#2019Reading Update

Currently Reading: Songs from the Deep, by Kelly Powell

Dear Reader, 2019 has been a wild ride so far. As I’m writing this, we’re about 1/3 of the way through, and I wanted to take a pause to sum up some of the things that have been going on for me and my reading this year. Additionally, I’ve been chronicling my #2019Reading through that hashtag on Twitter – find me @saskeah, and give me a wave! There’s also a book review buried at the end of this post – so if you’re interested in what I thought about SLAY, by Brittney Morris, you can skip all my early chatter, and check that out at the bottom.

eReading

A huge thing that’s happened to me this year is that I started eReading. As someone with very limited income, I debated the decision to buy an eReader a lot – and finally, I purchased a Kobo on sale early this year. I purposely chose the Kobo because I didn’t want an Amazon product, and because I could purchase it through Indigo, the big Canadian book store chain (à la Barnes and Noble). Mostly, though, Kobo now links with Overdrive, the library access app, which means that it is dead simple to withdraw library eBooks on your device.

I primarily invested in the Kobo in order to access low or no cost books. As a blogger and bookseller, I have access to ARCs through Edelweiss+ and NetGalley, if I have a device to read them on, and because of the Overdrive app on Kobo, it’s easy to borrow library books as well. I didn’t know how I would feel about the eReading experience – because I work at an indie, I read exclusively in hard copy before this year.

It turns out that with a Kobo, I read way more. I can read more easily in low light or when my eyes are tired, I can carry multiple titles with me so I can switch what I’m reading to suit my mood and mental capacity, and I can DNF books that I’m not feeling with no financial risk. It’s easier on my body, and the eInk is easy on my eyes. In short: eReading. So accessible. Also, a little bit nostalgic. When I have a really good book and no early morning plans, I love being able to stay up late and read in low light past my bedtime. It makes me feel like a little kid again.

Seriously, yall. My Kobo has become my security blanket. Whenever I leave the house, I can take as many books as I might need with me – something for any mood, so many backups, things I might like to share – and it doesn’t make my bag any heavier. My Kobo comes with me everywhere. It’s the best little robot friend.

My one complaint, and this is an industry gripe, so feel free to gloss over this bit if you’re not knee deep in publishing, but I wish that more publishers would produce ARCs in epub format. I so often receive eARCs in PDF formats that are virtually or literally incompatible with a Kobo. I think it’s clear to most people in the book industry that it would be preferable if Amazon didn’t have a full on monopoly, so it would be nice to see folks in the industry not cater quite as blatantly to Kindle users.

New Things I Want to Discover

No matter how much I read and learn, there are always more things I feel like I don’t know but want to discover. This year, I’ve been trying to get back into SFF, for example, after a long hiatus because of my own mental capacity for processing worldbuilding-heavy stories. One of the things that has really helped that is discovering Nine Star Press, a small New Mexico based press that publishes LGBTQ+ titles, and has released two SFF titles this year that have both impressed me and eased me back into the genre – Empire of Light, by Alex Harrow, which I’ve already reviewed, and The Soulstealers, by Jacqueline Rohrbach, which I’ll review down the line. I also decided to focus some of my reading in 2019 on learning about far right Christian culture in the United States, and I’ll be writing that up in a post in the future as well.

However, two things have emerged that I’m interested in reading more of that I’ve never really explored before. First of all, cozy mysteries, which I had never even heard of until this year! I’ve been skulking around Cozy Mystery.com to get some ideas for what I should read to explore this genre – but I’m also very open to suggestions!

I’m also wide open for recs by your favourite Australian authors. I picked up The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, by Felicity McLean earlier this year, in part because the publicity copy said that the book was “quintessentially Australian” – and I realized that I had no idea what that meant, and no idea if I’d ever even read a book from Australia. And that seemed ludicrous. After loving the Van Apfel Girls (and also deeply not understanding some of the cultural elements of the book!), I’d like to see what else I’m missing!

DNF All The Things!

Something else I’ve been doing in 2019 is DNF’ing. A lot. Often.

I realize that being able to do this is somewhat of a privileged position to be in. I access most of my books for free, and almost all of them at deeply discounted prices, because of my roles as a bookseller and blogger. I also access a lot of books through the library. But either way – I’ve come to peace with it. As I’m writing this, I’ve finished nearly 40 books this year, and I’ve DNF’d 18. I’ve even given up on my long-standing cardinal rule of reading at least 100 pages of any book, to give it a chance.

You know what? There are so many books in the world. If something doesn’t feel good to read and you have no other reason for wanting to read it? Just don’t! Read something different!

SLAY

Do you eat meat?

I was pretty stoked when I got approved for an ARC of SLAY from Edelweiss+. The pub copy bills it as Ready Player One (although a Goodreads user comped it to Warcross, and I think that’s more on point) + The Hate U Give, plus it was blurbed by Nic Stone. It’s a debut YA from author Brittney Morris, with a breathtaking cover design by Laura Eckes, who can be found on Twitter @iamturtlecat.

Probably, nobody needs me to hype this book. Not only was it not written for me, but it was also named by Entertainment Weekly as the YA debut they’re most excited for this year. But I loved it so much that I needed to gush about it, at least a little bit – especially since I don’t think most reviews will mention that there is Black trans representation in this book. It’s a side character whose plotline is heart wrenching, but there are not enough BIPOC trans characters out there yet, and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I realized that there would be in this gem that will likely be very widely read. I think a lot of readers will find mirrors and windows in this book that they won’t find anywhere else.

This book drops in September, and is available for pre-order now. Don’t sleep on this, particularly if you’re a fan of Angie Thomas, or an educator. Morris’ protag, Kiera, is a smouldering Queen of Black Girl Magic, and by this time next year, I’m pretty sure she’ll be SLAYing alongside Starr and Bri. I’m not a Black reader, but from my experience burning through this book in one sitting, it’s fast paced, it’s extremely well-written, it has characters that are highly relatable, and I learned a lot from it.

In an action-packed story with speculative elements, SLAY tackles serious social issues like gun violence, intergenerational relationship building, intercommunity struggles, and cultural appropriation through an accessible and magnetic (slightly near-future) contemporary drama. It interweaves elements of Black diasporic history and current culture in what essentially is a simple story about a young girl, and her video game.

It’s time for this white blogger to step back, but I’ll leave you with the completely extra book trailer that Simon Pulse created for SLAY, if you’re not already convinced that you should be calling up your local bookshop, and asking them to order this in for you, right now. Happy #2019Reading!

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

New Trans Lit for Spring 2019

Currently Reading: Our Symphony with Animals, by Aysha Akhtar

Every time I look at the list of titles by trans authors or featuring affirming trans content that are coming out this year, and realize that there is no possible way that I could read or review them all, my heart just swells. There’s a lot in that stack now. As is more typical, from my perception, there are a few adult literary fiction titles, there are some memoirs, and the list of trans YA titles is getting longer and longer every year. It’s amazing.

That said, they’re not all the perfect book for me. In this post, I’m going to touch on five books that are coming out soon or have come out recently, but unfortunately, I’ve been DNF’ing a lot this year. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m reading more than I have in the past, or if it’s because I have less attention span when it comes to reading things that I don’t immediately connect with. That said, I’m glad that these books exist as choices in the world, and I hope that other readers check them out! I’m going to end with my most positive review, so stick with it…

Although Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale is a memoir, I was impressed that it explores the intersection of multiple identity labels in such a thorough way. The title and cover alone, for anyone who’s familiar with sensory sensitivity, was a great nod to the content of the book.

I received an eARC of Uncomfortable Labels through NetGalley. This book piqued my interest because one of my partners is queer, autistic, and transfeminine. I, too, am queer, have some neurodivergences that resemble autism spectrum experiences, and am trans. The same partner also has experiences with MDMA, and introduced me to roller derby… eerily, these are also topics that Dale dedicates chapters to.

Here’s the thing: this is a great book! The downside of it being so relevant in my life is… I basically didn’t get anything novel out of it. The upside of it being so relevant in my life is, I’m so glad that someone wrote this book. If you look at the reviews that already exist on Goodreads, you’ll see that lots of readers are learning a lot from it.

I’ve accepted that this one wasn’t written for me. I’ve learned a lot about the identity experiences explored in this book from years of living alongside my partner and learning from zir, and from parallel experiences in my own life. But for cis or neurotypical readers, this book is a gem. It’s clear, it’s thorough, and it’s extremely vulnerable. There is so much that makes this a memoir worth reading. Uncomfortable Labels comes out in July, and is available for pre-order now. CW for detailed descriptions of bullying, mention of substance use, and exploration of biomedical diagnostic processes.

Some Girls Bind, by Rory James, was released in February of 2019. I received an eARC through NetGalley.

This book is a format anomaly. First, it’s a novel in verse – growing in popularity, this format is still coming into its own in the world of YA lit. Second, this book is Hi-Lo. This is a format that’s written with a high or mature interest level, but at a lower reading level. Typically, Hi-Lo books appeal the most to high school students who are developing literacy skills, adult learners, or mature students learning English as an additional language. I will champion Hi-Lo books any day, because they are super accessible, even though they often deal with more involved subject matter than other books written at an introductory reading level.

That said, because this is a book with a genderqueer protagonist, and this is an author who is unknown to me, I wanted to do some digging. There is very little information available about the author of this book. The only bio I could find was from the publisher, West 44, and it reads,

Rory James is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. She holds degrees in creative writing, English, and political science. Rory now teaches test prep classes to high school students. Inspired by her own experience with gender issues, Rory hopes to reach the many young people with struggles or questions of their own.

from West 44.

…so I approached this book with some skepticism, since it appears to me to be a book written about a genderqueer character by a cis woman author.

Unfortunately, my skepticism was relatively warranted. Although I wasn’t offended by the content of this book, I was disappointed. The verse in this novel is exceedingly simple, and I think that the quality of the writing was a hindrance to the plot. Although it was intended for a younger audience, I would be quicker to recommend The Moon Within by Aida Salazar, which I have reviewed previously, than this title. That said, I think that this book may still have its place in an educational context, and I hope that teachers and librarians will consider seeking both books out.

I finally discovered Yoon Ha Lee earlier this year, and I was so excited to see a trans author of colour writing sci fi that folks around me were just loving. I eagerly checked Ninefox Gambit, an adult title, out from the library, despite the fact that it’s been a minute since I read Serious Science Fiction. I started reading it without knowing much more about it beyond the fact that it had a trans author. Unfortunately, I was quickly overwhelmed by the technical aspects of the book, and that it was so focused on war. Other readers encouraged me to check out Dragon Pearl, since it’s a YA title, and is based a little more on mythology, and less on math.

Unfortunately, I gave this book my obligatory 100 pages, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that books based on war in space, no matter what the context, may not be my jam. That said, the writing in this book is precise and unique, and the author’s expertise in the genre shines through. The mythological aspects of the book were fascinating, artistically portrayed, and totally enjoyable, and from the first pages, the main character charmed me.

I would recommend Dragon Pearl to any sci fi fan, or a kid who is into science, math, or mythology. It seems like a great book, and I think that every trans or gender creative kid should have the opportunity to have books like this in their hands, as examples of what really accomplished and skillful trans folks are doing out in the world. This book is reviewing well, and my bookshop colleagues and customers are loving it. And I mean, listen, with Rick Riordan behind it, this book is basically selling itself. It’s available for purchase now.

It was actually kind of a struggle to get an ARC of Zenobia July, and I am extremely grateful that the generous author, Lisa Bunker, was willing to facilitate getting one into my hands. This is Bunker’s second #OwnVoices middle grade book featuring a trans MC, her first being Felix Yz. And Bunker herself is a powerhouse – on top of being an accomplished author, she also does political work and had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting (I am a HUGE public radio fan). Yall. I wanted to love this book so badly.

Listen – if I was an eight year old, I probably would have. But again: this book just wasn’t written for me. A lot of what Bunker wrote in terms of gender really rang true to my experiences with transfeminine youth and partners who I’ve had who are trans women. I loved the affirmative parenting of older lesbian aunts. The story feels contemporary and relatable for a younger audience. But I just couldn’t get into it.

I tried to dissect why that is, and I think that compared to other middle grade titles that I’ve loved, the writing is a little bit plainer on the page, whereas I tend to lean more toward more poetic prose when I’m reading works intended for younger readers.

That said, I would put this book in the hands of any young reader, likely from age 8 or so onward. It’s an accessible read, and it would be a useful book for an adult involved in the life of a trans youth as well. I so appreciate the existence of this book – like all of the books in this post – even if it’s not something that I could really dig my own teeth into. This book is available for pre-order now, and will release at the end of May.

The cover of the Wise and the Wicked, and my kitten’s attempt at interrupting my reading.

AS PROMISED, I end this blog post on a high note, with Rebecca Podos’ The Wise and the Wicked! I was so fortunate to receive an ARC of this book through Edelweiss+, and I even held off for months reading it because I was so looking forward to it. As you can tell from the photo above, even my formerly feral kitten bb loved it!

Podos has an impressive pedigree. Her first novel was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016, and her second was a Lambda award winner in 2018. I anticipate that this book will be no less lauded, if it gets the attention that it so deserves.

The Wise and the Wicked is one of the best YA I’ve read this year. It’s a contemporary story for older teens that deals with friendship, romance, navigating complex and multi-generational family bonds, family history, and struggling with moral ambiguity, all based on captivating Russian folklore.

As I would expect from an author who holds a recent Lammy, this book is an #OwnVoices title featuring fantastic and nuanced queer representation, and although Podos is cisgendered, it also has impressively affirming and accurate transmasculine representation. I loved about this rep that the transness of the character played a role in the plot, but wasn’t the central feature of the character themself.

Anyone who likes a spooky read, with a nod to a culture that is infrequently written about in North American titles, is going to love this book. If you’ve been captivated by recent titles such as House With Chicken Legs (Sophie Anderson) or Finding Baba Yaga (Jane Yolen), this book is definitely up your alley. It’s available for pre-order now, and will release on May 28th. Call up your local indie: you will not regret it. (CW for sexual content and substance use.)


AND, if you’ve made it this far in this mammoth blog post, I have two easter eggs to share from book Twitter. One, Podos dyed her hair to match her book cover. HOW RAD IS THAT.

Also, my cat really did have feelings about me reading The Wise and the Wicked, and the full photo documentation can be seen below.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

I’m Afraid of Men

Currently Reading: A Wolf Called Wander, by Rosanne Parry, illustrations by Mónica Armiño

Copies of I’m Afraid of Men at the Toronto launch, held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, supported by Another Story Bookshop.

This week, I decided to post a review I wrote a while back, but hadn’t found the right time for yet… Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men. This book has been on my staff picks at the book shop since I got my hands on an ARC in May of 2018. Shraya is a prolific multi-disciplinary creator, and this small volume cannot nearly be called representative of her work, despite its relative visibility within mainstream culture. It seems like the right time to hype this title, since next month is the Toronto launch of Shraya’s new book, Death Threat, with artist Ness Lee. It will also be a celebration of Shraya’s imprint, VS. Books, and their first title, Shut Up You’re Pretty, by Téa Mutonji.

I had three reasons for wanting to write about I’m Afraid of Men, and why I’m consistently championing this title. First, I live in Canada, and this book was a big deal here. That said, I know that CanLit doesn’t always get the buzz that American-published titles do, so I wanted to lift this title up as much as I can, now that the initial visibility of its splash of a release has calmed down a little. Second, I often have customers at the book shop ask me what I thought of it as a trans person myself, and what audience I think it’s appropriate for. Finally, the book felt deeply personal to me, because despite the fact that there are lots of things that Shraya and I don’t share – experiences of racialization and gender identities, for example – there are lots of things that we do share. I, too, am afraid of cis people, men in particular, and I have also loved cis men, in my life.

I was lucky to get my hands on I’m Afraid of Men when it was just an ARC, and I later had the pleasure of attending the Toronto launch with the book shop where I work, which is why I can say with confidence that Shraya is as engaging in person as she is on the page. In Toronto, Shraya’s event for I’m Afraid of Men featured a dramatic recitation from the text accompanied by an artistic video montage, as well as a conversation hosted by Jully Black. I found myself moved when Black asked poignant questions that Shraya answered with touching vulnerability, and laughing as the two discussed soap operas. The large event at the Art Gallery of Ontario was sold out, and those in attendance were a diverse crowd. It felt like the perfect way to welcome Shraya’s creation into the world.

I devoured this book in one sitting. Although parts of the book felt as accessible as a trans 101 lesson, many of Shraya’s anecdotes resonated with me, and I felt like I could have easily been reading a friend’s diary. The book is part personal narrative, part critical analysis, and all clearly-written. My one caution to anyone who has extensive personal experience with the subject matter in this book is that the concluding pages felt more instructional and less nuanced than the rest of the book. That said, I would feel as comfortable handing a copy of this book to a cis het white young person with a limited knowledge of trans people and gender-related issues, as I was handing it to my genderqueer trans partner, covered in my eager marginalia.

I’m Afraid of Men is a must-read book that skillfully bridges the academic and the lyrical, and offers an important perspective on life as a trans woman of colour in contemporary society. It’s available now as a vibrant hardcover that’s perfect as a gift, or would be a gem on any shelf.

PS, if you appreciate the work I’m doing on this blog, you can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

Family-Friendly Gift Requests

Currently Reading: Soulstealers, by Jacqueline Rohrbach

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

This is a slightly overdue recommendations post that I wrote much earlier this year, and I’m only just now getting around to posting. Before I get to it, I have just two little tidbits of news to share. One, I need to boost a newly-released book, by Alicia Elliott. I was honoured to have the chance to attend her Toronto release with my shop, and to have received an ARC of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground last year. I read it in one shot on a plane ride, and it’s a must-read, full stop. It’s available now.

I also wanted to share a list compiled by fellow genderqueer book blogger Corey Alexander, which is a look at books published early this year with trans and non-binary authors. It’s a fantastic list. You’ll see some of the books I’ve mentioned in this blog on it, but also a few others that I haven’t gotten to. Don’t miss out on Dragon Pearl, Squad, Once and Future, Disintegrate/Dissociate, or the Lost Coast. These are all high up on my TBR.

Prompt

Back in December, I had a friend post on Twitter that they were looking for some book recommendations for things that they could ask their somewhat conservative family for for the holidays, specifically titles that were available as Kindle eBooks. Although I didn’t get around to posting these back then, I’m hoping that this list will still be helpful to anyone who has a gift-receiving holiday coming up, since these are mostly 2018 releases.

Some of these books would also serve pretty well as a response to a question I often get in the bookshop: I have a conservative family member, and I’d like to give them something that they will read, but that will also offer them a progressive message, just a little under the radar.

Here’s what I knew:

  • Hadn’t read anything family-friendly in a while
  • Likes John Green and Harry Potter, but also adult books in similar veins
  • Likes Ivan Coyote and Andrea Gibson
  • Likes books about sexuality, gender, and feminist issues
  • Reads both fiction and non-fiction, adult and YA
  • Does not read thrillers or horror
  • Things that were off-limits included anything about kink, sex, or non-monogamy
  • Special interest in silly detective books, à la Brooklyn 99
  • These would probably be read in an ebook format

My Picks

I don’t do a lot of detective reading myself, but after reading a lot of 2018 wrap ups prior to giving these recommendations, I knew that as a silly detective rec, I was heading straight for Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery, a detective story featuring past president Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden as MCs. This book is described as part noir thriller, part bromance, by the publicity copy.

Whenever someone mentions John Green in their past-loved titles, I go straight for a dramatic book about a romantic relationship… which, for me, almost always means LGBTQ+ romance. Tin Man, by Sarah Winman, which is a gay relationship story that comes highly recommended by my fellow Another Story staffers, but that’s not super obvious from the publicity copy, making it a perfect under the radar rec.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou is a Book Riot dubbed Swiss Army recommendation of a sharp new release non-fiction that’s edgy in a way that might appeal to someone with some kink interests, but it’s not scary. Every time I think about this particular recommendation, it calls to mind Bill Gates’ super trippy holiday recommendations video from the end of 2018, and the syringe holiday light display! On the surface, this is a book about the tech industry, but underneath is about corporate corruption. It was featured on Book Riot’s Best of 2018 list, and is a non-violent true crime story. Another non-violent true crime that might appeal to someone who’s into over the top mystery like this reader is Kirk Wallace Johnson’s the Feather Thief, which I also added to this list.

Because this reader had mentioned Harry Potter, I also wanted to throw in some YA fantasy. Tomi Adeyemi’s debut Children of Blood and Bone is a story that draws on the author’s Nigerian roots, and has serious intersectional feminist appeal, but it’s still mainstream enough (particularly with its early movie adaptation) to be family-friendly.

Alexander Chee’s essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel has a lot of sexuality writing tied up in it, also without it being blatant from the dust jacket. My shop hosted an event around this book and Darnell Moore’s No Ashes in the Fire, and I think that both books have poignant and important things to say about racialized experiences of queer life and history in North America.

Response

I was disappointed that the person who I offered these recommendations to didn’t receive any of them for the holidays! Their response to these picks was positive, and I was hoping to see them get to enjoy reading them. If you’d like to complete this experience for them (and for me!), you can visit the contact page of their website, and they’ll send you details of how you can send them one of my book picks! Remember to use one of my affiliate links in this post, if you choose to send them a gift – that way, both of us will feel your love!

If you enjoyed reading these recommendations, and would like some of your own, head on over to my contact page, and send me a message! I love giving recs and readers’ advisory, and have lots of experience from my work as a bookseller.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Spooky New YA

Currently Reading: Witchmark, by C. L. Polk

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

In my life, Spooky Season isn’t just October… it’s a year-round celebration. I love spooky reads. This week, I’m going to offer up three reviews for books that all drop this month: Out of Salem, by Hal Schrieve, which hit shelves on March 5th, Other Words for Smoke, by Sarah Maria Griffin, which came out just last week, and The Devouring Gray, by Christine Lynn Herman, which is set to release on April 2nd. In this post, I’m bringing you previews of the QT zombies, witches, superpowers, monsters, haunted houses, and talking cats of your dreams. But first! A little trans lit news…

News!

I’m so pleased that this time around, I just have two quick, positive things to share. One, in a trans-affirming move, some libraries will no longer be collecting gender data on library card applications, since it became clear that the data collected was both not useful and also a barrier to access for some.

Also, for anyone who read my post on trans-affirming middle grade books, or who’ve picked up The Moon Within since it dropped recently, listen to author Aida Salazar on the Scholastic Reads podcast! If you haven’t read the book yet, make sure to grab a copy, because it’s great.

Out of Salem

img_6060

Before I write anything about this title, I need to offer a little background. First, I only really discovered Urban Fantasy as a genre in its own right back at the end of 2018, when a friend asked me for some book recommendations (to be revealed in a future post!). Before I could deliver, I had a lot to learn. Since having my interest piqued, I decided to try to delve into the genre in my own reading – inspired partly by my return to PhD studies after a leave of absence, since it was really by chewing through urban fantasy YA like the Twilight series that got me through my undergrad studies.

Based on that information, my friend recommended that I try Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for a taste of what’s going on in that genre almost a decade later. I listened to it on audio through the Libby app on a drive from Denver to Toronto, all in one sitting, and it delivered. Tropey, but complex enough to draw me in, with fantastic original worldbuilding, the spooky story kept me company all the way home.

As such, I was excited when a copy of Shrieve’s Out of Salem landed in my lap. I was hesitant, because zombies have never been my thing… but I had hesitated about Dread Nation before caving to curiosity in 2018, and I had loved that book. Since then, I’ve been educated about some of its more problematic elements, unfortunately, and in addition the author has said some pretty horrible and transphobic things on Twitter. Tread carefully. But – Out of Salem has an enby author and an enby MC… what could go wrong?

Well. I am a firm believer that there is a perfect book for every reader, and a dream reader for every book, and this one just wasn’t for me. I’ll read 100 pages of anything – that’s my rule – but after 160 or so of this one, I finally had to let it go.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters, which kept me laughing and interested, especially because of the diversity of the cast and the richness of the contemporary fantasy universe that Shrieve has built. The book tackles complex and important social issues through monstrous allegory. Impressive, considering that Shrieve is a twenty-one-year-old debut author.

Eventually, though, the zombie aspect began to wear on me. I’m neurodiverse and working on sorting out some family stuff… so maybe it was just a touch too dark for this moment in my life, but my anxiety was building hard about the MC, who seems destined to just painfully waste away over the course of book. I couldn’t handle the graphic imagery on the page of the decaying enby who I was growing to care for.

Additionally, perhaps due to my own experiences as a fat enby who has suffered at the hands of bullies, this book was just a little too edgy for me. The imagery around oppression and the violence that some of the characters experience in this gritty universe just felt harsh. The use of slurs felt gratuitous, and hit a little close to home. Considering whether I’d feel triggered and anxious carrying on to the end of this 450 page book, I finally had to put it aside.

That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend this book. It feels resonant to me, and I’m still curious what happens to the cast of characters – especially the elder lesbian bookseller witch who takes our fair MC under her wing – so if you can stomach a little more than I can? Order this book while it’s still hot off the presses, and fill me in on the ending. It dropped on March 5.

Other Words for Smoke

I received an ARC of Other Words for Smoke by from Edelweiss+. This YA haunted house story is Irish author Sarah Maria Griffin’s third book, following another YA title, Spare and Found Parts, and her memoir, Not Lost.

The blurb for this book basically gives the punch line. It’s a story primarily about six characters, a set of twins, a witch and her ward, a cat called Bobby, and and owl called James. The book takes place in the small town where Rita resides, and I have to admit, even as a Newfoundlander, the names of characters and settings in this book made a lot more sense when I looked up the author and found that she was Irish.

My favourite part of this book is how Rita’s house itself becomes sort of a seventh central character. Aspects of the house and the way it behaves really tugged at the heartstrings of mine that loved the moving staircases at Hogwarts. None of the characters in this book are as simple as they appear on the surface. The story and the development of the characters are both full of spellbinding surprises. Nothing is quite as it seems.

We know the end of the story before we know how it begins: their house burns down, and the witch and her ward are never seen again. What we get through this book is the suspenseful, labyrinthian ride through two summers preceding this dramatic event. I was drawn through this book, even with its somewhat slow pacing, because I was dying to know what happened next, and I didn’t want to pull myself out of the lush imagery of the fantastical, haunted world that Griffin creates.

Unfortunately, all of the characters in this book appear to be cisgendered, but there is great queer representation. Other Words for Smoke came out on March 12th, so you can enjoy it right away.

 The Devouring Gray

I was excited to receive Chrstine Lynn Herman’s the Devouring Gray as an ARC back in December 2018, just in time for my first holiday celebrations in years. It seemed fitting, since my partner and I were attempting to spookify our slightly modified Christmas-esque traditions. It is an atmospheric page-turner, and it completely drew me in as I read it over the few days of my holiday celebrations.

Herman’s debut is the first of at least two books in this universe; its sequel will drop in 2020. Its publicity copy describes it as a young adult contemporary fantasy, and compares it to the CW/Netflix show Riverdale. As a fan of the show, I was pleased to find that the comp is accurate, but based on the suspense and pacing, I would describe the genre as speculative horror (content warnings for the book can be found here). Queerbabes: this book is worth the hype. It made me feel everything. Pre-order it if you can! It comes out on April 2nd. 

There is skilful, plot-relevant queer representation in this book, despite a lack of trans or enby inclusion, and on this front, the book is #OwnVoices. I checked. Herman does a particularly noteworthy job of writing a character with a physical disability: a feminine MC who lost part of her arm, and is a practised sword fighter. Although there are romantic relationships between some of the characters, they are not the focal point of this story, which includes a rich cast of nuanced, morally ambiguous main characters. Each of the characters had their own complicated appeal for me, and they relate to one another as friends, foes, and family members. 

The most unexpected and charming aspect of this book for me was that it is written with book lovers in mind. Both library and archives are settings in this book, and characters include a corrupt rebel librarian and bibliophile MC. Gift this one to the broody Ravenclaw in your life – you won’t regret it. The Devouring Gray is available for pre-order now.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

The Harrowing!

Currently reading: Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across, by Mary Lambert

Note: the links found on this page are affiliate links for Amazon.com, so if you use them to make purchases, you will be helping to support my work. If you are in Canada, please use this Amazon Canada Affiliate link, and then search for the book you’re seeking. You can also always leave a tip for me through ko-fi!

I was going to include a news section in this post, but I decided to leave it out this time around. There isn’t anything that I’ve read that feels like it hasn’t been covered by other sources, and I’ve shared a lot of salt lately. That said, if you missed my last post about Book Riot’s new policy rollout and demolition of the Epic Insiders program, feel free to check it out.

In this post, I’ll spend my energy talking about BOOKS! Two are educational titles designed for learning about queer and trans identities. The third is a recently released YA sci fi debut from Alex Harrow, a genderqueer author, who describes their work as “queerness with a chance of explosions”. Join the Harrowing and check out Empire of Light, which came out on February 25th.

Educational Titles

You Be You

I received an arc of You Be You, by Jonathan Branfman and Julie Benbassat from Edelweiss+. This title is aimed at children 7 to 11 years of age, and yall, this is a book I’ve been waiting for, for a LONG time. It has diverse, charming, age-appropriate illustrations, and addresses topics such as sex, gender, sexuality, family, discrimination, privilege, intersectionality, and allyship in an affirming way. I was excited. Unfortunately, this was also a let down for me.

While I was pleased to see that the book uses biologically accurate terminology, particularly for body parts, the LGBTQ lexicon in this book is outdated. For example, “gender” and “gender identity” are treated as separate concepts. “Orientation” is used with regards to sexuality, rather than “identity”. “Homophobia” and “transphobia” are used in cases where “hetero-” and “cis-normativity” would have been more appropriate. There is conflation of the concepts of discrimination and oppression. Lastly, there was also some ableism in the framing of disabilities as afflictions (“having deafness” versus “deaf”).

After doing some research, it is unclear to me whether the author and illustrator are themselves queer or trans. Branfman is an academic, and particularly if he is coming from outside of the LGBTQ+ community, some of the nuances of current lexicon may have been lost in translation when incorporating current sociological education materials into an age-appropriate format.

Terminology, isn’t the only significant flaw with this book. Throughout the sections on family, the book consistently refers to a monogamous norm. Because I am part of a polyamorous, blended family, I found this personally disappointing. In addition, there was noticeable asexual erasure throughout the chapter on love and attraction. Finally, this book was focused exclusively on the American context. Part of the reason why I review books is to know whether or not they are suitable for sale at the Canadian independent bookshop where I work, and unfortunately that lowers the appeal of this book for us as well.

In short, the concept of this book is great, and it is available for sale as of July, 2019 (this is unclear – I think an initial publication happened in 2017, and this reprint is potentially part of a larger translation project). I hope that the creators will be able to incorporate feedback before that time, because otherwise I fear this book will be come quickly outdated. This is a great example of publishing taking baby steps in the right direction, but also demonstrates to me that we still have a long way to go.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities

From A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities.

By contrast, I received a copy of A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and J. R. Zuckerberg from NetGalley. I am in love with this book, and I want to give it to everyone I know. What’s great is that at $9.99 USD, it’s actually feasible for someone at a limited income to purchase!

This book is wicked trippy, and I’m into it. And I learned things. Legit. From a 101 book. It’s current, it’s inclusive, it explores more in depth concepts (eg, non-binary dysphoria, the first time I’ve ever seen this in a published text; warning signs of abuse in relationships; aftercare; alternate personas) alongside the more basic ones. Although it’s cutesy, it is also nuanced. Also? The protagonist is a snail. YUP.

This book is slightly more wordy than I want it to be, but it’s appropriate for any age, and it is affirming of the most marginalized of LGBTQ+ identities, including non-binary and ace. Unfortunately, an exploration of Two Spirit identity is notably absent. There is no discussion of sex or sexual acts, and the complex, fantastical illustrations provide charming balance to the text.

I only have a few critiques to offer about this delightful comic. First, it is strange that the first block of text inside the cover is from the parent of a QT person. I wasn’t sure what this introduction achieved, and it felt disingenuous to the purposes of the comic. Second, there was a slightly problematic focus on self-love. I don’t think it’s too much, but it did feel a little ableist to me as someone who struggles with dysphoria and depression. Finally, there was no overt affirmation of non-monogamous identities, but to the creator’s credit, there was no overt monogamous normativity either.

My favourite thing about this book, though, is that there are creative activity pages at the end! INCLUDING HOW TO MAKE A ZINE. I loved them, and I can’t wait to make a sproutsona with queer fam one day!

This title is available for pre-order now, and will release on April 23, 2019.

Empire of Light

I submitted a request for an Empire of Light eARC through Alex Harrow’s website, because through the grapevine, I’d heard of this soon-to-be released YA SFF debut from an enby author that I’d never heard tell of before. I read the publicity copy for the book and thought, this sounds fun. Sure. Why not?

As anyone who follows my reading will know, I don’t usually do “fun”. But I try to, sometimes, especially when things are rough. (Which: yes.) Full disclosure, it took me a minute to get into this book… but I was really glad that I did. It’s a romp, for sure. Empire of Light is a fast-paced ride, and the comp to queer Firefly with magic is on point. The characters in this book never lift off the surface of the planet, but it’s certainly otherworldly. Plus, in Harrow’s novel, there’s also magic: the inexplicable Voyance, which gives those who possess it some amorphous mystical powers. Without the squickiness of Joss Whedon to consider, why bother resisting?

“Queer with a chance of explosions” is the perfect brand for Harrow’s work. CW for all kinds of violence and guns everywhere in this novel, as well as positive representation of assisted death that appears on the page. There is (very queer) sexual intimacy that appears on the page in this book as well, and I found the mentions of use of condoms and lubrication in these settings utterly refreshing. However, there are also so many necessary ingredients for queer representation that feels real, impactful, and resonant. Aside from the undeniably gay protagonist, there is also shame-free representation of kink, bisexuality, demisexuality, non-binary identity, trauma, and some kind of ambiguous non-monogamy, possibly with a side of sex work.

It’s possible that this was me misinterpreting aspects of the book, but there were moments in which the Voyance, and the sometimes unpredictable effects that it had on the characters in the book, felt like it could work as a stand-in for some of the health challenges that have impacted LGBTQ+ communities, for example, the AIDS crisis.

This is a complicated book, but somehow, Empire of Light manages to come off as a colloquial, action-packed adventure story. For this francophone, it was particularly heartwarming that Harrow used French-language names for some of the geographical locations used in the book, even though the rationale behind that remains unclear to me. The only criticisms I have of this book are that some of the side characters felt underdeveloped, there wasn’t obvious racial diversity among the characters, and I missed having feminine MCs, since most of the significant characters in this book are masculine.

Empire of Light is available now, and if you’re a fan of exciting SFF that doesn’t shy away from addressing profound themes, or if you’re just looking for a fantastic LGBTQ+ #OwnVoices book to chew through this winter, get in on the Harrowing.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Book Riot Breakup/down

Currently reading: Other Words for Smoke, by Sarah Maria Griffin

Several of the former members of the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack community have likened their grief over cancelling their memberships to the emotional experience of a bad breakup. Many of us have dated this guy. You know him. He’s extremely charismatic. Everyone loves how friendly he is, how he espouses his feminist values, how he knows all the right words to say to make people feel heard, and special. But when the shine wears away, you start to see the cracks in that veneer. You suspect that perhaps his values don’t exactly align with what he’s been telling you all along. He begins gaslighting you, and blaming you for the problems in your relationship. And if you’re lucky, that’s when the whole thing falls apart.

What is Epic Insiders?

Before I explain what happened and why it’s a problem the literary community should care about, it’s important to understand what Book Riot Insiders (BRI) actually is – or, I should say, was?

Book Riot is a media conglomerate that produces book-related content including blogs, podcasts, newsletters, and reading challenges, as well as related products, like the Read Harder Journal, which can be purchased from their online store. They purport themselves to be big believers in diversity, although their official belief statements don’t follow through on that. The staff and contributors list for Book Riot itself is extensive, and lacks transparency about the roles that each of the people involved plays.

Book Riot values, screencapped from the About Us section of the Book Riot website on February 21, 2019.

Book Riot is a property of Riot New Media, a company which creates “content driven communities around niche interests that delight fans and celebrate their diversity” (from the Riot New Media website, 21/02/2019). The CEO of Riot New Media is Jeff O’Neil, and the COO is Clinton Kabler, both white cis men. There are 16 staff members of Riot New Media. (On a personal note, as a trans former-Insider, it is noteworthy that none of the staff members of Riot New Media are out as trans.)

Insiders (BRI) is described as the “exclusive digital hangout for the Book Riot community” (from the BRI website 21/02/2019), but is a paid subscription service that supports the Book Riot platform. It mirrors what you might see on Patreon, but internally hosted. Until recently, subscribers could choose between three levels of support: Short Story, Novel, and Epic. Epic was the highest, at $10 a month, and gave subscribers access to the New Release Index (a curated index of books and when they release to the public), Insider-specific newsletters and exclusive podcasts, a monthly prize drawing, a rotating deal on merch, and the Insider-only forum.

The forum was a Slack (see how Slack works), hosted on the free version of the platform, and capped at 275 Epic subscribers, plus the Book Riot staff, and some contributors. Separate Slacks exist that are exclusively for Book Riot contributors, and for staff only. The Slack was active, and many Epic subscribers joined specifically for access to that exclusive community. The Slack was the only interactive element of the “digital hangout” that BRI purported to offer.

New Policy

On February 12, 2019, a new platform-wide Book Riot policy was announced by a moderator in the General channel of the BRI Slack. At the time that the announcement was made, there were 397 members in the channel, which had the description, “mayhem and anarchy”. One section of the new policy was specifically highlighted by the mod: going forward, no generalizations made about any group of people would be tolerated in the “public” channels on the Slack – that is those spaces open to all paid Epic subscribers. The examples of “groups of people” that were given were specifically “men”, and “Republicans”. As soon as the announcement was made, the moderators began to delete custom emoji that users had created in the forum, including one that read, “WHY ARE MEN”.

Post made in the BRI Slack on February 12, 2019.

Noteworthy in this post is the moderator’s casual tone, and referring to BRI members as “thoughtful, wonderful, considerate, magical unicorns!”, as well as which portion of the policy the staff chose to highlight when making the announcement to the Epic Insiders.

The culture of the BRI Slack was assertively progressive and anti-oppressive. Many members of marginalized groups, including but not limited to BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ people, were among the very active daily users of the digital space. This policy was suggesting a massive, mandatory culture shift.

Within minutes, users began to react: very few were having positive reactions to a policy that amounted to institutionalized tone policing. Users argued that the policy contributed to a culture of oppressive exceptionalism. Despite purported “activist” values of the organization, the policy suggested dismissal and delegitimization of marginalized perspectives – #NotAllMen and the notion of “reverse racism” were repeatedly cited as examples of the kind of culture the policy would foster. The Epic Insiders agreed that for Book Riot to enforce their policy in what was an exclusive, pay-for-access, community space, was to actively stifle the very voices they performatively lifted up in the content created for Book Riot. Users questioned the motivation behind rolling out such blatant respectability politics in the space. The policy was violent.

The original post was made at 2:03 PM EST. At 4:49 PM EST, the same moderator announced that the staff were “headed out for the evening,” and would be discussing the feedback in due time. Three and a half hours after the policy announcement, 72 BRI members had joined a private channel and were making plans for an alternate Slack for folks who no longer felt safe, and who were prepared to cancel their memberships in protest of the change in policy. The conversation in the public Slack channel among users and the occasional staff person continued in full force until 5:38 PM, and then with less immediacy into the days that would follow.

Epic Insiders voiced their dismay in tones ranging from indignant to assertive to brokenhearted to scared. Members also pointed out the deep hypocrisy of the staff who were rolling out this policy – who, only the previous day had been making posts that would now be considered in violation of their own policy.

Doubling Down

The moderators and staff who stepped in to reply doubled down. They noted that the policy would be platform-wide, and apply to contributors, staff, and Insiders alike. The full, current Book Riot “Community” Guidelines can be found here. They apply to all Book Riot spaces and all content created for the media conglomerate.

One question that, even in the days that followed, staff refused to answer: who was the team who wrote this policy, and what was the motivation to roll it out for the exclusive BRI Epic Slack?

Moderators and staff responses included:

…And this is really hair-splitting — the reality is, you can still criticize people and systems, just as the site has. But generalizations about entire groups of people who have as many intersecting identities as us just aren’t the thing now.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 4:59 PM.

Surely, the difference between criticism and name-calling is clear.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 5:14 PM

We anticipated some questions, but we clearly underestimated, and it is clear that we have some discussion and clarification to make to this policy. […] we’ll make updates or clarifications here as we come to them.

Book Riot Staff, February 12, 2019, 5:33 PM

All I can say is that I promise you this community has not been made unsafe.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator, February 13, 2019, 7:51 AM

You can still express yourself. The first thing done was saying private channels would allow you to say the broad generalizations [if] you wanted to continue.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator, February 13, 2019, 8:02 AM

(Spoiler alert: after many days of supposed discussions among staff, no satisfactory clarifications or updates would ever come.)

At 10:38 AM on February 13, 2019, a forum moderator posted the editorial team’s “clarification”.

Post made in the BRI Slack on February 13, 2019.

Noteworthy in this post is the significant change in tone from the initial announcement. The shift is from conversational and friendly to formal and authoritative. The hypocrisy inherent in this policy continues, for example, the post references the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s definition of a hate group in opposition to the characterization of “Republicans” (as a group) in this way under the new policy. However, in some jurisdictions, Republicans have officially been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre because of their anti-LGBTQIA2S+ stances.

In this post, the moderator characterizes the culture of the BRI Slack negatively, a theme that is recurring as I write this post. They write about the lack of moderation in the forum, that was “allowed to go on too long.” Further, they trivialize the Epic Insiders’ financial contributions to the company, noting that “this was in no way a decision required to keep the lights on or keep Book Riot in business. That is not a concern.”

The post also discouraged BRI users from continuing to discuss the policy in the Slack, and instead, encouraged the use of an Email address for providing feedback confidentially.

One follow-up announcement was made that offered no additional details or policy shift. The moderator stated at this time,

Cathartic conversations for marginalized groups are important, and can and should happen in safe spaces. Within the Book Riot platform, cathartic conversations that include name-calling and personal attacks on groups in public channels are no longer acceptable in public channels, but we understand that private channels may include those.

BRI Forum Moderator

Later, a note from another Book Riot staff and moderator stated,

Book Riot has evolved over time […]. If you don’t believe that, or believe that we are operating out of some other motive, then it is probably time for our paths to diverge.

Book Riot Staff and Forum Moderator

The new guidelines went into effect on February 18, 2019. At this time, Book Riot offered Epic Insiders who had pre-paid for their annual membership a refund for the rest of their renewal term if they cancelled their memberships by February 28, 2019.

After the last announcement, I cancelled my own membership. That was on February 13, 2019. When I cancelled, I received a notification that my membership would remain active until the 20th, which was the end of my current pay period. Within minutes, without warning, my access to the BRI Slack was revoked.

Show Me the Money!

It is perhaps worth noting here that for some BRI contributors, the $10/month paid for access to the Slack was not a financial burden. However, because of the diverse nature of the community that Book Riot had built with the Insiders program, many contributors had to budget carefully in order to be able to afford to support the company and be part of the exclusive Slack. For many, it was well worth it, as they felt that they had “found their people” – some for the very first time. A group of book lovers and enthusiasts as concerned with social justice as they were with finding their next great read. At least, on the surface.

Even so, by the time this response was posted, over 80 BRI users had joined the private channel and voiced an interest in leaving the Slack if the policy remained in place. $9 600 a year didn’t seem like money that should be trivialized in such a way, particularly when Riot Media boasted so few full time staff.

It is also worth speculating that Book Riot underestimated the amount of financial support they would lose from the BRI community. That $9 600 – which would rise to about $14 400/year within a week and a half – did not take into consideration that the subscribers to this program were some of Book Riot’s biggest supporters. Not only did they consume much of Book Riot’s content, they also attended live shows when they occurred, spent money on merchandise, and many subscribed to TBR, an additional paid subscription service that offered custom readers’ advisory. At the top tier, the service costs $300 USD per year, per subscriber.

What Happened Next?

There were several unusual occurrences over the following days. Some BRI members who still subscribed continued to critique the policy, but these critiques were at best ignored, and at worst, silenced. Moderators followed up with members to “remind” them that things like profanity (in any context) were not allowed in the Slack – something that had not been previously enforced. Members were also reminded that criticism of Book Riot, and discussion of the policy, was discouraged.

By February 14th, 2019, 111 former Epic Insiders who objected to the BRI policy change had created and joined an alternate Slack to continue the community that we had created in the BRI program. There were 73 channels, and nearly 3500 messages had already been sent at that time. By February 15th, that number had climbed to over 10 000 messages.

Meanwhile, the Epic Slack was essentially silent, save for a few conversations fuelled by Book Riot moderators and staff, some of whom the members couldn’t remember ever having interacted in the community before. The activity that was happening in the Slack was happening in private channels. The ongoing lack of participation in the BRI Slack under the new policy highlighted the hypocrisy of the policy itself, apparently created in part because some users had told moderators that they felt uncomfortable with the political tone of the conversations. If this had been a reality, participation in the Slack should have flourished, once those who had spoken out about the policy’s oppressive nature had cancelled their memberships and left. Instead, there was almost nothing left.

A graph of the activity in the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack from January 21st, 2019 to February 18th, 2019. Purple indicates the % of reading by users in public channels, black indicates the % of reading by users in private channels, and red indicates the % of reading by users in DMs.

The two charts included here clearly document the impact of the policy announcement on the Epic Insiders Slack. The sudden peak of participation in private channels coincides with the announcement of the policy, and the sudden drop off coincides with the creation of the replacement Slack that was created, and the cancellations of the users who migrated.

A graph of the activity in the Book Riot Insiders Epic Slack from January 21st, 2019 to February 18th, 2019. Purple indicates the % of messages sent by users in public channels, black indicates the % of messages sent by users in private channels, and red indicates the % of messages sent by users in DMs.

On February 20th, at 2:30 PM, an Email went out to Insiders, the subject line of which read, “An Epic Announcement.” The same message was posted to the General channel of the BRI Slack. The full message can be read here. The announcement was that the Epic Insiders Slack – the only interactive element of the “exclusive digital hangout for the Book Riot community” – was being shut down on Friday, February 22nd, 2019, at 5 PM. Ten days after the announcement of a violent and oppressive policy, the company doubled down again. Rather than learning from the feedback of their financial supporters and engaged community members, they chose to delete the space they had created for them, and any record of what they had chosen to do.

It’s noteworthy that the tone of this message took the level of formality even higher than previous messages had, sounding almost as though it has been written with the advice of legal council. Furthermore, the message that was distributed placed the blame for this choice squarely on the shoulders of those who were brave enough to speak out against the policy. Below are some excerpts.

We’ve looked hard at our own editorial beliefs, seen how for many members of the BRI slack those beliefs ran against their own. We’ve had messages of support for the new policy, and extraordinarily strong reactions against it. Expressions of pain and disappointment caused us to take a long look at what and why we were doing what we were doing.

And what we’ve discovered is that while a specific policy is the fulcrum of this moment, it is about something more than that policy. It is about the very nature of this space.

Our staff’s safety is our highest priority, and we’ve come to believe that the nature of Slack communication, with its speed, informality, and never-ceasing schedule, exacts an emotional toll on our staff that is unsustainable.

From “An Epic Announcement,” distributed on February 20, 2019.

Probably not coincidentally, some former Insiders have noted that since the policy rollout on February 12th, Book Riot CEO Jeff O’Neal deleted his public Twitter presence completely, and both Rebecca Schinsky, and Amanda Nelson are using tweet delete apps to remove their histories. Presumably, this is to remove evidence of behaviour that they had all engaged in in the recent past that would now be in violation of a policy that they themselves had created. There are some things still on the internet that are in violation, of course, including a (formerly public, now made private) Spotify playlist called “Why Are Men”, of which several former Insiders are followers.

The BRI Epic Slack disappeared at 5 PM on February 20th, almost precisely. In the Slack populated by former Insiders, folks reflected on the feeling that this was the end of an era for many of them: from the success of Book Riot Live in 2016, to the creation of the Insiders program, and the fostering of a rich, progressive community, to its total collapse less than two years’ later.

How to Respond

The crux of the issue is this. Book Riot announced a terrible policy change to their biggest supporters. That could have been rectified. Instead, the staff doubled down. Even then, if the policy had been revoked and apologies made to those who felt violated, maybe the bad blood could still have been mitigated. Instead, the program was cancelled. Evidence of hypocrisy was erased as thoroughly as possible. Blame was placed on people who were in a position of less power and privilege than those who had written the policy in the first place. Marginalized voices and huge supporters of Book Riot were alienated, then silenced.

Since then, a lot of troubling information about past and recent actions of Book Riot staff have been brought to light by former Insiders who now convene elsewhere. These stories, by and large, are not mine to share. I would privately share stories of the queerphobia I experienced at the hands of one of the Book Riot staff and Slack moderators, and of my complicated feelings about the TBR program, and the tone shift that the launch of that for-profit service signalled within Book Riot’s messaging, with anyone who is interested.

Ultimately, so many of the experiences shared and the actions taken since February 12th are the deal breaker for me, and why I can no longer support this performatively progressive company. Their actions signal such a huge disparity in values between what Book Riot says they are about and what they are clearly actually about that I can no longer see them as trustworthy. In a literary and media landscape where privileged voices are often the loudest, and there is an ongoing struggle for diverse voices to be heard and recognized as legitimate and skillful – this is no longer a company that I support, or feel anyone else should support, through being an audience member, or through financial contributions.

The ambiguous “team” who lead Riot New Media, or perhaps Book Riot itself, were the ones to write and enforce this policy, and it has been put in place for the entire company, which means all of its content is also influenced. The company has not yet shared its motivation for engaging so thoroughly in respectability politics, while still profiting from its image as a progressive, even activist, organization.

If you have feedback about this policy, Book Riot’s behaviour, and its impact on the literary community, I would urge you to direct it to insiders@bookriot.com.

Update: March 6 2019

For further reading on this topic, check out other posts by former Epic Insiders, Off the Beaten Shelf, The Bookish Cronk, and the Wicked Bookworm.

Also, if you’ve found this post informative, please consider donating to my ko-fi! I’m functionally unemployed right now, so a few dollars goes a long way!