With some time to kill before my appointment to have my car inspected, I popped into my local used book shop where I regularly hold store credit and cycle my books through over and again. I had no intentions of making a purchase, but quickly ended up browsing with copies of The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard and Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart in my hand. As I made my way through the tall stacks, I started to tune in to the conversation happening at the register.
The woman working at the shop had struck up a conversation with a customer. The customer appeared to be a woman in her late 60s and the employee maybe in her 50s. They were talking about female characters in contemporary fiction and how lately they have been so disappointed in them. “These are supposed to be our heroines!” the customer exclaimed. They then lamented about the recent wave of unreliable, female main characters who do drugs and are simply *pearl clutch* unlikable.
Of course, I was too far away to jump in the conversation and I’m not really good at doing that with strangers anyway, especially as the dissenting opinion. Now don’t get me wrong, if you want all of your female main characters to be someone to 100% look up to that’s fine. There are a bazillionty books already that have those nearly no-flawed women who against all odds overcome some obstacle that causes all of the inspiration. In reality, that’s not what life is for most of us. We may not also have as crappy of a life as some of the characters we read so, I’m not calling for total reality either in my reading. However, society has already told us that the perfect, seemingly superwomen are the ones of more worth. I’d rather not strive for an impossible ideal. I want the grit that comes along with an alcoholic or mentally ill woman who makes terrible life choices and has to figure out how to claw her way out.
Something in me wonders if the women having this conversation don’t understand that there are those of us navigating the world with these types of issues. I’m not investigating a murder or trying to fake my own death at the same time as I work on my anxiety and depression but, I find having that extra depth to the character pulls me in. Not every book has to have a likeable “heroine.” Every once and awhile I do want my Miss Marple, but I want my Bernadette Fox too. So, make your choices, but don’t get down on those of us who relate better to the deeply flawed. If unreliable women weren’t wanted in contemporary literature, we wouldn’t have 500 books with “girl” in the title on the bestseller list.
Today’s song an book pairing is All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven with Antiseptic by Discount. I think that Antiseptic is a good song to represent the friendship based on shared mental illness between Finch and Violet. They go through the novel leaning on each other to work through the world dealing with depression.
Discount has been one of my most favorite bands since I first heard them back in 1996. You might recognize the voice as belonging to Alison Mosshart now of the rock band, The Kills. I preferred her poppunk days, but she continues to amaze me with her chaotic mind.
Coming from a Polish family, I am excited that Poland is the focus of the Global Market Forum at BEA. Plus, I can get real pierogi in Chicago.
I’m nervous. As Book Expo America approaches in just two days, I am not sleeping as well. This is usual for any big event that I am excited about. However, this is the first time I have ever attended a conference of this magnitude. I am well versed in conferences and conventions, but I’ve never been to this type of event. Mostly I’ve been to atheist/feminist/social justice conferences and seminars where I know lots of folks and have built in friends from all over the country and overseas. I am traveling alone to Chicago, but I do have my friend Sarah of the amazing Book Jawn Podcast who I will be meeting up with. I may need to warn her that if she sees me rubbing my legs that I’m on the verge of an anxiety attack and she should tell me to breathe and take an Ativan.
The thing I am most nervous about is keeping my anxiety in check during BEA. I tend to try to plan out my days and stick to a schedule to keep control of my anxiety. I am going into BEA knowing that my schedule will be changed, potentially at the very last minute. Saying that I have no expectations sounds harsh, like I think I’ll have a bad time. But for me, having no expectations simply means that I cannot count on obtaining certain galleys or getting a book signed by a specific author. It’s cool if it happens, but if it doesn’t that’s fine and it does not mean I wasted my time. I am so thankful to all of the book bloggers who have written excellent posts about their experiences at BEA. In particular, this one at Feed Your Fiction Addiction has been a lifesaver.
What I hope is that between utilizing Insight Timer and the information I’ve learned in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness For Beginners I can keep anxiety at bay or at least treat it as it bubbles up. If anyone has any ideas on decompressing after a day full of people in Chicago please comment or Tweet at me.
With all of that said, I’m still super excited. I see this as a challenge and something that will hopefully be a way to gather knowledge not just on the publishing industry and bookternet but also myself. If you see me around at BEA (and the bloggers conference) or BookCon please say hi! Small talk, when about books, is always welcome!
In celebration of I Read YA week:
I don’t feel old in my mid-30s, but I have aged out of being able to call myself the target audience of young and also new adult. During my time as a teen in the 90s, the young adult genre was only an inkling of what it has become in recent years. In the past, I read a lot of coming of age novels, which were mostly male authored with male lead characters. A few of my favorites as a teen were Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Skipped Parts by Tim Sandlin and Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne. I was desperate to grasp onto any fictional character who could validate the mess happening in my brain in my fight to deal with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. I was dealing with thoughts and feelings that I didn’t feel safe divulging to judgemental and gossipy friends, so I turned to fictional friends as an alternative.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve obtained a more trustworthy circle and learned more about the best ways to keep my mental illness in check, some of my old fictional friends aren’t the best to go back to. Just like most toxic relationships, it’s best to cut the cord. So long Holden Caulfield. You have a spot in my heart for holding my hand through junior year, but we’re over. The genre of young adult fiction has exploded in recent years. With that, we’ve seen a slow but growing uptick in diverse authors and thus characters. Where I had to settle for literary friends at one time, I can now seek out heroines and heroes for which I don’t have to compromise. If a character is a misogynist, I can toss them aside and not fret that I may not find someone in another novel with values closer to my own.
To this day, I have to focus on recovery from the traumas and mental illness symptoms I had in my younger years. In addition, my mental illnesses are those that require constant work and treatment in order to live a happy and fulfilling life. What I have found in many current YA titles are characters who are dealing with these same symptoms. These characters are facing traumas that I faced. Not realizing others shared these experiences, I have taken to voraciously reading these novels in adulthood. I have hurts from that time in my life which still need to heal. Recently I read The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork and was absolutely blown away by the way in which he crafted the experience of depression through the main character, Vicky Cruz. Her depression had an air of guilt engulfing it. She questioned why she had suicidal ideations when she came from an upper middle class background. She could see other people had a more marginalized position in society and didn’t understand why depression could exist in her. This was something I struggled with from external sources in my teens. I was thus able to let go of the hurt I still carried from people who asked me why I was depressed when I had what appeared to be a comfortable life.
I find that the gap in my mental health treatment is slowly being closed by meeting new characters in YA fiction. Whether it’s the inspiration to continue working for the betterment of society despite PTSD from Katniss Everdeen, or persevering to fight the bad in our world when having trouble fitting in to a certain societal mold from Tris Prior. When given a fictional character that mirrors our own struggles, we can take cues in how we might heal from the past or conquer the future.