacket Copy, maybe people think more about what it does? Maybe people would ask for better Copy. Or maybe they would tell Scholastic that they think the publishers are racing to the bottom for the Bubble Gum Cover Prize.

    Everything in moderation, I really don't want to abandon the position that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But, maybe a little, we could expect that the sense of the book that we get from the cover wouldn't be complete bullshit?


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