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Diana Peterfreund Talks with PopMatters About Bitch Media's Top 100 Feminist YA List Debacle

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Tuesday, Feb 8, 2011
Image from the cover of Diana Peterfreund's Rampant
" [Elizabeth] Scott's book is an intense read, but it reflects the horrifying reality that abducted women face... I remember thinking when I first saw [these titles on the list] that they must have been included because the issues they dealt with were important women's issues and thus of particular interest to the feminist reader."

Note: This is the second installment of this topic.  See also Scott Westerfeld Talks with PopMatters About Bitch Media’s Top 100 Feminist YA List Debacle


Young adult author Diana Peterfreund was the first author to call out Bitch Media on their removal of Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red, and the first to ask for her book to be removed.


Last week, Peterfreund elaborated on her issues with Bitch’s actions. Her novel, Rampant is 71 on the list (it’s in alphabetical order).
  
How did you feel about the Bitch list at first? What was it like to have your book make the cut, before and after the debacle?
I was initially very pleased—it seemed like a great, diverse list of books, and I remember tweeting at the time about how many on the list I’d read and how many were unfortunately still sitting on my TBR pile.


Why do you think books like Tender Morsels, Sisters Red, and Living Dead Girl belong on the list?
Your’e talking about three very different books. In general, I think it’s inappropriate to compile, publish, and disseminate a list of recommended books if you have no real reason to recommend them, aren’t familiar with their contents, and can’t stand up to any criticism of said recommendations. It’s irresponsible journalism.
What do you think prompted the removal of Tender Morsels, Sisters Red, and Living Dead Girl?
 Blog comments on the Bitch Media site. In the case of Sisters Red, in particular, it was a single line from the book taken out of context in a single blog review. In context, it’s clear that the character having those thoughts is wrongheaded.


I had a hard time with Tender Morsels (compounded by reading it when my son was only a couple of months old), and it doesn’t make my personal feminist YA list. That said, I can see why it was put up in the first place (and am glad I read it, though it took me a long time). Can you tell me a bit about why hard books—books that make us squirm—should be included on lists like these?
I haven’t read Tender Morsels, though I know from other Lanagan books I’ve read that she delivers intense stories. Living Dead Girl is definitely hard reading (I personally read it while at the funeral of the aunt I named my daughter for) but I believe it deals with issues of significance to feminist readers, just like other books (Sold, by Patricia McCormick, for example which also deals with the kidnapping and exploitation of young girls) that remain on the list.  [Elizabeth] Scott’s book is an intense read, but it reflects the horrifying reality that abducted women face. I’m only speculating as to the compiler’s motivation, but I remember thinking when I first saw them that they must have been included because the issues they dealt with were important women’s issues and thus of particular interest to the feminist reader.
 
What could/should Bitch have done differently?
First, they should never have compiled a list of books they couldn’t honestly recommend. WIth their eagerness to concede at the slightest hint of controversy (the initial comment about Sisters Red merely suggested “surprise” at its inclusion, and the response was essentially “Thanks for letting me know, I’ll take it off.”). As a former journalist, I was shocked by such sloppiness and unprofessionalism, and as a writer whose book was included on the list, I was disappointed. No longer did it feel like they were honestly recommending my book. Instead, it felt like my book was on there only because they didn’t happen across some blogger who didn’t happen to like it.
 
Second, their response to the initial complaint should not have been a knee-jerk “we’ll take it off”. When they later announced they would re-read the books complained about, I urged them to reconsider. The list had been published for several days by that point—it’s likely right now that there are readers and librarians out there unaware of the controversy who have printed out that list—now there are several “official” lists going around.
 
Which books make your personal top feminist YA list?
I could list my favorite feminist YA all day. Recently, I loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. The Squad series by Jennifer Lyn Barnes. Graceling, The Hunger Games, the Uglies series (pretty much anything by Scott Westerfeld), anything by Ally Carter, Skinned by Robin Wasserman, Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt, Impossible by Nancy Werlin, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Angel by Lauren Baratz-Logsted… and from the old favorites, I love the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce (or any other book by Pierce), A Girl of the Limberlost, the Anne books by LM Montgomery, The Mists of Avalon by  Marion Zimmer Bradley… Okay, I’ll stop.


What’s the most frustrating part of this issue?
I was mostly disappointed to see the dodgy nature of the list compilation revealed. As a writer concerned with putting feminist issues in my work, it was nice to see those efforts recognized by readers. Now I don’t know if they really thought my book was feminist or if I just lucked out that no one dropped by their blog to disagree.


What can readers do?
Fortunately, the world of YA doesn’t rise or fall on the strength of the list in Bitch Magazine. Readers should keep reading and make their own decisions (and their own lists, if they want).


Do you think this sort of waffling feeds into censorship and banned books?
I don’t think so at all—but I think the idea of “one random person complains, so we’ll leap in and make this book disappear right away!” knee-jerk response has a lot of similarities to the process by which a lot of YA books get quietly banned in schools and libraries across the country. I can see why some of my fellow YA writers who have been through that experience made the connection as to the similarities of process. No one was saying it was like having a book banned.
 
How is this different from an individual posting a list?
An individual is an individual. A professional publication is a professional publication, with editors, journalistic standards and, presumably, a larger readership.


What do you think of Bitch not just pulling books from their list, but adding some in their place?
I love the books they put on the list. There are obviously more books than 100 that are deserving of recommendation to the feminist reader. Everyone is going to say “Oh, why wasn’t XYZ on the list?” We all have our favorites that we think belong if it’s ever expanded past 100 (I vote for The Squad by Jennifer Lynn Barnes).


Diana Peterfreund

Diana Peterfreund


Any closing thoughts/anything I missed you’d like to talk about?
I’ve recently learned that the editors of Bitch have chosen not to honor the request of writers that asked their books to be removed from the list. It seems to be a misunderstanding as to the nature of the list—we (the authors) were considering the list to be an honor (one we could deny), and they were considering it as a review. However, they also assumed that all the writers who asked to have their works removed did so out of support for Scott, Pearce, and Lanagan. While I do support those authors and disagree with the removal, my request to have Rampant removed was due to the editor’s own restrictions—by the metric they used to justify those other books’ inappropriateness for their list, Rampant doesn’t belong either. It also deals with the subject of rape, and has received a negative review here and there. 

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