I don’t know if this story should restore my faith in humanity or nuke it altogether.
An article was published in the local newspaper for Aberdeen, South Dakota (population 28,388) about the Common Read program at Northern State University, a small regional school (enrollment 3,622).
It was something of a human interest story, praising what sounds like a pretty cool program:
The first Common Read book at Northern State University — “The Routes of Man” by Ted Conover — was picked because of a budget and a phone call.
“So I Googled speakers’ reps, and I found a guy and I called him and I said, ‘Who’s your best person for $3,500?’” said Erin Fouberg, professor of geography and director of the honors program. “And he said, ‘Absolutely, hands down Ted Conover.’”
The next couple of books were picked by Fouberg and Jim Smith, president at the time, she said, often with budget in mind.
But as the program has grown and evolved, the books are selected by committee — a committee that anyone can be on, Fouberg said …
At first, the only students required to read the book were Fouberg’s freshman honors students, but it eventually became required reading for all first-year students once freshman seminar was moved from a one-credit class to a two, she said. But it also grew to a campus-wide event, and quickly beyond.
In 2013, the selection was “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls, which was also a popular book club book, Fouberg said.
“People who were in book clubs saw that she was coming to speak, and they showed up, and they have just trusted us ever since,” Fouberg said. “I’ll get stopped in Kessler’s as soon as March and people will be asking, ‘What’s the book?’
They started off with a small group of students reading a book together and talking to the author. People loved the book discussion so much that the program was extended to everyone on campus and then members of the community started joining in as well.
That sounds amazing, right? They have the whole city now reading the same book and getting together to discuss it. Maybe literacy isn’t dead after all.
The article goes on to explain the various motivations students at the university had for joining the committee that selects the books. Remember that this a committee that anyone can be on. Anyone.
One former student said she joined the committee to improve the caliber of books being selected. It would seem some wanted a young adult book to be the common read. She thought pop fiction written for teenage girls was not appropriate for an adult academic environment. They ended up reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, a nonfiction book about wrongful convictions, instead of Sarah Dressen, who writes books with 8th graders as the target audience. And they had the opportunity to speak to a man who experienced being wrongly convicted.
During her junior year, Brooke Nelson said she fought hard against a Sarah Dessen book being selected.
“She’s fine for teen girls,” the 2017 Northern graduate said. “But definitely not up to the level of Common Read. So I became involved simply so I could stop them from ever choosing Sarah Dessen.”
That was the year they ended up picking “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson.
“It was incredible, so that became the book I supported,” Nelson said, who majored in English and is now working on a master’s degree in Florida. “That’s how I sort-of inadvertently joined the Common Read Committee.”
That was Katie Olson’s favorite Common Read book.
“Not only was it an extremely moving book that spoke about the injustice that can occur within our justice system through the stories of real people, but personally meeting and hearing from one of the individuals we read about was an especially powerful experience,” wrote the senior art education major.
The subject of the book, Anthony Ray Hinton, rather than the author, came to speak that year, Fouberg said.
Now, you might not think the suggestion that college students should be reading books at an adult reading level would be controversial. Sure, if you are in the university’s School of Education, you should be reading young adult books as a study of how to teach them to young people. But that’s not what we are talking about here.
I’m not sure how this became a larger news story than Aberdeen local news, except perhaps that the young adult lit author Sarah Dressen probably Googles herself every day and lost her mind when she discovered that people in flyover country think she writes unserious stuff.
Dressen summoned a posse of chick lit authors on Twitter, including Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult to rant, rant, and rant some more about how a young female English major is oppressing them and suffocating the voices of teenage girls everywhere. They made sure to talk about her directly, to shame her for expressing an opinion and invite their followers to join in the harassment, which from the looks of their feeds is pretty much what these female authors do on social media all day long. Apparently it is lost on the chick lit crowd that we are talking about a college and not junior high school here. (And, honestly, I would hope junior high kids are reading books like To Kill A Mockingbird instead of the bubble gum drivel any of them write.)
I want to talk about this. Not only does it suck because @sarahdessen is one of the loveliest women you’ll ever meet, and because she has been a guiding force into the love or reading for thousands of kids including my own…but because this implies something more sinister. /1 https://t.co/JLnVgN90MO— Jodi Picoult (@jodipicoult) November 13, 2019
This suggests stories about young women matter less. That they are not as worthy or literary as those about anything but young women. That their concerns and hopes and fears are secondary or frivolous. This kind of thinking is what leads to gender discrimination in publishing/2— Jodi Picoult (@jodipicoult) November 13, 2019
It’s why there are more shows on Broadway with male leads than female ones. It’s why there aren’t many female directors. Even though the majority of book buyers and ticket buyers are women./3— Jodi Picoult (@jodipicoult) November 13, 2019
Got that? If you are a young woman who thinks reading about criminal justice reform is more important than chick lit written at a junior high school reading level, you are doing the work of the patriarchy. Your actions are sinister. You are the reason why there are more male actors than female actresses on Broadway. (Not sure what Broadway has to do with a book club in South Dakota, but okay.) It’s like I always say, if you want to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you need to read beach romances so you can talk competently about the needs and aspirations of women.
I don’t read chick lit, never have, but I had no idea that chick lit authors were so mental. I’m starting to get the sense that it’s a prerequisite for the genre, however.
A middle school teacher chimed in, again apparently oblivious that we are talking about college students here, to let everyone know that chick lit is the most circulated content at their school library and the coed critic is probably just jealous the author. In case you wanted another reason to feel sorry for kids in junior high.
I’m a recently retired middle school librarian(and teacher)and Sarah’s books were among the highest circulated books in our library ALWAYS…she was and IS an important voice in YA literature. I personally loved each of her books…any negativity must be jealousy pure and simple.— Bookchick 53 (@JuliaBo53) November 13, 2019
Author Jennifer Weiner thinks this is a #MeToo moment, because not reading young adult books is obviously like rape:
And I will piggyback in what Jodi said, with a reminder: when we tell teenage girls that their stories matter less — or not at all — there are real-world consequences. https://t.co/WlYoALXW9H #MeToo https://t.co/stYfTJd0qZ— Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner) November 13, 2019
You’ll note that she’s upset that teenage girl drama is not being taken as seriously as a black man being being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. The struggle is real, y’all.
And then there was this, which Weiner seems to have deleted, perhaps when someone pointed out to her that anyone can serve on the committee, no one is turned away:
Weiner even went to the news article to comment, saying that it was sad the college student had “internalized misogyny to the extent that she can see nothing of worth in books beloved by ‘teen girls.'”
If I were the young woman being mentioned, I’d take some screen shots of these comments for my C.V. Getting dog-piled by people like this should be worth something. Cheers to college students who have standards for what the kind of books they want to consume.