I’ve mentioned before that I’m on an e-mail list for author events at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is how I’ve see writers such as Roddy Doyle, Alison Bechdel, and Tamara Payne. Almost all events are free; some larger-name writers require a ticket — the cost of the book, which is autographed and sent to your house. If you don’t want to buy the book but still want to see authors like Kevin Kwan or Barbara Kingsolver, you can check out their recordings at a later date on YouTube for free.
This week I attended an event for the book Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg by Emily Rapp Black. I enjoyed the event very much, drawn to it because the author has a disability (her leg was amputated when she was four) and I wanted to know more about how she connects her body to that of Kahlo’s, another disabled creative person. I got a bit stuck in the conversation. Rapp Black is a disabled woman who writes about disability, teaches about disability, and had a son who died at age three as the result of a genetic disability, about whom she writes. And yet she said she does not want to be known as a “disabled writer.” I understand what she’s saying, but I also thought about readers and book bloggers, who quest to read books by people who aren’t white, or able-bodied, or straight or cis-gendered, who aren’t from a western country. How do we decide what to read if we don’t know how the author identifies him/her/themself?
A couple of years ago I was keeping track of more book stats than I am now, because included if authors were LGBTQ, their race, and nationality. This was harder than I thought and taught me a huge lesson, helped by a talk by Isabel Caste through the Free Library of Philadelphia: firstly, it is in the U.S., not other countries, that we are obsessed with what we call “race” (and Wilkerson calls “caste”). So, imposing a race check box next to an author started to feel both U.S.-centric and possibly offensive. Out of an abundance of caution, I stopped.
Same with people’s nationalities. In many countries, it’s complicated. I’m not sure if it’s more complicated in the U.S., but it feels that way. We are obsessed with where we come from. Thus, an author’s Wikipedia page may say American author whose mother was half-white, half-Native American, and whose father was half-Japanese and half-Filipino. This does not fit into a check box, and I started to realize how small I was thinking. I questioned my desire to have such stats. Would they improve the visibility or appeal of the author? Would they make my blog look more well-rounded in content? Would readers be more interested in the book? Should I include a photo of the author and let readers make their own determinations? (I scrapped that idea quickly, as I hate judging people on how they look and support authors who refuse to include a photo, or an updated photo as they age).
In the end, my decision to get rid of stats that include race, sexuality, and nationality felt iffy at first. But last week, when I wrote Sunday Lowdown #123 and started adding books and authors who are LGBTQ+, I realized I am not unintentionally leaning toward books by straight white women who are able-bodied. I have quite a variety of authors and a whole array of content on Grab the Lapels. I wrote #123 shortly before midnight in a mad scramble and didn’t even really go through my books, just adding ones I’d read recently. I felt pretty good about this.
So, coming back to Emily Rapp Black, who is disabled, writes about disability, had a disabled son who died from his disability and then wrote about his disability and death, who teaches about disability — and does not want to be known as a disabled author? I suddenly get it. The content of her book will tell readers what she cares about, and if her book is good, it will appeal to readers, who may be even more excited by the topic of disabilities if they are interested/it relates to them.
THIS WEEK’S BLOG POSTS
After posting about Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett, I learned that Biscuit has rabbit cake pans and will be making me my very own next time I visit her in Michigan. Woohoo! If you like your satire with helping of dark emotions and are able to suspend disbelief in regards to a character’s age and maturity (think something like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer), then you’ll love Hartnett’s novel.
What if you’re more into sexy novels that have something serious to say? Imagine that through the lens of satire and you’ll get Laura Rider’s Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton. Don’t expect Hamilton’s more serious work, like The Book of Ruth or A Map of the World. She takes on silliness but asks an important question about the work that romance authors do, how their writing was crafted, and if they deserve serious attention if they don’t have a degree in Literature.
If you’re not into satire but want to read about romance and literary authors in conversation about their work, check out Love Literary Style by Karin Gillespie.
NEXT WEEK’S BLOG POSTS
I pair up two audiobooks and review them together on Tuesday. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel appealed with its premise that the world survives post-pandemic — a flu of course — through the lens of a dead actor and a travelling orchestra. Also, I have thoughts on True Story by Kate Reed Petty, a novel constructed in different formats (which still comes across on audio) about a private school girl who is told she was raped while passed out. Reviews Tuesday.
Jackie @ Death By Tsundoku and I were hesitant about #ReadingValdemar in 2021 because all the books follow the same main character and his family, which is not common for author Mercedes Lackey. While the first series was bloated and somewhat repetitive, my step into the first book of the Herald Spy trilogy kept me guessing. Review Thursday.
BOOKS ADDED TO THE TBR PILE
Owned Books on TBR at Beginning of Year: 242
Owned Books on TBR Today: 221