When 140 Characters Isn’t Enough

POSTED ON January 21, 2017 BY Austine IN Discussion

It’s crazy how the littlest things can spark so many emotions.

This morning, I woke up to a friend telling a few of us that someone in the book community burned a book on a different media platform.

My first feeling was that of horror. How could someone feel justified in doing such a terrible thing? Then came the anger. The rage that a book, no matter the contents, was destroyed. That someone felt the need to return to a time when book burning was a thing in this day and age. After those feelings subsided to a more manageable state, I started thinking about how this act might affect those who saw it.

Before I continue I want to state that I am writing this as an observer. Though it may hurt the credibility of what I have to say, I am leaving out names for this post to respect the privacy of those individuals who I have seen discussing some of the topics I want to touch on. This is almost solely based around the book community on Twitter and I don’t claim to speak for any group of people, only myself as an individual. 

So, book burning. The act itself is most infamous for being associated with Nazis in the 1930’s. From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

Usually carried out in a public context, the burning of books represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [web]


Now you take that image and put it on social media, on a place where the public has full access and you’re reaching a large audience of not only adults but teens as well. And then others congratulate you on the aforementioned burning because it’s of a book that has been labeled as problematic.

Again, stating only my opinion, but I don’t think it matters if a book is problematic or not because it doesn’t justify the burning of a book, especially with its historical connotations.

But the book is offensive and hurtful.

Alright, so being completely upfront here, I am still learning about diversity, still learning about what is considered problematic, about what can be hurtful, about bad representation. I’ve read and enjoyed books that have been later pointed out as being problematic. I get that you don’t want to support a book that falls into any of these categories. I don’t claim to understand it from a first-person perspective but I understand the desire to want to do away with something that hurts.

But I don’t think this was justified.

It made me think a lot of how receiving praise for such an extreme and, arguably, hateful act can impact the younger members of the community. I keep seeing over and over again about the book community being for the teens, for those readers who want to see themselves in fiction. To protect those teens. I guess, to me, the fact that book burning has so much weight to it makes it something that I wouldn’t want to see encouraged.

Edit: I realized that I didn’t clarify this very well, but I don’t believe that the book community is JUST for teens. I’m primarily talking about the Young Adult readers in this post and how I’ve seen several people say how the teens are the important members in this group of people. I believe that the adult readers are just as important but also just as responsible here too. This post is not targeting one group or the other, just covering my thoughts on the matter as a whole and what I have observer.

That praise comes from somewhere and ties into something that I’ve seen in my feed over the last couple days. Several teen readers have expressed a fear of talking about anything in this community. They fear getting something wrong, their posts being screenshotted and re-posted, of being attacked by the mob mentality that has formed.

This is NOT a statement about diversity discussion as a bad thing in any way. I think it’s amazing how much support has come from it all. This is about the policing of what people say, what they read, how if you don’t say the “right” thing then you might get attacked. About being afraid to write something even remotely critical or possibly seen as “negative” about a diverse book. We’ve gone from a community that celebrated differences to one that makes its members, especially the younger ones, fearful. How is that benefiting anyone?

I’m not sure if any of this makes sense so please bear with me. I don’t want to see an end to the diversity discussion. I don’t want to see people stop calling problematic books out. I don’t want any of that to end. But maybe 140 characters isn’t enough.

It’s hard to relay an idea in such a small space. Even threads make it difficult and a single tweet can easily be taken out of context. And from that we see people jump down each other’s throats. One thing is shared and suddenly it becomes “fact.” This is true not just for the book community but that’s the general idea.

To be honest, I’m not really sure where this post is going. I had a lot of feelings about what happened as well as how things have changed. I don’t want to return to the way things used to be because a lot of voices weren’t heard and that doesn’t strike me as inclusive which is something I see people strive to be. But I also don’t think that creating an environment of fear is the goal here either.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I want to see a book community that celebrates diversity and different ideas/opinions without putting each other down. Can we not do both? Can we discuss without tearing into each other, without feeling the need to screenshot what someone says to use as a hateful tweet later?

This post got longer than I expected so I’ll state again. I’m an observer. I’m still learning. I’m not perfect and I don’t claim to be, or to speak for anyone else. I don’t think we should all be nice and happy and everything will be perfect because that’s not how life works.

I think we need to listen to each other. To be thoughtful. And understand that everyone had room to learn and grow, that no one person speaks for an entire group, and that we all have valid opinions. Life isn’t always “right” and “wrong.” And it’s okay to mess up. Mistakes are how we get better. So let’s help each other.

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4 responses to “When 140 Characters Isn’t Enough

  1. Huzzah! I have to say that I can guess which book a you are talking about. I don’t think that the book community is just for teens. There are a lot of rational adults on here. Let’s be civil. Book burning is a terrible thing (and yes, even a worse example to set).

    • Oh I don’t think it’s a community just for teens either (my bad, that wasn’t made clear). More that we talk so much about the teen readers that it seems counter-intuitive to set an example like this for them as being a “good” or praised action. I definitely think there’s a lot of good in the community from all readers and this certainly isn’t focused on them.

  2. I didn’t see the burning but I’m… disappointed… that it happened. For several reasons. The first being the history behind book burning itself. As you said, book burning can be potentially triggering, which is not a productive way to confront something triggering. Another being that the publisher doesn’t care what you do with a book…you paid them for it. I also completely agree that as adults we are (and should be) held to a higher standard because we set the example. However, I also believe that the middle grade/young adult community is more for teens than for adults. Does that mean adults shouldn’t join it or be included? Absolutely not, but the categories themselves specify a target age group.

    The bookish community is a mess right now and not because we aren’t “keeping it kind.” There are marginalized people being harmed and dismissed instead of acknowledged and supported. Worse, there are occasions when the marginalized people who are harmed have come forward and been mocked or treated like they are the offender. I can’t help but be reminded of the many times I’ve heard a rape victim blamed for being raped. They dressed provocatively. They were “too sensitive.” There’s a lot of work to be done in the community to fix what is wrong and it can’t start until people are willing to acknowledge that there is a problem.

    Sorry. I didn’t intend to comment a novella :/ but there you have it.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this. I was one of the ppl who said I didn’t feel comfortable. I actually am afraid (AFRAID!) to read and review CtM! There are people on Twitter who would defriend me just for reading it. Then there’s Nevernight, which I haven’t read but wanted to. I mean, the same goes for CtM…I haven’t read it but I own it…but I want to read Nevernight too and people say it’s problematic. So I get that. Does that mean I am not supposed to read it? Am I a bad person for wanting to read these books?
    And burning books…that’s just scary. I always feel like if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Talk about how you feel. But burning it? Have we really fallen so far?
    I’m almost afraid to even say this here! 😳