We Need to Talk About Lionel Shriver Being a Mean-spirited Racist Arsehole

A few years ago, realising that I was reading, almost exclusively, books written by (dead) white women, I decided to make a conscious effort to read more novels by Asian and African writers. This did not mean that I would read just any book by an Asian or African author. My decision just meant that I made the conscious decision to seek out African and Asian fiction, which I had hitherto simply not paid attention to.

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In response to Penguin Random House’s newly unveiled aims ‘that the books we publish should reflect the diverse society in which we live’, Lionel Shriver, in this piece for The Spectator, said, ‘Drunk on virtue, Penguin Random House no longer regards the company’s raison d’être as the acquisition and dissemination of good books. Rather, the organisation aims to mirror the percentages of minorities in the UK population with statistical precision. Thus from now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes. We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling. Good luck with that business model. Publishers may eschew standards, but readers will still have some.’

How is being inclusive ‘eschewing standards’? It seems to me that the publisher is admitting that there are systemic faults that result in more white authors that authors of colour being published, and it is addressing this problem by making public its intention to ‘actively [seek] out talented writers from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves‘. Shriver, on the other hand, is revealing her contempt for writers who aren’t white. She obviously believes that coloured communities are low on talent and that Penguin Random House will have to resort to publishing just any damn mss in order to fulfil their goals.

It’s telling how Shriver seems not to recognise/admit that mainstream publishing is a largely white, middle-class world. With most employees in publishing houses being white, it’s not hard to understand how there might be a bias (intentional or otherwise) towards white authors. So, in that situation, why don’t Shriver and other white writers worry that their work is being published purely because of the colour of their skin rather than because it’s actually good work? Because white privilege means they see themselves as racially neutral, i.e their race and skin colour have nothing to do with the lives they lead. And why does Shriver immediately assume that wanting to be more racially inclusive will result in fewer good books being published? I can’t think of any other reason besides the fact that she is a racist bag of manure who thinks that white authors are naturally more talented and able than authors of colour.

After all, surely she’s noticed that even without initiatives like those undertaken by Penguin Random House, publishing houses have published a fair number ‘meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling’, by white authors no less?

Diversity poses no threat to readers’ standards, it only challenges Shriver’s bigoted beliefs.

 

 

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Goodbye and Good Riddance

A well-known Malaysian has died and my social media feed is full of people declaring what a loss the country has suffered. I am filled with anger because I know that this man was an egoistical, arrogant, physically abusive misogynistic.

I once had the misfortune of editing a short story by him and he responded to my edits with indignation and outrage, demanding how I (a nobody, in his eyes) dared tell him (HIM!) how to improve his story. However, that was nothing compared to the violence he inflicted on the women in his life.

His actions aren’t a total secret, but even those who are aware of it have mostly either chosen to ignore what he did, or seem not to think it appropriate to talk about, now that he’s dead. Well, it wasn’t discussed even when he was alive.

I don’t know if his victims ever reported him; if they were counselled; if they sought to make him accountable in whatever way they saw fit; or if they had any closure. As someone who has been abused, I know it’s a difficult and complicated place to be in, and how we respond isn’t something that is always easily understood, even by ourselves.

I have always been disgusted by the way this man has been treated like a hero by the public. I acknowledge that some of his work is good, but I am unable to truly separate it from his abusive behaviour.

A lit fest in KL?

A friend (a Singaporean writer) told me that she will be in Kuala Lumpur next month for the KL Lit Fest, i.e. she has been invited to participate as a speaker and/or panelist.

‘What is that?’ I asked.

She was, quite understandably, surprised that I had not heard of this event. After all, I live in Kuala Lumpur and I am supposedly part of the arts/writing community. (Hmm … well, admittedly I try to distance myself from most other Malaysian writers because, as a whole, I can’t stand their mutual masturbation, self satisfaction and inability to accept criticism of any sort. Individually, they seem sensible enough, but as a collective, say, on the Facebook Malaysian Writers group, they seem impossibly, aggravatingly petty.)

But anyway.

I googled the Kl Lit Fest and found a website that reveals that this event (organised by Perbadanan Kota Buku) will run from 11th to 13th November. This is less than a month away and yet, no venue has been fixed, no events listed.

Kota Buku’s Instagram account tells us a little more, with a poster featuring the country flags of speakers. A venue is also mentioned (Art Printing Works in Bangsar):

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But, still, no names of speakers, or specific events.

I guess I’ll have to rely on my Singaporean writer friend to keep me informed.

The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind

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Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. A more deserving writer, in my opinion, than the bookies’ favourite, Haruki Murakami.

(I think Paul Simon is another songwriter whose lyrics deserve such recognition. Who else? Katell Keineg; Leonard Cohen; Fleetfoxes (whoever writes their lyrics); most decidedly not Jon Anderson of Yes.)

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Listen to Roger!

Apart from having great respect Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of The Horn Book, Inc. (regardless of whether or not I agree with his opinions), I have always, always been enormously entertained by his writing in The Horn Book Magazine and his blog Read Roger. And, now (well, for a while now, but I’ve just started listening), there’s the Horn Book‘s podcasts so … more Roger Sutton! How creepy do I sound?

The podcasts are hosted by Sutton and editorial assistant (at The Horn Book GuideSian Gaetano, who discuss stuff they ‘find important, exciting, and fun’ and laugh. A lot.

They’re rambly, not always on-point, and listening to them is like eaves-dropping on conversations that sound like they don’t have a point, but, really, truly, they do. Sort of. In any case, they talk about books ad reading, and all the stuff connected to those subjects, and they’re interesting and friendly-sounding and knowledgable. Love it, love them!

The episode pasted above is a great example of the podcasts, and one of my favourites, so far!