When a Feminist Reads Sexist Books

Sexism sucks. I think we can all agree on that one. As a feminist, I acknowledge it still exists today and want to see it eradicated. That being said, I like a lot of literature that’s also sexist. I’m not going to deny it or try to make excuses for it—I may have fun reading it, but there’s definitely some inequality going on.

I don’t like misogynist works in general, but I’ve enjoyed quite a few. My favorite book category is the Swords and Sorcery subgenre of Fantasy and it has been dominated by male authors for a long time. As a result, it has been historically a bit male-oriented. Sometimes you get some pretty sexist crap—but there are still some otherwise pretty good books.

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A perfect example is the original Conan the Barbarian stories written by Robert E. Howard in the 30’s. I’ve been reading through them and yes, there is some heavy objectification going on. (Misogyny in Conan? Who’d have thought, right?) As for the Bechdel test, you can just forget about it right now.

So how can I stand—much less enjoy—this sort of thing? There are other elements to the story I genuinely appreciate. The descriptions, for one. Howard had a broad and varied repertoire when it came to setting a scene. The level of emotion and sensation he puts into his imagery is astounding. Sexist or no, he had talent. As a writer, I admit I’m envious.

Then there’s the action. Conan is considered the first in my beloved Swords and Sorcery subgenre and—just as you’d expect—there’s plenty of swords and gobs of sorcery. With unique takes on magic and detailed battles, no one can accuse the series of being passive.

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This is just one example, but Dracula would be another. Bram Stoker’s original is chock-full of gender roles, damsels in distress, and men keeping facts from women because they “can’t handle the truth.” That last one did get annoying—just tell the woman why she can’t move the garlic, damn it!—but I still enjoyed it.

There was a delicious darkness and creepiness to Dracula. It was intense and scary. It made me keep the lights on and wish I hadn’t read it alone during a thunderstorm. I really do understand why it’s remained a part of pop culture for so long.

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There are a number of other more recent works I’ve read (and liked) that are also casually sexist. It’s not necessarily women kept as concubines by the main (male) character. I see it as more subtle things like women’s lives being dictated by the orders and/or actions of men around them.

So why not just read modern feminist Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Thriller books instead? I feel that most the time, when feminist authors tackle certain genres, they get distracted. They focus on fixing the sexist history of the genre and sideline all the things that make the genre awesome to begin with. The monsters and sorcerers and assorted murderous marauders take a backseat—at least in the ones I’ve read.

I love feminism and as a woman, I need it. But as a fan, I also need my Swords and Sorcery fix.

Lots of times, it really feels like a no-win. Either I read something that’s feminist, but I don’t feel delivers the same “wow” factor, or I go for the misogynist book that’s otherwise pretty great. It’s more of a struggle than one would think.

Sometimes I wonder if, as a feminist, I should be reading these things at all. Maybe I should go reread some Charlotte Perkins Gilman instead (whose work is totally badass, even if it’s not my favorite genre). As much as I might love certain series, I see how they’re problematic, often in more ways than one. I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’ll also be the first to point out their qualities.

In the end, I want to read stuff I enjoy. Life is short and reading is meant to be fun. Just like how me liking a character doesn’t equate agreeing with everything the character does, me liking a book doesn’t equate agreeing with everything the author does.

Truthfully, I don’t think we’re ever going to achieve universal feminism, at least not to the point where everyone agrees. Too many people have different ideas of what equality looks like for women. Other people think Fifty Shades is about a woman’s sexual liberation, I think it romanticizes abuse.

There will always be books that fall outside the boundaries of feminism, at least each individual person’s definition of it. So do I ban books for myself? Do I forbid myself reading what I enjoy because there are some issues in it?

I don’t want to regulate myself to a little corner of “approved” books. Yes, there might be some issues with a story, but who knows? Maybe it will offer some perspective on something else. For example, one sexist book I read had some pretty awesome antiwar subplots and also tackled racism. That was totally unexpected and seemed kind of out of place, but it happened. Another one I read had one of the coolest magic systems I’ve seen yet. I’m really glad I read them both.

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I do enjoy certain books despite them being sexist. It might sound odd and some people might disagree that I should even keep those books in my home, but I say people should read what they want. So long as they are aware of what is going on and can acknowledge it’s wrong, why not? At the same time, if you’re uncomfortable with it, that’s fine, too.

Either way, if you’re not perpetuating sexism in reality by reading what you want, I see nothing wrong with it. As for what equals “perpetuating,” that’s up to every person to decide. Maybe you just don’t want to support an author who writes that way. It’s your right in the free market (yay capitalism!).

Regardless, I won’t let anything—even sexism—stop me reading what I really love. So long as I keep working to see people treated with respect and I’m not hurting anyone, I’ll go for the books I enjoy. I think everyone should do the same.

In short, read what you want and be a decent human being.

Things I hate about books

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My room is 60% books, but there are some things about them I just HATE. Things that grate and annoy and make me want to tear my hair out. I’m sure I could think of more, but this is a starter list.

Love polygons

Pick a guy already! This trope is notorious within Young Adult and Romance, but it’s starting to infect other genres as well. IT MUST STOP. Seriously, it’s a relationship, not ice cream. If you’re conflicted between two, you need to stop sampling one or the other because those are people’s hearts, not Baskin Robins.

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You’ve heard of “love triangles,” now get ready for…”love PENTAGONS!”

Mismatched covers

Just…no. I have several series where the publisher did this mid-series or, worse, end-of-series and it made me want to scream. To this day, it physically hurts me to look at them together.

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I mean…how sick do you have to be to do this?

Differing spine heights

This is done by the same monsters who pulled off the cover style swaps and is no less heinous/agonizing.

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I was appalled when the last two “Shadowmarch” books came in the mail.

Bad writing

Don’t draw me in with a pretty cover, good premise, stellar blurb, then have “flashing eyes” and breaths “she didn’t know she’d been holding” every two pages. Also no willy-nilly “hot” seductions where the characters didn’t even make eye contact until two pages ago. I mean…why??? But seriously, there are a hundred things that could go here, but you all KNOW what I mean.

I was going to put a picture here, but I got rid of the books I thought had bad writing.

 Good writing

Bad writing is like nails on the chalkboard. Good writing is like hooked talons that dig into your chest and tear out your bleeding heart. Beware the feels and beware the life-changing revelations.

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To date, four books have made me cry and two of them are pictured here.

Flaky authors

Authors, don’t go and write two to-die-for books and then write 900+ pages of crap when we KNOW you can do better. Get your act together, damn it.

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Yes, Christopher Paolini, I DID lie to your face when I said I liked the ending.

Cannon fodder characters

You know those characters who show up for like half a scene and are sweet and eerily flawless until they’re gruesomely murdered for nothing other than shock value? I hate that.

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Well…can you deny it?

Cancelled sequels

How DARE set it up for another book and not follow through! Leave me hanging with loose ends and questionable ending. Not cool, man.

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There was “kind of” a resolution, but “kind of” not. Also, I just want another damn book.

Biased publishers

I could rant all day about this one. The thing is, it’s luck of the draw as to which authors get “picked” for promotion by publishers (this applies to the Big Six publishers especially). The vast majority of authors are expected to handle promotion on their own dime. Which means we don’t hear about the vast majority of books published!

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Only fan letter I’ve written in my life was to this guy and the publishers don’t share my enthusiasm. Bastards.

Biased bookstores

The thing is, stores like Barnes and Noble and about 97% of other bookstores (unless specified otherwise) only stock the bestsellers’ list. Seriously. It’s why I stopped going so much (besides being broke).

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Crappy photo, but these are two AMAZING books you won’t find in stores.

What are some of the things you hate about books? Do you relate to any of these? Let me know in the comments!

Reading Outside: Does it even happen?

Summer is nearly over (sorry), school’s about to start up (so sorry), and that means less reading time for students, teachers, and pretty much everyone connected to education (so, so sorry).

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Here we have what appears to be the youngest Weasleys reading their family history on the potentially Nargle-infested lawn.

This summer, like others before, I have been baffled by aesthetic pictures of people reading happily on beaches, porches, hillsides, and in meadows. But something I’ve often wondered is if this phenomenon even occurs in nature.

To read outside where I live, you must brave not only the scorching Texas sun and varied array of violent insects, but also intermittent wind gusts. I’ve tried reading in hammocks, on porches, and under trees, but the only time it has worked is in the shelter of some non-picturesque wall over concrete. Even then, it wasn’t exactly comfortable. (My backside does not appreciate extended periods squished against cement.)

I know some people claim to do it, but do they really? I know it makes a good photo, but the subgenre of outdoor book photography is mostly false advertising.

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There would be a blinding glare on like half a page. She’s not fooling anyone.

Reading my Kindle outside has generally proven easier, just because of the light adjustment setting. But if I’m in bright sun, I’ve got bigger problems, like impending lobster face/neck/arms/shoulders/legs. Then, you’ve got birds and car fumes if you’re in the city and chiggers, snakes, and Lord knows what if you’re in the country. To be honest, I’m terrified of the wind blowing my book into the ocean at the beach. Not to mention sand gets into the spines and just…ick.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’ve just found it to be incredibly uncomfortable. Either way, I think this is definitely one of those “expectation vs. reality” things. I’ll stick to reading indoors with solid walls and air conditioning, thank you very much.

That time I outgrew YA

I started writing YA when I was well within the age range. But these past two years, I’ve been branching out into Game of Thrones and other not YA ilk. Outside reading, I’ve started involvement with human rights and the heavy issues that come with that.  As I creep ever further from the YA realm of 14-18, my perspective has changed a great deal.

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The storylines for my newer WIP’s started centering around different characters, darker themes. (But don’t worry, Haddie and Janir are safe.) I started toying with several ideas that cast young parents and widows in protagonist status—both generally considered no-no’s in YA. Truth be told, I feared I was growing out of my beloved genre.

Then not too long ago, I realized how much I missed certain things about YA. Young Adult characters, with scant exception, still believe the world can be changed for good, that there’s something worth fighting for. There’s a kind of innocence that’s rare in adult fiction and I had missed that so, so badly.

woman-1413054_960_720That was when I remembered the magic of YA, why it so successfully transcends age barriers. The thing is, we are all or have been young. We’ve all experienced or are experiencing some form of learning about the world, ourselves, and relationships. (Though people assure me that learning never really stops.) YA is so universal and successful for that very reason.

Loving and reading YA doesn’t mean you don’t dabble in other things. What’s more, YA itself covers a vast array of subgenres and issues. Whether you want to read something philosophical, sarcastic, humorous, contemporary, historical, speculative, surreal, or just about anything,  I guarantee the Young Adult section has it. There are very few limits on what it includes these days and the only consistent feature is protagonist age.

book-1149031_960_720Every so often, I want to read something about “grown-ups” screwing the world over, but I can still love YA. It stays there, like your high school best friend who still calls even after you both start grad school.

Truth is, I don’t think it’s possible to outgrow YA. That’s like saying you can outgrow ice cream.

Me and my Kindle

A few years ago, I saw on Facebook that there was a free promotion for a book I’d been wanting to read for awhile, Thorn by Intisar Khanani. The catch? It was for Kindle. At the time, I was a staunch literary purist. eBooks were the inexcusable digitization of literature and I was much to good for that. But…it was free. You can’t argue with free, can you?

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So I caved and downloaded the Kindle iPhone app, hit the infamous “one-click” button, and let the book sit around for weeks. And weeks. And months. Finally, I went and took a little peak at it. A little peak turned into a few chapters, a few chapters turned into a few hours—hey, this story was pretty darn good and who cared if it was an eBook, it was awesome!

By the time I scrolled past the last page, I was not only irreversibly hooked on the author, but a love of eBooks had taken root in my soul. I ended up downloading more free eBooks, sampling the beginnings of series that ranged from “why was this published” to “give me the sequel before I hurt someone.” In no time at all, I was buying complete series in eBook, periodically hijacking my father’s Amazon account to go on digital shopping sprees. My iPhone app quickly filled up with books I liked to reread, books I wanted to read, and books I to this day haven’t read—just like a “real” library!

For my eighteenth birthday, my grandparents gave me the ultimate gift for a bookworm—a brand new, shiny, gorgeous Kindle Paperwhite. The very first book I read was Reemergent by A.M. Hargrove, the final book in a series I had devoured via my iPhone app.

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Me in Starbucks mere minutes after leaving Best Buy, flaunting my prize before a camera. (If you look closely, you can see Reemergent is open on the screen.)

My Kindle opened up a world of possibilities. With a display that didn’t render me blind after a few hours, a bigger screen, and better visibility, I could even read the big, fat fantasy epics as eBooks!

I can’t count the number of series I’ve been able to try, start, and adore because of my Kindle (actually, they’re all listed on Goodreads). From The Cat’s Eye Chronicles to The Captive series, Legends of Regia to the Shadowlight Saga, awesome is just as prolific in eBook as it is in print.

eBooks have helped me as a writer, too. Without those little things called Kindles and Nooks, my stories would not have reached half the readers they have. Permanently free, Fanged Princess is reaching new fans every month and none of it would be possible without eReaders.

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So despite all the things Amazon has gotten wrong, there’s at least one they got right—creating a little thing called the Kindle for all the little bookworms like me to use and love.

Love Triangles, die! DIE!!!

The literary device infamously known as the love triangle has been around since the days of the Greeks and cropping up like a scourge ever since. It’s become a trademark of the Young Adult Paranormal Romance genre and I cannot stand it. Personally, I think that the vast majority of the time the love triangle serves no real purpose other than to make me want to take a sledgehammer to a watermelon.

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Love triangles, like vultures or cockroaches, have their uses. Sometimes one fits a story (whether I like it or not). If the love triangle is the extension of another conflict as in the question of which of two factions one should choose, it can even be beneficial to the story. I must concede that I have in the past read love triangles I liked, but of all the books I have read, I can count them on one hand. The thing that kept me from hating the love triangles in each case was not being sure who should end up with who or even who was in love with who. Once it becomes clear who the heroine/hero should end up with, the triangle feels like unnecessary drama and I despise drama.

I spend most of my time reading about a love triangle wishing that the heroine (because that’s who’s usually at the center of these things) would just make up her bloody mind and pick a guy. It’s usually pretty clear from the get go who she should/will/I want her to pick and the heroine’s indecision drives me a bad kind of crazy. Perhaps that’s a good thing because it means I’m emotionally invested, but it’s hard to see it as such when I’d like to hit someone in the face (usually the character I don’t want to get picked).

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Maybe it goes back to my own personal loathing of shopping, I don’t know. I could just be fangirl-zilla, standing by my matchmaking of fictional characters like a rabid wolf. I could just be unreasonable. The fact remains, love triangles get under my skin like little else. I can endure reading about whatever obstacles a couple has to go through—monsters, wizards, political intrigue, meddling power players, even death—so long as a love triangle isn’t involved.

If the success of Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Tiger’s Curse, or most any other YA Paranormal Romance is an indicator, love triangles are not so passionately loathed by everyone. I understand that a love triangle adds a special something for some readers, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. In my not-so-humble opinion there are exceptions, but love triangles in general suck.

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Top Ten Books I cannot wait for in 2014

I look forward to this year’s book releases with rapt anticipation. It promises to be full of assassins, romance, adventure, magic, and awesomeness!

Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass, #3) by Sarah J. Maas

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The previous book in this series…if I start talking about it, we’ll end up with a massive, tear-infused rant and we can’t have that. But I have to read this one. I have to. (Chaolaena forever!)

Ferran’s Map (The Cat’s Eye Chronicles, #4) By T.L. Shreffler

I want this book so freaking bad it’s not even funny. I LOVE the series with a fanatic passion and NEED the thing. (On a side note: I have shipped Sora/Crash since they met and that will never change.)

Gathering Darkness (Falling Kingdoms, #3) by Morgan Rhodes

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I’ve read the first book in this series and mean to order the second one. I have high hopes for the further installments of this series and look forward to getting my hands on Falling Kingdoms’ sequels.

Windswept (Moonlit, #2) by Jadie Jones

Holy crap, talk about emotional involvement in this book’s predecessor. Moonlit had ageless love, horses, a prize villain, and just…pure awesome.

Final Advent (No Angels, #3) by Eli Hinze

This is the final book in the trilogy and it promises to be epic!

World of the Beasts (The Witches’ Sleep, #2) by Kaitlyn Deann

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This book was actually on last year’s list of releases I couldn’t wait for. The first was great, but the author has put off the second’s release. Again. *shoots accusatory glare in general direction of Miss Deann*

Sunbolt 2 (The Sunbolt Chronicles, #2) by Intisar Khanani

I did some beta reading for this one and I can tell it is going to be one firestorm of a piece! You will certainly be getting a lot of fangirling come the release. (Title currently undecided.)

Fire Soul (Tortured Elements, #2) by Olivia Rivers

Frost Fire ended in a bloody cliffhanger. But I loved Drake to bits and I want, want, want to know what happens to the poor baby.

Born of the Blood (The Night Gives Up Its Secrets, #3) by Mary Eason

Another book that was also on last year’s list. Hopefully the release won’t get postponed again, because I really want it!

Broken (Shadowlight Saga, #2) by Mande Matthews

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This series is incredible—Norse mythology retellings infused with warrior girls, magic, dark lords, honor, precious characters…HAND IT OVER!!!

Hopefully I’ll find that each of these will exceed their predecessors in incredibleness. (Though that might be asking a bit too much.) I am very excited to read each of them and there better not be any more postponed releases!