I’m having a really hard time right now and this is just mean and cruel
November 15, 2019 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Famous Authors Drag Student in Surreal YA Twitter Controversy. Author Sarah Dessen tweets about a Northern State University student who feels that Dessen's books aren't "up to the level of (Northern State's) Common Read."
posted by Greg Nog (169 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Serious question: what the fuck is wrong with the YA community?
posted by schadenfrau at 5:37 PM on November 15, 2019 [80 favorites]


I think this one is related to what is wrong with the geek community. They feel like they're victims of various things (sexism, ageism, pseudo-intellectualism), and they read all situations through that lens, while ignoring actual power dynamics. Also, the quote that circulated was taken totally out of context, and people reacted to it without realizing that the author if it was some random grad student who wasn't in a position to defend herself against a Twitter mob.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:40 PM on November 15, 2019 [37 favorites]


schadenfrau, I'm no expert, but I think that it's like something I've said before: hurt people hurt people. These authors have faced discrimination and belittlement, and so they lashed out at someone they could reach. It's a really human response.

I felt bad for Nelson. I once made waves on a small campus because of an editorial about some internecine turmoil, and I even got calls from alumnx, but at least it was the Before Time and the entire world did not put me on blast. At the time, I was defiant, but I was also pushed to my limit emotionally, and I don't know how I would have stood up to going viral. Nelson seems uniquely well suited to taking this on, as a scholar studying online harassment.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:45 PM on November 15, 2019 [19 favorites]


I mean, maybe. I can tell you from my experience it looks like a bunch of mean girls who have gotten high on their mean girl power. Like it is fucking uncanny how much these periodic YA meltdowns mimic the kinds of drama I remember as being extremely common in the very demographics these people write for.

From the outside it looks like they’re all living in a terrifying teen girl prison. Except they’re adults. Somehow.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:47 PM on November 15, 2019 [64 favorites]


Twitter in particular seems to almost frictionlessly enable people to respond to examples of poor empathy in ways that are even less empathetic.
posted by PhineasGage at 5:48 PM on November 15, 2019 [31 favorites]




Writers who get mad every time someone interrogates their text from the wrong perspective need to turn off Google Alerts.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:53 PM on November 15, 2019 [73 favorites]


Once more, social media and the internet fail everyone. Going back to letter press probably isn’t an option, though.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:53 PM on November 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


24 hours ago I had no idea who Sarah Dessen was, now I mostly understand her to be a twit. Also Siobhan Vivian. Well done, YA authors, you've managed to get on my radar (and I'm sure many others) in a really bad way.
posted by axiom at 5:53 PM on November 15, 2019 [22 favorites]


Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ever respond to criticisms of your work you find online. Double negative points for replying with a preface of "a friend showed me what you wrote about me." Yeah, A FRIEND CALLED GOOGLE SEARCH. Please, just own being a vain asshole.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:58 PM on November 15, 2019 [127 favorites]


I've heard the Gen-X equivalent of "ok boomer" is "ok Karen*", and it seems to totally fit in this situation. Jeez, Sarah Dessen, someone didn't like your book, someone thought it was only for teenage girls, and someone tried to prevent it from becoming a Common Read book. I mean, yeah, it must suck to run across that opinion of your work, but complaining about it on twitter seems like it was done with the purpose of getting people on Twitter to say mean things about Brooke Nelson, which is sad tbh.

*no offense to anyone actually named Karen
posted by 23skidoo at 6:01 PM on November 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


Serious question: what the fuck is wrong with the YA community?

Almost everything that I read about YA is from Mefi but unfortunately most of it focuses on random industry drama that's blown out of proportion and probably not at all representative of the industry.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2019 [12 favorites]



When Dessen's tweet first came across my dashboard several days ago, I looked up the article it was screen-shotted from, and I thought, "Oh, yeah, if it's a campus-wide reading program, Just Mercy is definitely a better choice than a Sarah Dessen book. Not phrased in the nicest way, perhaps, but totally valid." Not because I dislike Sarah Dessen, but because I think campus-wide reading programs work well when they broaden students' perspectives on social issues, or justice, or just experiences outside their own experiences.

It is bad when people are reflexively contemptuous of things that are for teen girls, because they're for teen girls. And I can see why the YA community has, perhaps, a very overactive immune response to that contempt. And I can see why the quoted young woman's response could have read, in context, as contemptuous. But -- SO many people with all the responsibility that should come with social media influence didn't bother to investigate further, just rushed to the defense of their friend who got their feelings hurt. I normally think that articles bemoaning the toxicity of "YA Twitter" are sensationalizing and overdramatizing things. But this time? Yikes.
posted by Jeanne at 6:10 PM on November 15, 2019 [28 favorites]


"Vivian, meanwhile, deleted her tweet calling Nelson a “fucking bitch.” She wrote to Vulture in an email, “I tweeted a thing that I should have DMed.”

In what world is it okay dming this to someone???
posted by smoke at 6:15 PM on November 15, 2019 [79 favorites]


> Going back to letter press probably isn’t an option, though.

Yes, but there is something specifically extra noxious about the way Twitter operates. Maybe we could either just get rid of Twitter altogether, or at least fix it somehow.

(Just getting rid of it seems the most appealing option.)
posted by flug at 6:16 PM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think that she meant she should have DMed it to Dessen, not to Dessen's critic.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2019 [22 favorites]


Ohhh that makes sense!
posted by smoke at 6:21 PM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Who in their right fucking mind would want to be a YA author in this mess? Like if this is what you have to participate in to get noticed, to get one of those few, extremely competitive YA book deals? If this is what you have to live to promote your work, and hope that others will promote your work?

I mean, YA makes the Goodreads machine look like puppy dogs who sneeze glitter and fart rainbows, and whenever I see a Goodreads author flexing in the wild I just try to look very small and be very still until they go away.

Like just...why.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:24 PM on November 15, 2019 [16 favorites]


There seem to be two general types of authors on Twitter and other social media sites.

There are the ones who sic their fans (and in this case, colleagues [wtf authors?]) on someone legitimately acting horribly, or in this case, someone acting in a harsh but not necessarily bad-faith way.

Then there are the ones who obliquely say "yeah I see someone's being lame. Don't go pestering them on my behalf or I'll block and mute YOU."

Guess which ones I still follow on Twitter.
posted by tclark at 6:27 PM on November 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


I’m pretty sad to see so many of my favourite feminist authors joining the pile-on. It’s a shocking amount of punching down.
posted by some chick at 6:28 PM on November 15, 2019 [71 favorites]


“I tweeted a thing that I should have DMed.”

Translation seems to be "I still think she's a fucking bitch, just quietly now."
posted by tclark at 6:30 PM on November 15, 2019 [25 favorites]


it's 2019 and so many cishet white women still think that intersectionality means being shitty to other women but while using the word "y'all" no matter where they are from and regardless of its appropriateness conversationally
posted by poffin boffin at 6:37 PM on November 15, 2019 [94 favorites]


This pathetic spectacle depresses more than it really should. Every single person in this country with any amount of power, every single one, is a god damn selfish little baby. We are totally fucked.
posted by scantee at 6:39 PM on November 15, 2019 [16 favorites]


I mean, if you have an army, there are things worth doing with it. Like the world is really scary right now. There’s probably lots of ways to use your influence to make it less scary.

But that doesn’t bring the same easy dopamine rush you get from hurting someone smaller than you, so fuck it.

It’s not just Dessen who does this, obviously. Roxane Gay’s weird passive aggressive twitter shit has creeped me out for a while, and the overall practice of crucifying first time authors for problematic books rather than the publishers who choose to publish them is also creepy to me. Basically everyone involved in any of these blow ups is someone I would actively avoid in life, and I remain BAFFLED about how this sort of thing can go on past middle school, and I am just now realizing that perhaps my bafflement is the real naïveté.

Maybe it’s time for a drink.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:41 PM on November 15, 2019 [47 favorites]


these periodic YA meltdowns mimic the kinds of drama I remember as being extremely common in the very demographics these people write for.

Have you ever seen the movie Young Adult? It's so true!

I'm a big YA and kids' books reader, and I've enjoyed one of Sarah Dessen's novels, but I really agree with Brooke Nelson. University/grad school is for stretching beyond teenagerhood towards harder, different stuff that's probably a little bit beyond you and your experience. (It's why I have no issue with 19-year-olds being "pretentious" -- they're trying very hard to be someone more than who they are, and that's kind of admirable.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 6:51 PM on November 15, 2019 [63 favorites]


There’s nothing wrong with adults reading YA; we’ve lost a bunch of simple reading genres and people often just want something easy to read. There’s even nothing wrong with college students specifically studying YA lit as YA, in specialized classes. But should colleges assign a YA book as a general read? I cordially invite you to grow the fuck up.
posted by Hypatia at 6:54 PM on November 15, 2019 [42 favorites]


I was once on the receiving end of some Twitter anger from Roxane Gay, for having had the temerity to politely disagree with her on a topic that I have specific, professional experience and knowledge about. Her snark bothered me a lot less than the comments from other famous authors along the lines of 'You are in big trouble with ME if you go after Roxane.' A similar group dynamic, it seems, to what we saw here. It just seemed infantile.
posted by PhineasGage at 6:55 PM on November 15, 2019 [65 favorites]


*no offense to anyone actually named Karen
I’d just like to point out that in about 2002 Dane Cook had a routine about how “everyone named Karen is douchebag”. So mostly I’m amazed that so many people in 2019 are using the Internet to sound like Dane Cook.
posted by ewok_academy at 7:01 PM on November 15, 2019 [18 favorites]


Woe betide a woman with an opinion.

Nelson studies linguistics — specifically, online harassment.

So, yeah.
posted by Miko at 7:01 PM on November 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


"The Hate U Give" was a YA that was a Common Read at the college in the article, and also at a community college in my own district, and I thought that was a great choice; well-written, compelling, addresses racism and police brutality in a way that is good for sheltered white kids from the rural middle of the country. I don't think it's the fact that it's YA that's inherently the problem.

(I'd say that Ready Player One was a much less defensible choice, despite being published as Adult...)
posted by Jeanne at 7:02 PM on November 15, 2019 [25 favorites]


Liz Bruenig had a good thread exploring the dynamic at work here:
In my view, woke culture has several moral principles, and these are two of them:

1.) Through a weird alchemy of representation, if you market to or advocate for an oppressed group, you hold in your person the moral value of that group

2.) It's bad to 'punch down.'

Now, the 'punching down' axiom has its problems, though it's generally a good rule. One issue is that since it's such a major tent pole of woke morality, it implies you can do basically whatever you want to people 'more powerful' than you are, which isn't true or good.

But it also produces weird chemistry with the transitive property of representation. In this case, the YA fiction writers with huge followings and plenty of social/professional capital responded with overwhelming force to a young nobody because they *represent* teen girls.

Essentially, the fact that they *market products to teen girls* means that, in the market place, they *represent* teen girls, which means that no matter how powerful they are, attacking their work is an attack on teen girls tout court. So you can never really 'punch up' at them.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:02 PM on November 15, 2019 [110 favorites]


I have a lot of opinions about this that I’m not going to express because I don’t want to hurt myself professionally, even though I’m semi-anonymous here. I will say that common book choices should present the reader with enough meat for a serious discussion, and that some books marketed as YA would be appropriate for common read programs. Not all of them, just as not all adult fiction would work.
posted by bq at 7:07 PM on November 15, 2019 [16 favorites]


Essentially, the fact that they *market products to teen girls* means that, in the market place, they *represent* teen girls, which means that no matter how powerful they are, attacking their work is an attack on teen girls tout court. So you can never really 'punch up' at them.
I mean, I guess. But there actually is a dynamic by which things that are associated with teenaged girls are assumed to be garbage, regardless of whether they actually are produced by teenaged girls. That is a real thing, and it has been for a very, very long time. And that is definitely, without a doubt, a factor in the way that many people talk about YA. They think YA books are stupid because they're for teen girls, and anything for teen girls is, by definition, stupid. (And I don't know if that's what's going on here: I have never read anything by Sarah Dessen. But I can see why people, especially people who are primed to be defensive about this, would think it was.) But it is also true that prominent authors on Twitter have a ton of followers, and those followers are totally capable of harassing and terrorizing people who the authors criticize. So both things can be true: that there is prejudice against YA books and that YA authors have power and should be careful how they use it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:15 PM on November 15, 2019 [20 favorites]


I saw Sarah Dessen's original tweet, with its screencap of the quote from the Northern State graduate, soon after it was posted, and I thought, "That's what you characterize as mean and cruel?" She was getting so much uncritical support for it, too. I wish I'd taken the time to push back against it. I've never read her work and probably never will now, because I don't care to find out what kind of work that kind of immature mentality would produce.

This kind of shit is why I avoid making friends with writers, even though I am a writer myself. I have no patience whatsoever for listening writers complain about how hard writing is, or how they don't think their work is good, or about receiving criticism, or about their insecurities in general, and I always feel like saying, "Journal that shit, please, because it's unbearably tedious to listen to."
posted by orange swan at 7:18 PM on November 15, 2019 [46 favorites]


Call me naive, but I thought (or at least hoped) that an enduring tenet of progressivism was *don't punch anyone*...
posted by PhineasGage at 7:18 PM on November 15, 2019 [14 favorites]


1.) Through a weird alchemy of representation, if you market to or advocate for an oppressed group, you hold in your person the moral value of that group

I’m so glad someone has finally articulated what’s so absurdly dumb about this

Oh man that’s satisfying
posted by schadenfrau at 7:19 PM on November 15, 2019 [45 favorites]


Call me naive, but I thought (or at least hoped) that an enduring tenet of progressivism was *don't punch anyone*...

What gave you that idea? I've never understood progressivism to be about some kind of weird pacifism. You punch the people that deserve punching, and help those who deserve helping. This sounds like the "maybe we shouldn't punch Nazis" slippery slope-ism some people started engaging in when Richard Spencer got actually punched. I had no problem with Spencer being punched, and I have no problem with figuratively punching the powerful when they exercise that power to make the world worse.
posted by axiom at 7:47 PM on November 15, 2019 [41 favorites]


I am not on team never-punch. But this person isn't Richard Spencer, in two respects: she's not a Nazi, and she's not a public person. I think there's a lot of space between "never criticize anyone on Twitter" and "if you have hundreds of thousands of followers, consider the implications of publicly criticizing a random, non-famous person whose opinions about books you don't like."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:02 PM on November 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


To be clear I was not intending to compare anyone in this story to a Nazi.
posted by axiom at 8:16 PM on November 15, 2019 [12 favorites]


I would call this a thoughtless move by Dessen that merits an apology, and it's not the first time I've seen an author of the genre do something dim in public. Nonetheless, everyone talking about YA world as if it were especially toxic or emotional or self-righteous...you know those are codewords that are easily decodable, yes?
posted by praemunire at 8:24 PM on November 15, 2019 [14 favorites]


God, this is all so ugly. Some people have apologized, like the Fuggirls bloggers (and it was a genuine apology too).

However, N.K. Jemisin has just doubled down, and has continued to attack the college student in question, as well as anyone asking that she apologize.

A friend of mine has recently left Twitter because of things like this, and this makes me want to leave Twitter as well.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 8:24 PM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Let us not overlook the fact that the article Sarah Dessen managed to find was from 2016, which makes this whole thing even more pathetic. Get a life, Dessen.
posted by sallybrown at 8:26 PM on November 15, 2019 [50 favorites]


Well, if what you say is correct (the link seems wrong?) then I've just lost all respect for N.K. Jemisin.
posted by aramaic at 8:30 PM on November 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


It is bad when people are reflexively contemptuous of things that are for teen girls, because they're for teen girls. And I can see why the YA community has, perhaps, a very overactive immune response to that contempt. And I can see why the quoted young woman's response could have read, in context, as contemptuous.

Yeah I mean it's just - a "young woman" is a "teen girl" plus a small or medium amount of time, so there's something about this that feels like it's not really following through on the "respect" thing.
posted by atoxyl at 8:38 PM on November 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


as if it were especially toxic

Do you spend any time there?
posted by schadenfrau at 8:42 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Sorry, aramaic. The link IS wrong! This is what I meant to link to-- this tweet, and the thread that follows.

N. K. Jemisin @nkjemisin
Replying to @mondilator
If the student is being harassed, that should definitely be condemned! But being a student does not exempt this person from basic politeness expectations, or from critique if their publicly-stated reasons for excluding an artist's work are problematic. Welcome to adulthood.
8:54 AM · Nov 13, 2019·Twitter Web App
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 8:43 PM on November 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


Honestly I wonder if it wouldn't be better for everyone if Twitter accounts were limited to at most like a thousand followers.
posted by Pyry at 8:51 PM on November 15, 2019 [13 favorites]


Yeah, Jemisin isn't covering herself in glory here. Disappointing.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:58 PM on November 15, 2019 [24 favorites]


You are not mature enough to create art for a public audience if you need and expect everyone to like it and appreciate it. Good grief, what a tantrum
posted by knoyers at 9:04 PM on November 15, 2019 [23 favorites]


a bunch of mean girls

they are middle-aged women and older, and thinking of themselves as any kind of girls or other cutesy diminutives is exactly what has allowed them to feel natural and righteous interacting with a woman less than half their age as if they are all age-peers. "Mean girls" is exactly the babyish sexist slang-language they speak, and they are not to be trusted in the way they describe themselves. I recommend against picking up their way of talking, as it leads to their way of thinking.

somewhat relatedly, the mid-car-crash obsession with whether their victim was really a teen at the time of her Incorrect Thought, or 20 or 21 (as one particularly awful person said today, she isn't, after all, a "doe-eyed 18 year old" -- no angel, don't you know) is just the vilest. the kind of person who's obsessed with finding out whether a girl or very young woman is legal or not before they go after her is not the kind of person anyone reasonable wants to be.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:05 PM on November 15, 2019 [57 favorites]


By the way folks, YA books are not ‘for teen girls’. YA books are for young adults of both genders. Some of them are clearly aimed more at girls and some more at boys but saying YA books are for girls is just wrong.
posted by bq at 9:06 PM on November 15, 2019 [23 favorites]


And I can see why the quoted young woman's response could have read, in context, as contemptuous.

Contempt for Dessen's body of work is a perfectly valid response to reading it. It isn't what she expressed, of course. It may not even be what she feels for it. Not even now. but it's fine. Why shouldn't she, or you, or I, be contemptuous of it?

Negative or not, a statement about an author's work is not a statement to the author. it is not a provocation. it is not an attack. any attempt to monitor reader responses and prevent readers from talking to each other without authorial supervision, to try to implant paranoia and restrict normal thinking and talking about books by reminding naughty children that Author is always listening, is bananas and absolutely impossible to respect.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:12 PM on November 15, 2019 [105 favorites]


I gotta say that after my town's common read program fizzled out I'm jealous of Aberdeen, SD. They sound like they have a good thing going.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 9:14 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Do you spend any time there?

Uh, yes?

But I would hardly need to to know. Shitty authorial behavior, particularly in the form of unsuitable reaction to criticism, is a well-known problem across all genres, and as a grown reader I know how to recognize misogynistic rhetoric when I see it, even if it's being deployed unconsciously. When I find certain phrasings starting to come out, I try to sit on my fingers for a while.
posted by praemunire at 9:18 PM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


But being a student does not exempt this person from basic politeness expectations, or from critique if their publicly-stated reasons for excluding an artist's work are problematic. Welcome to adulthood.

Holy crap, if you'd put his name there instead, I wouldn't doubt that it had out of the mouth of Ben Shapiro. I can hear the sneer in "Welcome to adulthood" from here. Brooke Nelson was doxxed and driven offline, and Jemisin calls it "Welcome to adulthood?" What a staggering lack of empathy from someone who I've seen do towering, powerful things. Everyone has off days I guess, but doubling down on this really is making me a little disillusioned here.
posted by tclark at 9:27 PM on November 15, 2019 [64 favorites]


I don't think YA is especially toxic. This meltdown is at about the same level as the Superpeople Community freaking out about Scorcese (rightly) pointing out that The Avengers is not art, it's fun trash, a completely forgettable ride that does nothing for the mind or soul. What I don't get is why YA can't realize it's at the same level. I mean, all authors are narcissistic babies, at some level, but would anyone gnash their teeth if you pointed out that Lee Childs and John Grisham were not... That great, not edifying, that they don't get at something deep about the human condition and bring us to contemplation of our own humanity. They're just entertainment. YA novels too are generally no more elevated than soaps...

It's OK to enjoy a diversion in a soap, to lose yourself in trash entertainment! I love it, myself, and I loved it more the more my energies were being spent on Big Thoughts like writing a philosophy thesis, which is when I managed to read a great deal of escapist trash.

We shouldn't be afraid to admit we use media to escape and it's not easy to produce really good escapism, but it's wild that now everyone has to defend the thing they enjoy as high art.

A rollercoaster isn't capital A art but it's a great time and worth waiting in line for.
posted by dis_integration at 9:31 PM on November 15, 2019 [14 favorites]


"welcome to adulthood"

as dumb as it all is, it's also hilarious and great to see the otherworldly calm, intelligence, and thoughtfulness with which the student has publicly responded to this nonsense. thank god she didn't buckle under the strain and start explaining and apologizing for nothing. Dropping in a casual repetition of her recommendation that we all read some Edwidge Danticat and expand our minds a little bit. Ten times the adult -- in the best possible sense -- that Dessen and Picoult and Jemisin and various others have ever been. I was going to say "will ever be" but I'm sure Nelson would have a more optimistic outlook on it, so I will try to, too.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:34 PM on November 15, 2019 [50 favorites]


Dessen posted an apology. It was linked at the bottom of the Vulture article.
posted by edheil at 9:35 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


it's also hilarious and great to see the otherworldly calm, intelligence, and thoughtfulness with which the student has publicly responded to this nonsense.... Ten times the adult -- in the best possible sense -- that Dessen and Picoult and Jemison and various others have ever been.

Yes. I wish Brooke Nelson were still on Twitter, so that I could follow her. Her comments on this matter were so insightful and intelligent and fascinating. I've muted Sarah Dessen and blocked N.K. Jemison.

I'm just three years younger than Dessen, and all I can say about people our age is that some people's brains gain in mental complexity as they grow older... and some don't.
posted by orange swan at 9:43 PM on November 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


Dessen posted an apology. It was linked at the bottom of the Vulture article.

That is... One of the worst apologies I've ever seen
posted by dis_integration at 9:44 PM on November 15, 2019 [25 favorites]


I have a much smaller reach and I've written a few books that have had mostly positive reception and I feel every criticism hard in a way that's unhealthy and there's no way in hell I could imagine seething this directly in public.
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:49 PM on November 15, 2019 [16 favorites]


One thing I notice in Internet pile-ons is a disclaimer that of course harassment is bad, but the tweets encouraging the pile-on are not at fault. For example, from the Jemisin tweet:

If the student is being harassed, that should definitely be condemned!

This annoys me, likely out of all proportion, because it feels so false. As if harassment is not a perfectly predictable result of this situation. As if no one involved in this could have possibly guessed what their friends and followers might do.

I mean, I know it’s hard to accept that we live in a world where Twitter followers are a form of power and you can ruin a remote stranger’s day in a matter of hours with your smartphone.

But when you have that power, you don’t get to pretend it doesn’t exist. You need to acknowledge that when you are publicly angry with someone, a percentage of your followers will indeed try to hunt them down and scream at them. You don’t get to disclaim responsibility just because it wasn’t you didn’t explicitly say to go after them. It’s going to happen, so make damned sure that’s what you actually want, and own it.

If you want to pretend you’re still in the fun-loving low-consequences Twitter, get a private alt account like the rest of us, and complain there.
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 9:50 PM on November 15, 2019 [86 favorites]


But turbulent priests -- er, students -- aren't exempt from critique.
posted by tclark at 9:54 PM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


Situations like this are why the punch down/punch up framing is often too simplistic to be useful. My first taste of this was trying to work out if making fun of the Westboro Baptist Church was punching up or punching down. You can frame them as impoverished victims of an insidious but largely powerless cult, or as assholes who picket funerals and pick fights to make gay people feel threatened, and both framings are valid at the same time.
posted by Merus at 10:01 PM on November 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


People will hold onto that underdog status for way longer than it's really true, because they want the righteousness of punching up with the ease of punching down.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:08 PM on November 15, 2019 [58 favorites]


It may be overly simplistic in many cases, but trying to frame this any other way than "best-selling, award-winning authors at the top of their profession with huge twitter followings going after a grad student who said really mean things about an author, driving the student offline due to subsequent harassment" and have the student be the one wielding power over these poor, beleaguered authors would take creationist-level mental gymnastics.
posted by tclark at 10:09 PM on November 15, 2019 [37 favorites]


2017 Northern State graduate named Brooke Nelson had told the Aberdeen News that she didn’t think Dessen’s work was worthy of inclusion in the program back in 2016, when she was a junior. “She’s fine for teen girls,” Nelson said. “But definitely not up to the level of Common Read. So I became involved simply so I could stop them from ever choosing Sarah Dessen.”
I think what Nelson said is fatuous, condescending, sneers at teen girls, and implies that anyone who writes for teen girls should not be taken seriously.

In my opinion she deserves what she got.
posted by jamjam at 10:12 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Because a sense of proportionality is something to be utterly discarded when fatuous condescension is on the line.
posted by tclark at 10:16 PM on November 15, 2019 [71 favorites]


And I'm not here to dispute that what Nelson said was condescending, sneering, and dismissive. But somehow Dessen wasn't driven offline because a grad student sneered at her work. And neither was Roxane Gay or NK Jemisin. But Nelson clearly deserved what she got? Hard disagree from me.
posted by tclark at 10:19 PM on November 15, 2019 [34 favorites]


I think what Nelson said is fatuous, condescending, sneers at teen girls, and implies that anyone who writes for teen girls should not be taken seriously.

In my opinion she deserves what she got.
Nelson, now a graduate student, told Vulture in an email that she felt her quote had been taken out of context. Less discussed on Twitter by Dessen’s supporters were the books Nelson preferred to Dessen’s. “I followed my evaluation of Sarah Dessen’s work with a rationale advocating for three other books that I felt better addressed relevant social issues: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi,” she wrote to me in an email, noting that the original Aberdeen News article had left out her reasoning for why she’d advocated for other books. “These three books are beautifully written and push readers to stand against the racial inequality that the judicial system perpetuates, to consider the heritability and influence of tradition and trauma, and to contemplate what brings meaning to one’s life. These themes are relevant not only in the current social justice epoch, but they are especially meaningful and important for university students who, as emerging adults, are often engaging with social issues with a newfound sense of agency and urgency.”
Totally fatuous.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 10:19 PM on November 15, 2019 [90 favorites]


Julia Carrie Wong in The Guardian: Hey, young adult authors: writing for teenagers is no excuse to act like them
Picoult’s rant was perhaps the most absurd, as the author tried (and failed) to elide the difference between adults of any gender respecting the lives of teenage girls and an individual adult woman expressing a preference not to read books written for teenage girls. “To not speak up about this incident isn’t just demeaning to Sarah,” Picoult wrote. “It’s demeaning to women, period.”

Perhaps what is more demeaning to women is the expectation that to have taste is to lack solidarity. Perhaps what is more demeaning to young women is to pathologize a rite of passage: putting away childish things and indulging in the challenging and complex pleasures of books written for adults, during the very period of their lives that provides the most time and opportunity to do so.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:20 PM on November 15, 2019 [25 favorites]


I really like Jemisin: I met her before she published her first book, I've followed her career and I really like a lot of her work. It's super disappointing to see this.
posted by suelac at 10:22 PM on November 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


I think what Nelson said is fatuous, condescending, sneers at teen girls, and implies that anyone who writes for teen girls should not be taken seriously.

People in their early 20s frequently desire to distance themselves from the trappings of adolescence. They may ultimately decide it's not so important, but it's something I'd expect writers who write for young people to understand?
posted by atoxyl at 10:22 PM on November 15, 2019 [41 favorites]


And I'm not here to dispute that what Nelson said was condescending, sneering, and dismissive.

OK, I'll do it. Nelson's remarks are a classic example of bending over backwards to be inoffensive to someone who didn't deserve the courtesy, and they got the reward such extraneous kindnesses always do. She said Dessen wasn't up to the standards of Common Read -- but had to go and put in that little bit about how they were ok for their intended audience, just so it wouldn't sound like she was wholesale dismissing work that deserved dismissing, because god forbid anyone do that. she was wrong, they are not 'fine for teen girls.' they're terrible for teen girls. they're terrible for everybody.

teen girls have a powerful ability to read things that are terrible and be just fine. but it's the girls who are fine, not Dessen's books.

They may ultimately decide it's not so important

Some will! But the smart ones will be confirmed in their suspicion that it actually is pretty important to learn new things and stretch and grow and read books they've never read before and couldn't have coped with or fully understood at 13.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:29 PM on November 15, 2019 [59 favorites]


That is... One of the worst apologies I've ever seen

Yeah, Roxane Gay’s apology sucks, too.

In my opinion she deserves what she got.

I remember being Nelson’s age, and women twice my age bullying me for daring to show up somewhere, all in the name of feminism. Looking back, it wasn’t all that feminist, but it sure made them feel relevant. It was also a cheap way to reassure the men around that no one was actually coming after them.

I am now in my late thirties. My eyesight is worse now, but I still think it looks like bullshit.
posted by armeowda at 10:31 PM on November 15, 2019 [41 favorites]


Tangentially I think the dynamic on Twitter in which people take one's follower account as an objective indicator of one's power - "you should have known better than to punch down at a lowly 1k follower account with your 10k" - can get kind of weird. It's sort of built into the platform that interactions will have disproportionate consequences (due to the network effects) while feeling like a personal interaction to the initiator.

But Dessen has 268k followers and that... seems like enough that one should think of oneself as a somewhat influential person.
posted by atoxyl at 10:36 PM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


I don't like Nelson's behavior or the authors's either.

Twitter turns everyone into an asshole as far as I can tell.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:40 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


The comments to Gay’s apology were good for at least several screens full, so I’m optimistically taking it as a community working its way through a mistake.

Still alarmed at hearing that there’s a Goodreads machine, though. And what has parasitized LibraryThing?
posted by clew at 10:43 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Okay, I don't know why I'm still awake but here are my reactions:

1) To the famous authors: Don't y'all have a group text?! This pile-on is unprofessional, best.

2) Seeing thoughtful tweets about the impeachment and other progressive issues next to trash like this on the authors' Twitter feeds makes everything else they stand for look slightly ridiculous. Dessen's "apology" was only a few tweets up from her sending love to Santa Clarita. Yes I know this is how Twitter works but it just looks bad.

3) As a woman who reads romance novels and women's fiction, I know the difference between a book I would press into a friend's hand to make her feel seen/valued and a book I would recommend to change the perspective of thousands of my peers. They are almost never the same book.

4) When I was in sophomore year of high school I remember feeling vaguely insulted that I had to the Young Adult section for one of my required reading books. Even as I enjoyed it ( The House on Mango Street), I had the sinking suspicion that I was eating from the kids' menu of literature. I felt that if The Powers that Be weren't so afraid of sex or swearing, I could have been reading a novel for adults about the Latinx experience. With that in mind I read Nelson's quote as a frank but polite. I don't see sneering.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 10:43 PM on November 15, 2019 [51 favorites]


One could say that everyone's an asshole anyway, on Twitter or not. But when it comes to questions like this, we have to assess who is the asshole with power? Who is the asshole with a personal army? Who is the asshole suffering consequences, and are those consequences even remotely proportional to their assholery?
posted by tclark at 10:43 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Some will! But the smart ones will be confirmed in their suspicion that it actually is pretty important to learn new things and stretch and grow and read books they've never read before and couldn't have coped with or fully understood at 13.

That is how I feel about it, too, but my specific thought here was more along the lines that, even if you grant that some YA fiction might be good for Adult adults, even if you grant that this particular author could be really good (I have no idea) - do the people who make kids' shows get mad that teenagers think they are lame?
posted by atoxyl at 10:49 PM on November 15, 2019 [10 favorites]


The comments to Gay’s apology were good for at least several screens full, so I’m optimistically taking it as a community working its way through a mistake.

I saw some very fair critical responses, but several were apparently answered with a block. I also saw a lot of sycophants kissing her ring for “owning” the mistake. It was weirdly similar to how the dudebros in my old comedy circle responded to L***s CK’s tearful non-apology. The authors’ influence on their fans is a little too reminiscent of what CK’s acolytes did to Jen Kirkman.

It’s getting harder to keep the faith that these “edgy” and “woke” public figures, with their legions of asshole fans, aren’t mobilizing those asshole fans on purpose, for their own asshole reasons.
posted by armeowda at 11:04 PM on November 15, 2019 [18 favorites]


Even if Nelson had made a worse comment, we're talking about a three-year-old statement from a random 20-year-old at a small school about a local reading program. Like, this is not the New York Times Book Review. I don't get why public figures feel the need to call out total randos. At some point, you have to accept that people will dislike your work, and yes, sometimes it's even for dumb reasons.
posted by airmail at 11:18 PM on November 15, 2019 [71 favorites]


i missed the blocks; how depressing.

I’ve been reading some Dessen and they're not worth an obligatory read yet, certainly not if Danticat is an alternative. Better than Ready Player One, about even with East Lynne.
posted by clew at 11:18 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


also Dessen is a UNC grad and child of UNC profs, and Weiner Picoult & Gay are all Ivy-leaguers. you could, if you were the kind of craven justification-hunter they are, make a good case that this is about letting a humble kid from a no-name college understand her intellectual place and slapping her down when she tries to grab for more literary substance than they think she and her kind really need. and especially, when a kid from a no-name college dares to be literary judge and jury, as we all properly are, instead of being the one dictated to re: what she should enjoy and respect.

that's mostly bullshit obviously. but not completely. maybe 92 percent. but there is a TON of obliviousness vis-a-vis the importance of serious scholarship and serious reading to people for whom an English major is an ambitious step upwards into a world you want, which is maybe not the world other people think you're entitled to. rather than a few years of fuck-around funtimes.

or: it's all an ego-status game to them, because their prospects can't possibly be harmed by their curriculum being dumbed down -- it's too late for that, for them, and besides, if you have a Harvard or Princeton seal on your diploma, nobody cares if you read YA novels for four straight years and couldn't locate their literary merit with a map and a flashlight. Nobody is going to challenge your credentials.

maybe this is only 91 percent bullshit after all!
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:55 PM on November 15, 2019 [55 favorites]


When I was a student I wrote a question to a now deceased famous woman writer. (I had sent the same question to several other writers who answered promptly and kindly.)

The outlier was this one woman who sent me several pages of vitriol for my stupid stupid question, sneered at the idea I had ever read her books, and suggested any idea I had of studying literature was a serious mistake. It was so mean I cried for days. So many years later I still get angry if I see her name in print.

This was all pre-Internet but now I am imagining this happening in the public eye on Twitter. I certainly would not have reacted with half of Nelson’s calm and dignity.

(And I find any suggestion she deserved what she got to be terribly upsetting.)
posted by frumiousb at 12:26 AM on November 16, 2019 [57 favorites]


I'm a big YA and kids' books reader, and I've enjoyed one of Sarah Dessen's novels, but I really agree with Brooke Nelson. University/grad school is for stretching beyond teenagerhood towards harder, different stuff that's probably a little bit beyond you and your experience. (It's why I have no issue with 19-year-olds being "pretentious" -- they're trying very hard to be someone more than who they are, and that's kind of admirable.)

For a long time I ran a feminist science fiction book group focusing on "literary" SF which was pretty much all people over 25. We read some YA alongside other novels. I absolutely believe that if you're a non-Young Adult who is interested in science fiction as a genre, it's important to know what's going on with YA science fiction. And certainly the YA science fiction we read was enjoyable and well done and I'm glad to have read it - but because it was written first and foremost for tween and young teen readers it did not as a sub-genre have the same kind of complexity that, say, Samuel Delany's or Sofia Samatar's or Joanna Russ's or Nisi Shawl's novels have.

It was neat stuff, it was fun, I'm certainly glad it's available for both young readers and others, but it did not in general stretch me as a reader. I am an adult who has read, at this point, a bunch of books. If I'm looking for a feminist novel, I'm not going to turn down a well-recommended YA novel, but most of the time I'm looking for books intended for adult readers - even if I'm looking for books that have the same themes, I'm looking for books that develop those themes more deeply using more complex language and plot. This isn't because YA books are bad or dumb or have nothing to say but because they are written to address the interests of teens, at a level that slightly stretches teen readers, and I haven't been a teen reader for a long time.

~~
There's a difference between books that center children and teenagers and YA as a genre - obviously there's some overlap and connection, and YA-as-genre grew in part out of "books about teenagers" (like Catcher in the Rye, which is obviously a key pre-YA book). What Maisie Knew and Young Torless, for instance, are books about the experiences of teenagers, but they're not YA. Non-YA books that center children and teenagers may be really insightful about children and teens and may be very interesting to children and teens, but they are not particularly written to hit the reading levels and concerns of children and teenagers. To me a non-YA novel about teenagers would be a great way to incorporate some of the themes of YA while still building reading skills. (But probably not starting with Henry James; you have to really want to read Henry James.)

I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov, which I'd actually never read before, and TBH quite a lot of it would have been totally up my alley as a late teens/college age reader - Alyosha, Lise and Kolya are very recognizable as young adults (even if not, since this is in Russia in the 19th century, teens qua teens). And with the exception of some really dense passages, it's not a book that's difficult to read for basic content.

Sometimes when not-especially-book-oriented people talk about YA, I feel like they're not really familiar with...well, with there being lots and lots of non-YA books about teens and young adults. There isn't a shortage.
posted by Frowner at 12:40 AM on November 16, 2019 [33 favorites]


From that Vulture article:

“And now you have a nemesis,” added Gay [to the college student], who has written extensively about the pleasures of having one.

What a really wretched thing to say. What, is she going to hound this grad student to the ends of the earth? Perhaps, given the way the internet works now.

Seriously, this kind of thing just gives me the despairs, kind of like when left-wing nonprofits move to crush unionization drives by their workers. We all run our mouths a lot about representation, social justice, etc, but the minute our personal oxen are gored, we're after bloody vengeance. How can you trust people to build a better society when this is how things go down?
posted by Frowner at 12:51 AM on November 16, 2019 [77 favorites]


Seriously, this kind of thing just gives me the despairs, kind of like when left-wing nonprofits move to crush unionization drives by their workers. We all run our mouths a lot about representation, social justice, etc, but the minute our personal oxen are gored, we're after bloody vengeance. How can you trust people to build a better society when this is how things go down?

Narcissism is much stronger than whatever commitments people might have to social justice. That doesn't mean we can't build a better society, but it's certainly not going to be with the help of anyone who thinks they're the protagonist of reality. Thinking that having a nemesis is a good thing, wow - talk about telling on yourself.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 12:59 AM on November 16, 2019 [17 favorites]


This reminds me of the “you’re with us or against us” attitude amongst gamers who grew up when their hobby was frowned upon and somehow haven’t noticed that their hobby is now the biggest and fastest-growing form of entertainment in the world.

Hey folks, good news: you won! Gaming is cool and it makes tons of money. And so is YA fiction - at least relative to other genres. And yet we’re stuck with this defensiveness that all too easily transforms into personal attacks. It’s deeply sad and belies a troubling level of insularity and lack of perspective.
posted by adrianhon at 3:50 AM on November 16, 2019 [16 favorites]


It is unsurprising that when you have a bunch of overmiked people in an auditorium, much of the audio is screeching feedback. It seems nobody can really *discuss* anything on Tweeter—it all turns into posturing and “amplification” and “memes” and winking references to references made by others and ... ugh.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 4:14 AM on November 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


Wow, I am EXTREME DISSAPONT about NK Jemisin's role in this pile-on—and especially her doubling down when most of her peers have backed off and apologized. I loved her books, recommended them widely, and looked forward to buying & reading the newest one, but maybe this is the time to discover some new poc/womxn/queer authors…
posted by LMGM at 4:33 AM on November 16, 2019 [16 favorites]


I'm disappoint too, but you know, NK Jemisin is just wrong, that's all. I mean, I certainly have cancelled some SF authors but being wrong once in a high-pressure environment like Twitter - which we all know is terrible! - doesn't really seem to rise to that level. I feel like it takes sustained, intentional harm-causing behavior (or one really epic incident) for me to avoid someone's work.

I mean, one of the problems of this whole situation is that we [the collective Twitter "we"?] hold up people, books and genres as idols that must be considered be perfect at all times by everyone, regardless of the political importance of the issue and regardless of how feebly the political angle is connected to the main issue*. NK Jemisin doesn't have to be perfect - who among us is perfect in our every word and thought?

It's disappointing but then people are disappointing sometimes, even people you really like. If someone turns out to be a TERF, or abuses their partner, or calls people racial slurs, or cheats their employees or routinely and sustainedly uses their power to mob people online, yes, then I don't want to read their work, but otherwise it's just...disappointing.

TBH, this is why I liked blogs better and wish that everyone's least little interpersonal interaction and thought were not marketized all the time. It's fun to know that NK Jemisin has great cats (she is in general an entertaining tweeter) but I'd rather not know that if it means that I don't have to witness what should have been a complaint session among friends blow up into something really ugly.

*I'm not totally convinced that it's misogynist to dislike YA, honestly. I think that "it's fine for teen girls but" is a pretty politically lightweight statement coming from someone who recently was a teen girl, if you're not heavily into YA you may see only the endless widely marketed trend-driven series stuff out there, and a lot of what is really popular is...just okay or not especially good. "You should like YA because it is politically good" is such a knee-jerk statement in a lot of very online/progressive circles that IMO actual literary criticism of YA gets pushed aside. It certainly exists, but we see way more political criticism (and that political criticism is generally right-on, I'm not complaining). The upshot is that if you're not interested in YA it's easy to get an impression that it's all heavily-marketed trend-driven stuff without particular literary merit or complexity.
posted by Frowner at 4:51 AM on November 16, 2019 [38 favorites]


Sarah Dessen is also not a new author - she's been publishing since Nelson was born. This doesn't seem like a new twitter popularity mistake.

There's some complications with recommending YA vs. adult books of any genre - the main one being that YA has such a reputation for being more diverse in both subject and readership that people assume that books by/about PoC's, queer people or women are YA when they are definitely not (see: The Poppy War), but that doesn't seem to be the argument anyone is making here.

The real fun of these pile ons is when they move from supposedly liberal social spaces to people doing it to people looking for an excuse to attack women speaking in public just for the lolz. I hate that this happened, but I also hate that this has become a general internet story, because I know that's going to make the harassment last longer.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:07 AM on November 16, 2019 [10 favorites]


So I've read Just Mercy, one of the books that Nelson advocated for, and it literally changed my life. I was glad to know that it was chosen as the Common Read for that year, especially because it was at a teeny tiny school in deeply red, extremely rural South Dakota. In 2010, 7300 people were incarcerated in South Dakota, and only 508 of them were white. It seems like such a great move, to have all incoming students to that school read a book on the brokenness of the criminal justice system, and to have Anthony Ray Hinton be the guest speaker on campus.

But I've never read a Sarah Dessen book, so last night I read Saint Anything, the book that was on the longlist and which Brooke Nelson wanted to make sure didn't get picked. It was... fine? I guess? Maybe it paled in comparison to the books I've been having to read for my late 19th century American lit course this quarter -- those books are thick and chunky, packed with symbolism and language that has to be parsed with the help of CliffsNotes, and it's a fair amount of intellectual work to get through one of them. There was no intellectual work with Saint Anything, I whipped through it in about 2 hours. It was exactly the kind of thing I read during winter break, when I'm trying to let my brain shut off and just have some candy. It was fluffy, unchallenging, and completely forgettable, like a Netflix Christmas movie. And there's nothing wrong at all with enjoying things that are unchallenging! But when the point of the Common Read program is to get incoming students to broaden their horizons and consider diverse viewpoints, and when the student body is 82% white and the faculty is 96% white, maybe giving them a fluffy book about a rich white girl who makes some quirky friends from the poor side of town isn't quite horizon-broadening enough.
posted by palomar at 5:32 AM on November 16, 2019 [84 favorites]


subject and readership

that should be subject and authorship, sorry, pre coffee
posted by dinty_moore at 5:36 AM on November 16, 2019


I've read a few Sarah Dessen books. They're fine -- they're the better calibre of that genre of YA books, but not groundbreaking. (I realised at some point I was confusing her books with Elizabeth Eulberg, who writes similar books at a similar calibre.) I agree that her books in particular are not great for a Common Read program of that type. (Though better than Ready Player One.)

I also think that Nelson's quote was a bad quote -- YA books in general and YA aimed at girls in particular are not necessarily bad for a Common Read program in a fairly unselective school (this isn't a dig at the school: unselective schools are really important). We know that stories that feature women (even cis, straight, white, Christian women) are not common in primary and secondary education, it's good to show that stories about women, and ALSO stories about teenage girls, can be universal stories also. And they chose a few YA books, Out of the Easy (about a teenaged girl, presumably white since googling doesn't say she isn't) and On the Come Up (about a black teenaged girl) later, though it isn't really clear how decisions are made or what the options were.

What is popular in any genre is often what is easy, and often not what is the absolute best -- it's true about YA too, but it isn't a problem in YA, just like it's not a problem in any other genre that sometimes people want to read something nice and comforting.
posted by jeather at 6:29 AM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


I don't think YA is especially toxic

Um...it really, really is, perhaps in ways that maybe aren’t always visible to casual readers. I’ve traveled in varied circles as an author, and I can tell you that these mean girl dynamics — and I used the phrase deliberately — are present in a vicious way behind the scenes, except tied to money. The jockeying for position for cross-promotion and co-author projects and the rest happens within these same dynamics, and it is far, far worse in YA and NA than anywhere else. I would say it’s because of the money, but romance has a lot of money on the table and, while it’s cutthroat af, it is not this.

I mean. If you believe that rape culture, for example, is a thing, you implicitly accept that culture is a thing. Each of these communities has their own cultures, and some of them are worse in some respects than others.

And I use “mean girls” deliberately because that is what it is. It’s the sort of behavior we excuse, up to a point, in adolescents, because they are still figuring shit out, and so the language is diminishing. It should be diminishing. When applied to adolescents it protects them from full consequences of their actions; when applied to adults, it’s appropriate when they have diminished themselves with their behavior. It’s a way of attaching appropriate shame to their behavior.

But let’s call it what it is: abuse.

Some of these people have been habitually abusive for a while. (hell, now Im thinking of associated MF faves that have always been shitty.) Just because they sometimes dunk on people you want to see dunked on doesn’t make them less shitty. Personally I get even more incensed about abusive behavior cloaked in the guise of wokeness, because the abuse is compounded by the gaslighting, and that for me is like instant trip to get-the-fuck-away-from-me island.

It’s funny. I think that realizing you’ve fucked up and hurt someone and then reacting appropriately to that is its own skill. And like any skill, you get better at it with practice. It’s really clear some of these people haven’t practiced at all.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:31 AM on November 16, 2019 [55 favorites]


But when the point of the Common Read program is to get incoming students to broaden their horizons and consider diverse viewpoints,

Yes. A lot of people seem to miss that Nelson did not say YA was bad or even that Dessen was bad (although she implied Dessen was not too her taste). She said that Dessen’s work was not appropriate for a Common Reading at her college, and that other books under discussion were better choices.

Common Reads are a sometimes-useful academic tool to give (usually) the incoming class at least one common point for discussion. Professors often add content to courses that links to the book in an effort to create a linked experience that will deepen students’ connection to the material and each other. There are millions of really good books that one might happily recommend that are not appropriate for a Common Read, and millions more that might not be appropriate for a given college in a given year.

In some ways, this is like Dessen and her friends attacking a judge from an award committee which did not select her book as a finalist. Nelson’s only real failing was, as a committee member, saying negative things about a specific non-selected book rather than limiting her comments to praise for the selected book or comments on the selection criteria (I.e. “we really wanted something to spark discussions on racial justice and/or legal reform”). That’s how you talk on the record when you are a committee member.

She said this in the context of being a member of a committee to select the Common Read for that year, and it needs to be read that way, not as a sniffy young adult looking down on YA.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on November 16, 2019 [36 favorites]


I just want to see if I understand this situation correctly. A woman who is 50 years old is the author of YA novels. When a woman who is, I presume, in her early 20s, when that woman suggested this novel written for young adults was not appropriate for a college level reading list, she, the woman hovering around 25, was attacking teenaged girls, as represented by a 50-year-old woman?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:49 AM on November 16, 2019 [14 favorites]


Twitter turns everyone into an asshole as far as I can tell.
Heck, it turned me into an asshole yesterday--suddenly started commenting on Tweets by lunatics, as if I was having a normal conversation. Luckily, I have a stated policy on my profile of deleting my Tweets wholesale and when I noticed people were responding to what I said, I took action.

Disappointed in some good writers thinking they have to carry on what they've said or lose some battle or other.
posted by Peach at 6:50 AM on November 16, 2019


I'm disappoint too, but you know, NK Jemisin is just wrong, that's all.

Maybe I'm misreading your comment, but I think there is an important distinction between being factually wrong, which is easy to correct, and doubling down on being an asshole, which is what Jemisin did in the series of twitter responses linked far above. People are allowed to be assholes I guess, but I lost a lot of respect for these people and Jemisin in particular.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:51 AM on November 16, 2019 [17 favorites]


I just want to see if I understand this situation correctly. A woman who is 50 years old is the author of YA novels. When a woman who is, I presume, in her early 20s, when that woman suggested this novel written for young adults was not appropriate for a college level reading list, she, the woman hovering around 25, was attacking teenaged girls, as represented by a 50-year-old woman?

Yep.

What really gets me is that Roxanne Gay and NK Jemisin have both been been targets for internet hate campaigns before - many, many times! I don't get how either of them can claim they didn't understand what was going to happen when they directed eyeballs Nelson's way.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:58 AM on November 16, 2019 [33 favorites]


The part that gets me: Brooke Nelson is now a grad student in linguistics, focusing her work on online harassment. I bet her thesis is going be in INCREDIBLE.
posted by palomar at 7:07 AM on November 16, 2019 [65 favorites]


This is where the left always goes to die, fighting that MY patch of turf is more important. It's a structural problem at root: it's easy to be selfish and hard to be Good.
posted by rikschell at 7:11 AM on November 16, 2019 [12 favorites]


I don't get how either of them can claim they didn't understand what was going to happen

One of the people Gay blocked got blocked for saying “lol you do this shit all the time”

Which is, you know, true.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:14 AM on November 16, 2019 [31 favorites]


Dessen posted an apology. It was linked at the bottom of the Vulture article.
Weak. She should pay off Nelson's student loans.
posted by fullerine at 7:51 AM on November 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


For someone who’s made a living as a professional writer for over 20 years, Dessen’s Twitter apology is embarrassingly bad.
posted by palomar at 7:54 AM on November 16, 2019 [7 favorites]



This is where the left always goes to die

what the fuck do these various wealthy upper-middle-class women and their feeble upper-middle-class books have to do with "the left"? They all probably vote for some selection of Democrats most of the time, if that's all you mean, and if that's all you mean, the left has been dead for some time.

It’s a way of attaching appropriate shame to their behavior.

I won't repeat my old arguments but I will add to them and say that there IS no shame in it for them, only pride. Assessing them as girls and judging them as girls - naughty girls, mean girls, abusive girls -- is not compatible with challenging their worldview in which money and class and other adult matters are in bad taste to mention, and the the only sin, the only abuse of power possible, is being mean to a nice person.

they want to believe that because their audience is girls and their subject matter is girls, they are on a level with girls and should be judged no more harshly than girls can be. and I disagree. And shaming is most effective on otherwise comfortable adolescents, to whom reputation is the most important thing in the world, and even then it's effective only from authority figures or their peer group. you just can't make tools appropriate for manipulating adolescents work on grown up women when the transgression is a serious one.

[edit: replying to two different people above on two different subjects. though I think they are loosely related.]
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:09 AM on November 16, 2019 [20 favorites]


it’s good to show that stories about women, and ALSO stories about teenage girls, can be universal stories also

I do sympathize with the YA argument that this genre is more representative of women, young women and women of color especially, than others, and that media/arts popular with teen girls are often denigrated. What gets me is there is truly great literature about young women, written by women even (!), that is more appropriate for college-level courses than any YA novel. I mean, Sula or the Neapolitan books held up against Dessen’s work? Pfft.

I sense that some of the Twitter Dessen defenders have gotten so used to having to battle for any kind of respect for women writers that they leap at this different argument. Jennifer Weiner, for example, has spent a lot of time fighting for the basic worth of “chick lit” as reading material, a legitimate defense. But there’s still a gap between “don’t belittle my readers” and “don’t critique my work for literary worth.”
posted by sallybrown at 8:15 AM on November 16, 2019 [16 favorites]


Weak. She should pay off Nelson's student loans.

I assume this is a joke, but in case it isn’t, even a moderately successful author makes far too little money writing to pay off anyone else’s student loans. I’m sure that’s part of why this blew up - a speaking fee in the range paid for this kind of engagement at a small school is small potatoes compared to the speaking fees some people get, but it could represent a significant portion of a mid-list author’s annual income.
posted by bq at 8:15 AM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ever respond to criticisms of your work you find online.

If by "online" we're referring to "comment by some rando posted to social media," then yes, not only refrain from engaging, but let go of this comment as quickly as possible. Look. It's not a review. It's not by a professional reviewer. It's not posted to a respected publication. It will never be reprinted or quoted. It's random noise. Forget it and move on.

I'd take it even further: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ever read random online comments on your published works. If they're complementary, the ego burst will be brief. If they're penned by haters, they'll draw you into a death spiral. This goes double for shit you google to "see how my book's being received."

Google isn't your friend, writers. It's a fucking research tool. Never google your name. Never google your book's title. Only use google the right way, which is to start researching your next book.
posted by Gordion Knott at 8:19 AM on November 16, 2019 [22 favorites]


I’m sure that’s part of why this blew up - a speaking fee in the range paid for this kind of engagement at a small school is small potatoes compared to the speaking fees some people get, but it could represent a significant portion of a mid-list author’s annual income.

not Dessen's, not Weiner's, not Gay's, and not Picoult's! The others, perhaps.

It's also not part of anyone's income to be taken away unless an invitation had been extended and then canceled, which it wasn't. It was never theirs to lobby for or apply for.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:24 AM on November 16, 2019 [15 favorites]


My mystery novels were met with some derision after being nominated for awards because they were self-published. That led to bad reviews or bad words regarding them. I agree with all the above who say DO NOT RESPOND. DO NOT ENGAGE. Keep on writing your own books, your own fiction, and let others have their opinions.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 8:27 AM on November 16, 2019 [16 favorites]


Absolutely Dessen’s. Not the others.
posted by bq at 8:28 AM on November 16, 2019


Maybe I'm misreading your comment, but I think there is an important distinction between being factually wrong, which is easy to correct, and doubling down on being an asshole, which is what Jemisin did in the series of twitter responses linked far above. People are allowed to be assholes I guess, but I lost a lot of respect for these people and Jemisin in particular.

I mean, I have not so far noticed Jemisin having a history of doing this, so I am willing to write it off as making a really bad judgement call in the heat of the moment.

I feel bad about saying it, but Roxanne Gay has said some stuff elsewhere that I've found really unappealing, so as far as I'm concerned the meanness of her comments combined with having a history is far more troubling to me and casts much more of a shadow on her work.

As much as it sounds like I'm drawing from a critique of idpol, I think there is a tendency in untheorized liberal circles to equate a marginalized identity with being above reproach, and to lump writers together if they share an identity even if their concerns and work are very different.

I think that's some of the "where the left goes to die" stuff comes from - the assumption that YA readers and writers share a politics which is amorphously "left" when actually there are many political orientations within YA, among women writers of color, etc etc. Because mainstream US culture really, really tries to shut down any but fairly right-wing commentary about race, gender and sexuality, I think it's easy for white people or men or straight people to assume that any open, direct and critical writing about these topics is politically radical, and that it's all radical in the same way.

There is a way in which it is radical to center women's experiences, but that's not the same as being feminist, critical of capitalism, anti-racist, etc. There are plenty of women writers who depict women's interiority in powerful and interesting ways who don't really have great politics qua politics.

TBH, this is one of the things that I don't like about the our cultural moment with YA, science fiction and fantasy - we're in this stage where there's a lot of enthusiasm for women writers, writers of color of all genders, queer writers of all genders, etc, but they are often read with a kind of boosterism and lack of subtlety, and often their politics are praised for being radical when they are really incoherent or actively bad, or when the writer didn't particularly intend a strong political reading of their work. (For instance, Yoon-ha Lee's space opera books are super interesting qua space opera and have a lot of just fantastic, bizarre description, but they are politically a bit incoherent and definitely don't articulate anything like a left viewpoint - and Lee himself has said that in a lot of ways they are cool space magic with math more than awesome blueprint for revolution....but they get read as if there's a strong political reading to be found, and I think this is because people see a queer trans Asian author and assume that anything they write must be about articulating radical politics first and foremost.)

Also, representation is important and can facilitate important social change, but it's not the same as having theorized politics with a set of ideas about a good society and how to deal with injustice. Like, a huge "representation" moment for me, some years ago, was when J Crew ran a fashion spread with a recognizably queer butch woman who was wearing a mixture of clothing from the men's and women's collections. This was wonderful for me because I get read as a queer butch woman pretty regularly and invisibilized/disdained/attacked because of it. I felt really happy about those images. But I'm not assuming that J Crew is a radical organization in any way.
posted by Frowner at 8:30 AM on November 16, 2019 [53 favorites]


Ten Internet Dollars says Dessen’s going to turn this whole mess into material for her next book, only the POV narrator will be a hapless teen girl who “accidentally” starts an online harassment campaign and then has to live with her feelings.
posted by sobell at 8:42 AM on November 16, 2019 [11 favorites]


Jemisin has just posted an apology to Nelson, although there's also an attempt to offload some of the blame on Dessen. But it's something, and much better than her previous "How dare you accuse me, I would never do anything like that."
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:57 AM on November 16, 2019 [8 favorites]


Wow. How folks reacted to this must be the best barometer of emotional and intellectual maturity I’ve ever seen.

I found myself thinking, “yeah, I might have responded that way when I was 15”, or “I might have said that when I was in my early 20s.”

To the point that many of the reactions make me cringe, both for the folks saying it, and for memories of my younger self. Shamefully, I still have these reactions, sometimes I’ve learned enough to keep them to myself, and sometimes not.

The fundamental problem with social networks and the internet in general is the immediacy and the amplification. Failure to account for this when you tweet/facebook/blog/whatever shows a stunning lack of foresight and empathy. It’s almost like nobody ever told them that actions have consequences.

But, stones and glass houses, and all that.
posted by shorstenbach at 9:01 AM on November 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


Jemisin has just posted an apology to Nelso

Starting with the classic "if I did something bad then I'm sorry". I really expected better of her. I'm back to enjoying books and totally ignoring their authors.
posted by hat_eater at 9:03 AM on November 16, 2019 [17 favorites]


"Once more, social media and the internet fail everyone. Going back to letter press probably isn’t an option, though." -- posted by GenjiandProust at 7:53 PM on November 15

EPONYOUKNOWTHEDRILL
posted by symbioid at 9:41 AM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


Wow, this whole thing is incredibly cringeworthy all around. Jemesin's "apology," in which she now tries to blame Dessin for the way she framed the issue, is mind-boggling, as is Gay's attempt to excuse herself by saying she never even read the original article.

At least Nelson will have lots of original material for her thesis now. She seems like the only one with the maturity and resilience to come out of this for the better, but that does not change the fact that none of it should have happened in the first place.
posted by rpfields at 9:54 AM on November 16, 2019 [15 favorites]


To be fair, Sarah Dessen did frame this in a way that seems designed to stir maximum sympathy for herself -- she posted a tightly cropped screenshot from the article that included the bit about how Nelson wanted to make sure Dessen's book wasn't chosen, and left out the next line in the article that said Nelson joined to promote Just Mercy instead. It was that careful cropping that fooled a LOT of people who don't bother to read the source material before making their decisions about who's right and who's wrong. I've seen multiple folks in other discussions about this say that they felt kind of dumb for trusting the screenshot and not looking up the article themselves (Dessen did not link to the article, only posted the screenshot).

That said, I'm not really buying any of the apologies I've seen from the writers who went all in on the attack this week. Every one of them contains some weaselly "if" language. IF I caused harm, IF my followers caused harm (with the caveat that no true follower of them would ever)... not one of them acknowledges that Nelson had to delete her socials because of their followers. It's gross. It's embarrassing to see grown-ass adults behave like this.
posted by palomar at 10:04 AM on November 16, 2019 [31 favorites]


To be fair, Sarah Dessen did frame this in a way that seems designed to stir maximum sympathy for herself -- she posted a tightly cropped screenshot from the article that included the bit about how Nelson wanted to make sure Dessen's book wasn't chosen, and left out the next line in the article that said Nelson joined to promote Just Mercy instead.

I agree, this was bad. But I feel like it's up to all of us to do our due diligence before mixing in on stuff like this, and if these writers got nasty without making sure they had the full story, they should be owning their own behaviour.

It's embarrassing to see grown-ass adults behave like this.

Yup.
posted by rpfields at 10:14 AM on November 16, 2019 [10 favorites]


assess who is the asshole

heehee
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:26 AM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have read a couple more of the samples of Dessens books that my library has and so far all but one of the high school characters has her own car, and only one of those drivers seems to have a job.

Realistic bad things happen to them and they’re realistically suffering about it, but it’s a narrow slice of society. Also in the one I finished the resolution was pretty much that everyone else was wrong and should have admired teen heroine more from the beginning. Sometimes true! but I think it’s an unhealthy narrative norm, and anyway the Victorians probably did it better.

Which is making me parse Nelson tightly: this book is okay for its subgroup but not a universal book. That’s not a claim that nothing about, by, or for the subgroup is universal. More, if that last were true then subgroup couldn’t have anything of its own, which I remember as v annoying when I was a teenager.
posted by clew at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2019 [10 favorites]


Just to add to this, from what I'm reading Nelson is Black and Dessen is white right? So succesful white woman goes for throat of young Black woman because she wasn't worshipful enough. All because young Black woman want's more inclusion and diversity on a college reading list. If that's true then as an earlier linked tweet said, this is peak white feminism.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:02 AM on November 16, 2019 [25 favorites]


Further, when challenged on the "If I contributed" wording, Jemisin sticks with "Nah, I'm good with the 200+ words I used."

I guess she should run for office, or something. Everyone here -- Dessen, Gay, Jemisin, Vivian -- has just been completely unable to resist adding weasel-words and qualifiers to their apologies.
posted by tclark at 11:07 AM on November 16, 2019 [7 favorites]


I do sympathize with the YA argument that this genre is more representative of women, young women and women of color especially, than others, and that media/arts popular with teen girls are often denigrated. What gets me is there is truly great literature about young women, written by women even (!), that is more appropriate for college-level courses than any YA novel. I mean, Sula or the Neapolitan books held up against Dessen’s work? Pfft.


Yeah I really am not saying anything by Dessen -- which are perfectly fine books, doing exactly what they are meant to do and doing it well -- belong on that kind of list. I think there are probably YA books which do, and YA books aimed at girls specifically.

I think it is really important to have books not written by white men, for and about white men, on a list for incoming students to read (note that the book chosen that year fits this fine, and as I recall overall the books seem to be good on that front). And I think there could be an interesting discussion about the ways in which these things interact, and how anything for girls does get extra hatred, and I would also like to see an intersectional discussion.

But the setup for this was certainly forever tainted.
posted by jeather at 11:19 AM on November 16, 2019


Just to add to this, from what I'm reading Nelson is Black and Dessen is white right?
I don't think Nelson is black. At least, I found a profile of someone I'm pretty sure is her from the NSU newspaper (which I'm not linking to, because it contains her email address), and she definitely appears to be white. She's also originally from Volga, SD, a town of about 1,800 people, of whom 0.3% were black in the 2010 census.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:29 AM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


Sarah Dessen found a 3 year old article where a black woman mildly criticized her book & decided to sic all her white author friends on her, causing the woman to delete all her social media for fear of her safety. i did my best to take screenshots of ppl who participated pic.twitter.com/o6Ilu8t8qx— T i n x 🧚‍♂️ ° * ☆♧♤◇♡ (@floricomant) November 15, 2019


According to this Nelson is Black, but twitter is full of untruths so that's why I hedged. As is it's still peak white feminism because a student wanted more challenging and inclusive texts in a program and a wealthy white author took exception to that and willfully mis-quoted her without context in order to ruin her life- 3 YEARS after the comment was said.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:35 AM on November 16, 2019 [11 favorites]


Yeah I'm pretty sure both are white. Nelson's preferred reading list choice is a memoir about race and justice in America though.
posted by atoxyl at 11:36 AM on November 16, 2019


Maybe we don't share unnecessary personal info about the victim?
posted by Think_Long at 11:41 AM on November 16, 2019 [20 favorites]


(The article is not from three years ago -- the article is recent. Nelson joined the committee three years ago, but talked to a reporter about it recently because it's the ten-year anniversary of the group's formation.)

Can we rename The Streisand Effect "The Sarah Dessen Effect"? Because for heaven's sake, how many people would even have noticed the article had she not had a tantrum about it?
posted by sarcasticah at 12:03 PM on November 16, 2019 [12 favorites]


People keep mentioning group texts or whatever, and it occurred to me: they have them. Lots of authors are in many different private Facebook groups and chats where this stuff gets stirred up before it erupts publicly. Sometimes the groups are established as social things and become professional things, sometimes the reverse. But they’re like incubation chambers for everything: networking, business, marketing, gossip, and drama. They act like little bubbles, where everyone quickly aligns with an opinion about X, and then kind of one ups each other until X is the worst/best thing in the world. And when things erupt, it’s because everyone in the group already knows what to think when someone posts something publicly and then alerts the group to it for public support.

Quintessential echo chambers, I guess. I got the fuck out of all of them because they were so toxic.

I have no idea if that happened here, but if it did, the dynamic is a familiar one.
posted by schadenfrau at 12:21 PM on November 16, 2019 [12 favorites]


Homo neanderthalensis: a wealthy white author took exception to that and willfully mis-quoted her without context in order to ruin her life- 3 YEARS after the comment was said.

You aren't the first person in this discussion thread (or elsewhere judging by the twitter comment you linked) to say that the comment was made and the article published three years ago. That isn't the case. It was published four days ago. Dessen did not dredge up a three year old article, she responded to it the same day it was published.

I think people are getting confused and jumping to conclusions because Brooke Nelson is being referred to frequently as a "2017 Northern graduate" and she describes joining the selection committee during her junior year to fight against Dessen's book being selected.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 12:32 PM on November 16, 2019 [14 favorites]


I think the promptness of Dessen’s response is also relevant to the nastiness of it, though: it means the cherry-picking and the stripping of context were darn near immediate. That’s some impressive turnaround time for an elaborate wounded-gazelle gambit with a big supporting cast.

Maybe I’m giving her too much credit. Maybe she only read the bits with her name and then drew her own conclusion, which was that she was indeed a wounded gazelle. We already know some of her friends couldn’t be bothered the check the source either. Never attribute to craftiness that which can be explained by mere hubris.
posted by armeowda at 12:47 PM on November 16, 2019 [9 favorites]


> promptness of Dessen’s response is also relevant to the nastiness of it, though: it means the cherry-picking and the stripping of context were darn near immediate.

Also relevant is the context of the article, which is telling in somewhat humorous fashion how the Common Read program got started and evolved over the years.

So part of that narrative is that the first year the author/book was determined by the small available budget, later the books were chosen by an all-volunteer committee that anyone could join for any reason--including that they thought on particular author or book on the nomination list wasn't up to snuff, or whatever.

It's more of a "colorful anecdotes about the history Common Reads" type article and certainly not any kind of serious literary analysis or commentary on anything.

Which is one reason stripping it completely from context makes little sense. To a very large degree, no one was even talking about Dessen at all.

I'll take it one step further: Getting all huffed up about the particulars of a sentence or two as reported in a newspaper article--particularly a relatively fluffy article like this one--is an exercise in futility.

The reporter, not the source, chooses the precise wording of the quote, makes the particular context it's placed in and slant its given, and chooses that one particular sentence fragment from, generally, many minutes of discussion on the topic.

And they will always do that in the context of telling the story they want to tell--in this case, the colorful history of the Common Reads program--rather than anything else.
posted by flug at 1:43 PM on November 16, 2019 [21 favorites]


The reporter, not the source, chooses the precise wording of the quote

Without getting into the broader issue of how articles go about contextualizing quotes, do want to say that this part is not really in keeping either with journalistic ethics or, in my experience, regular practice, even in local or feature articles.
posted by eponym at 2:36 PM on November 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


I can sort of understand the poorly thought out apologies, or at least where they’re coming from.

People, when they take part in a pile-on or a bullying situation, see themselves as individuals making individual actions. When the seriousness of the situation dawns on them, or they get called on it, they evaluate their actions based on what they did as individuals.

“I can see that the victim suffered, but my actions caused only a small amount of suffering.”

Therefore they feel that they need only to offer a limited apology.

But the thing with bullying or pile-ons is that the victim’s suffering is the cumulative effect of lots of minor aggressions.

Everyone has a limited role and no one takes responsibility, and few people learn any lessons for next time. The victim fades from the memory of the aggressors, it was such a small thing after all.
posted by Kattullus at 4:05 PM on November 16, 2019 [26 favorites]


Metafilter: Journal that shit, please, because it's unbearably tedious to listen to.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:51 PM on November 16, 2019 [14 favorites]


I think that being social media famous must be a bit of a mindfuck. Because let's face it, almost none of these people are really famous. Jodi Picault is about as commercially successful as an author can be, and I don't think I'd recognize her if she literally walked into me on the street. She could come up to me and say "hi, I'm Jodi," and I would have no idea that she was best-selling author Jodi Picault rather than some random other woman named Jodi. I have read two of Jennifer Weiner's books, and I realized recently that I'd been mentally mispronouncing her name for like 15 years. So they probably don't feel like famous people, even though they are wildly commercially successful authors. But on the other hand, they have these massive social media followings, which means both that complete strangers feel like they know them and can reply to tweets in all sorts of weird, overly-intimate ways and that they can say "this person is a trash-monster" and automatically conjure up a mob that will completely ruin that person's week. It's just so weird. I feel like this is a new kind of celebrity, and people have not figured out how to negotiate it.

I like Twitter, and I'm not going to quit Twitter, but it really is weird. The ability to create false intimacy is especially weird. I suspect that in five years, if Twitter is still around, micro-celebrities will be a lot better at maintaining appropriate boundaries on Twitter, but right now it seems to give them a lot of opportunities to self-publicize but also a lot of opportunities to fuck up.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:03 PM on November 16, 2019 [14 favorites]


To me the apologies sound the like the half-assed apologies you give when you know intellectually that you did something that hurt someone, but emotionally you still think you were right and don't feel bad about it all. So, yoi scramble together something to apologize, but you don't really take responsibility because you don't actually think your actions were wrong.
posted by brandnewday989 at 6:12 PM on November 16, 2019 [26 favorites]


Quintessential echo chambers, I guess. I got the fuck out of all of them because they were so toxic.

I think it has less to do with group chats, and more to do with how people in insular Livejournal groups have not adapted well to the Twitter world. SF YA is one of those places where the groups and friendships were formed there, and sometimes it shows.
posted by corb at 6:15 PM on November 16, 2019 [7 favorites]


To me the apologies sound the like the half-assed apologies you give when you know intellectually that you did something that hurt someone, but emotionally you still think you were right and don't feel bad about it all.

The apologies come off as performative, and performative in a way that's transparent to the intended audience.

As in, This has begun to make pop culture media, and I'm not the hero in this story, and it could hurt my brand, so I had better acknowledge that someone has experienced something wholly unjustified and unnecessary, while also making sure I'm not left holding the bag.

It comes off as insincere and calculated -- the kind of thing where the people offering the supposed "apologies" can later mewl, "I apologized and it still wasn't good enough! The Internet is an unforgiving place!"

People who have been online and social media savvy know very well what rites and rituals to perform in order to maintain their online personae.
posted by sobell at 6:37 PM on November 16, 2019 [23 favorites]


[Person A]
I hope you’re reflecting on why you were so quick to defend a bestselling, hugely successful author against some mild criticism. I’m also not convinced that this apology would have happened if not for the media taking notice.
|
N. K. Jemisin
Think what you like, but IMO the apology would have happened sooner if not for the media. I got deluged with people yelling "How dare you harass this woman!" so I went into flame on mode bc I knew I hadn't harassed anybody. *Then* I figured out how badly she got attacked.

[Person B]
If I contributed to that in any way, I'm sorry...
Should say:
I am sorry I contributed to the continuing harassment Miss Nelson has had to deal over the last few days.
|
N. K. Jemisin
Nah, I'm good with the 200+ words I used.
On the one had, yeah, Twitter really does bring out the worst in all of us. On the other hand, perhaps we are just learning more about each other than we would really like to know.
posted by chortly at 10:39 PM on November 16, 2019 [24 favorites]


but twitter is full of untruths so that's why I hedged.

uninformed and aggressively incorrect speculation about a woman whose alumni profile, with photograph, is readily and publicly available, is the kind of bullshit move we should leave to the Sarah Dessens of the world. let's not pretend it's Twitter's fault.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:14 AM on November 17, 2019 [5 favorites]


I feel like this is a new kind of celebrity, and people have not figured out how to negotiate it.

This sounds like an excuse to link to This is Phil Fish, a video about hyper-local celebrity.
posted by Merus at 4:51 AM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


I feel like this is a new kind of celebrity, and people have not figured out how to negotiate it.

I really do not think this is true at all for these authors. Every single one of them — with, ironically, the possible exception of Dessen, who I am not as familiar with? — has leveraged their celebrity, social media or otherwise, for professional success. Some of them made their names that way.

Please don’t do the thing where you’re like “oh they just couldn’t know any better, poor little things.” Bullshit. Successful authors in extremely competitive genres are usually incredibly savvy. they consciously use their influence among their fan base to grow their careers in very sophisticated ways.

That’s part of why this is so terrible. It’s not that they don’t know better. It’s that they know their power better than anyone else, and they still chose to abuse it, and they still don’t care.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:34 AM on November 17, 2019 [11 favorites]


And they chose a few YA books, Out of the Easy (about a teenaged girl, presumably white since googling doesn't say she isn't) and On the Come Up (about a black teenaged girl) later, though it isn't really clear how decisions are made or what the options were.

I just wanted to touch back on this real quick -- it wasn't "Out of the Easy" (a book about the daughter of a sex worker in 1950's New Orleans who is trying to escape the underworld life for which she seems destined to go to an elite college instead), it was Ruta Sepetys's "Salt to the Sea", described on Goodreads like this:
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
And here is the list of the books chosen for each year's Common Read. As we know from reading more in-depth information about this fracas in the later part of the week, they start with a longlist of several books. In 2016, the list was 52 books long and included "Saint Anything" by Sarah Dessen, "Breath, Eyes, Memory" by Edwidge Danticat, "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson, and "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi.
2019: Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self​ by Manoush Zomorodi ; Speaker: Manoush Zomorodi
2018: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; Speaker: Angie Thomas
2017: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys; Speaker: Ruta Sepetys
2016: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; Speaker: Anthony Ray Hinton
2015: Without You, There is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim; Speaker: Suki Kim
2014: Ready Player One by Ernie Cline; Speaker: Ernest Cline
2013: Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls; Speaker: Jeannette Walls
2012: Outcasts United by Warren St. John; Speaker: Warren St. John
2011: 1491 by Charles Mann; Speaker: Charles Mann
2010: The Routes of Man by Ted Conover; Speaker: Ted Conover
I'm not able to find a drill-down into how Northern State U's specific process works for choosing each year's book, but we do know from the information made available this week, like the statement from Nelson quoted by WaPo, Slate, and Vulture, that she was one member of a large selection committee made up of students, faculty, and community members, as Northern State makes their common read program and the guest lecture available to everyone in the community, not just enrolled students. So obviously I'm just speculating, but with 52 books and a large committee there's probably some ranked choice voting involved, maybe even a bracket system like The Morning News's annual Tournament of Books.

I think one key thing of note about all of the YA books that have been selected for this reading program is that they're stories about young people overcoming serious adversity -- refugees during wartime (based on actual events, really rather horrifying); a young black woman who witnesses the murder of her (black male) friend by police and must endure being the center of the ensuing maelstrom, including racial animus from her white friends; even Ready Player One has deeper elements at its core, given that the main character is an impoverished orphan (dad was a thief, mom was a drug-addicted sex worker) trying to scrape together a life in a system designed to keep him at the bottom and placate him with bread and circuses.

The purpose of a common read book is "to foster students’ exploration of values and ethics, increase awareness of cultural diversity, deepen feelings of being part of a community, and integrate social and academic campus experiences." I can easily see how all of the books ultimately chosen for Northern State's program meet that goal. Yes, even Ready Player One.

It doesn't seem that the Northern State program thinks that YA stories are not valuable, and they're CLEARLY not choosing solely from a list of stories by white men (as I saw YA author Renee Ahdieh claim on Twitter this week).
posted by palomar at 6:08 AM on November 17, 2019 [15 favorites]


Wait, I’ve got it! The President can invite them both to the White House for a beer summit!
posted by freecellwizard at 6:32 AM on November 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think that being social media famous must be a bit of a mindfuck. Because let's face it, almost none of these people are really famous.

There are different levels of fame these days. I read some article on NYT a while back about how YouTube famous kids are so famous they can't go to high school any more and I was all, whaaaat? You're famous in your crowd, or in a small town, or at the karaoke bar (my level of it), or in your hobby group, or on the Internet, or in actual real life/everywhere.

Also, there's the whole parasocial relationships thing, where we hear about someone all the time but don't actually know/get to talk to them IRL. I know about any random celebrity than the people who live next to me, because I see all of them more than my introvert neighbors. That's a mindfuck on everybody.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:36 AM on November 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


I read some article on NYT a while back about how YouTube famous kids are so famous they can't go to high school any more

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing his mother that he was too youtube famous to go to high school.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:09 AM on November 17, 2019 [24 favorites]


>>The reporter, not the source, chooses the precise wording of the quote

>Without getting into the broader issue of how articles go about contextualizing quotes, do want to say that this part is not really in keeping either with journalistic ethics or, in my experience, regular practice, even in local or feature articles.


I don't want to make this a derail at all, but I wasn't saying anything about journalistic ethics or anything at all ontoward done by the journalists. Rather that any two different minds are going to inevitably see and understand things in a slightly different way and that the story a newspaper reporter is going to tell is inevitably very different from the one any of the persons interviewed would tell if they were to write an extended article about the subject at hand (or even more so, the related subject they would be interested to write about vs the one the newspaper reporter is going to write about).

To put it another way: If Nelson had written even a four-page review of one of Dessen's books, or even a two-page critique of her style or whatever, then you would have a reasonably good idea of what she actually thinks about that subject.

Fixating on a two-sentence statement as quoted in a newspaper story (and even worse, just two of the four sentences that were even in the article) from a person you know literally nothing else about and then using that as a pivot to, well anything, is just plain dumb.

It's at least several degrees dumber than spending time thinking about and rebutting actual bad reviews of your work, which (as extensively discussed upthread) is already dumb enough.

Putting it yet another way: This reporter called up or maybe emailed the source and said something like, "I'm writing a story about the history of Common Reads for its 10th anniversary and I understand you were on the committee one year. Could you tell me a little about why you joined the committee and how it went?"

So . . . right there you're inviting a type of story that the interviewee absolutely would not have just spontaneously blurted out on social media or otherwise publicly at that moment in time (if ever). Even though you have done literally nothing that is out of step with journalistic ethics or regular good journalistic practice.
posted by flug at 11:02 AM on November 17, 2019 [4 favorites]


OTOH, the more I read about it, the more impressive the Northern State common read is and it’s really great that the town is so into it. I can’t think of anything better for a huge nation and its educational system than multi-level schools like a good total state system, each cooperating up and down the scale of size and prestige and working with the communities around itself. Go them!
posted by clew at 1:58 PM on November 17, 2019 [8 favorites]


Ooof. Continuing on the not-so-great apology train, Celeste Ng retweets Roxane Gay's apology and says, "Same, retweeting Roxane because as usual she says it better than I can," which... ma'am, you are a published author, what the hell? But then Jodi Picoult retweets the retweet, throws in some weasel words to absolve herself, and blocks anyone who calls her out on half-assing her borrowed apology.

I just... y'all. I am honestly gobsmacked.
posted by palomar at 6:06 PM on November 17, 2019 [16 favorites]


God so glad I'm an illiterate plebe if this is the bar.
posted by cendawanita at 6:18 PM on November 17, 2019 [7 favorites]


I feel so much better that I already decided not to read contemporary fiction. Especially not by white women.
posted by Miko at 12:39 PM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


There are plenty of women writers who depict women's interiority in powerful and interesting ways who don't really have great politics qua politics.

Thanks so much for saying this, since it really helps reconcile my bafflement when I contrast Joyce Carol Oates's marvelous, compassionate fiction with her idiotic political tweets.
posted by zeusianfog at 12:57 PM on November 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Maybe their inner editors are wise and their inner writers are, mm, speedy.
posted by clew at 6:23 PM on November 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Especially not by white women.
In what world are Roxane Gay, NK Jemisin and Celeste Ng "white women"?

Look, white supremacy is real and insidious, and generally speaking, anything awful you say about white people is probably accurate. But sometimes things like this sound a little kneejerk, you know?
posted by neroli at 6:35 PM on November 18, 2019 [18 favorites]


In what world are Roxane Gay, NK Jemisin and Celeste Ng "white women"?

There are other people active in the story and they are white women and they are the people I'm referring to, Picoult leading the pack. It's not kneejerk to say this has been a decision about my reading for some time, and a considered one.
posted by Miko at 5:02 AM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


You should read whatever you want, but choosing to boycott contemporary fiction or even contemporary fiction by white women because of Jodi Picoult seems like a weird move. It's like saying you'll never see another movie in a theater because Captain America wasn't any good.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:49 AM on November 19, 2019


because Captain America wasn't any good
Which is even weirder, since it was AWESOME.

I'm still shaking my head at jamjam's comment above, suggesting that Nelson deserved what she got. I mean, damn; what an absurd and ugly take.

Presumably, no one should ever suggest an author be excluded from a reading list, since if the author has a following, the same pile-on can easily be manufactured -- and they'll "deserve" it!
posted by uberchet at 9:33 AM on November 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


You should read whatever you want, but choosing to boycott contemporary fiction or even contemporary fiction by white women because of Jodi Picoult seems like a weird move.

That's not why I choose not to read contemporary fiction - as I said, not having to read these people is just a side benefit. Thanks for your opinions about my "weird" personal reading preferences for my life's limited reading ime, though.
posted by Miko at 5:20 AM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


I gotta call out the BEST burn on Jodi Picoult:

"You and @jenniferweiner write supermarket novels for white grandmothers/ future scripts for Cameron Diaz. Chill."

SHOTS FIRED.

PS. I am so glad that Charles Dickens is not alive and tweeting at this time, because I LOVE Charles Dickens.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 10:51 AM on November 20, 2019 [7 favorites]


Just think for a second about a Mark Twain- Charles Dickens Twitter war.
posted by Miko at 1:58 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


imagine Jane Austen stans piling onto Mark Twain in real time for his bad takes about her
posted by Countess Elena at 2:14 PM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Oh you know it. If still alive, Twain would totally be writing takedowns for online outlets.
posted by Miko at 2:18 PM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


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