February 3, 2011
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Another Editorial Nightmare

Sometimes, “never apologize” really is the right answer.

BitchMedia published a list of 100 Young Adult Books For The Feminist Reader. Naturally, the list inspired discussion. That’s why sites publish these lists – they get lots of people talking, attract lots of inbound links, and so your advertisers sell lots of feminist sex toys and handmade winter bike hats.

Inevitably, some people thought some books on the list weren’t very good. Some felt strongly. Some wrote stern letters.

At this point, the wheels fell off: the editors read these comments, and found some of them convincing. So, they amended the list, dropping three books and replacing them.

Sarah Wendell has a good overview of the ensuing furor. Once the editors changed their mind of these books, they were defenseless. They tried to defend themselves by saying, “we didn’t read every book,” but that’s obviously doomed – especially in a community of writers and librarians. They tried to explain that there were cogent political objections to each book. That’s doomed, too. These books aren’t party platforms, they’re books for kids. The editors say, the replacements are good, too, and we’re not actually censoring anyone, and the books we dropped are still in our library in Oregon. I don’t see any way such arguments can convince anyone.

Margo Lanagan argues convincingly (and with surprising tact) that the indictment of her Tender Morsels is misplaced.

De gustibus non disputandum. It’s one thing to draw up a list of 100 book that omits one’s own work; that’s disappointing, of course, but there are lots of books. Weaseling, on the other hand, suggests that this really is a political process, and that the only way to defend your favorite work is to apply pressure to the editors. This gets lots of comments and lots of twittering – three pages of comments about children’s library curation! – and probably makes the sponsors happy. But it’s bad for libraries, worse for librarians, and terribly dangerous for literature.