What is Cancelathon? Why should you care? Well, because if you don’t, you’re canceled.
Not really. We don’t do that here.
Last year, the online book community faced many waves of controversies. Whether it was outrage over ARCs, think pieces about how audiobooks aren’t really books, or the ever growing divide between the young adult and adult book communities, it felt like you couldn’t go a week or even a day without something blowing up on Twitter or ending up the subject of a Guardian article.
Many of these controversies held important points of discussion under the surface. What kind of content should we be willing to allow in young adult literature? What are the accessibility issues tied with the disregard for audiobooks? Who are young adult books really for when we have shit like DickSoapGate happening?
While important, I felt like these discussions were more often than not buried under over-simplifications and ignored for the ease of utilizing cancel culture to solve what are arguably nuanced issues within the book community and publishing industry.
Books should always be allowed to be critiqued, and there should always be spaces for readers to safely and honestly critique a book and especially a book’s author. 2019 seemed to set an uncomfortable precedent wherein this right to critique and the need to discuss was replaced by the compulsion to control—not only what got to be published, but how people ought to feel about certain books with little to no room for differences of opinions or shades of grey between black and white. The irony is, that despite a large part of this push being made under the guise of protecting marginalized readers and people, it was marginalized authors that felt the brunt of book community cancel culture.
This was ultimately the driving reason behind why I wanted to participate in the Cancelathon this month. While I think there were, generally, good intentions behind many of the people who sought to ‘cancel’ books or raise awareness about issues in certain books, I don’t think the results justified the means, and it certainly helps no one when the focus is on canceling over genuine discussion and learning.
I initially wanted to read a book for all nine prompts—until reality hit me with a big check at knowing how I get when I commit to large reading lists. Since I likely won’t be able to get my hands on the group book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, I decided instead of nine prompts, I would read three (which would be how many books I’d have read if I was able to follow the guidelines perfectly) plus one to make up for the fact that I won’t be reading the group book. Four books in total.
A.G. Macdonald, who is running the Cancelathon along with hosts Justin over at Ghost Reader, Princess over at Castle Library, Savy at SAVY Writes Books, have outlined the prompts in detail and given their own January TBRs. I encourage you to check them out and give them a follow!
Canceled! Read a book you feel was unfairly canceled.
Blood Heir, by Amelie Wen Zhao
Among one of the most controversial books released last year, Amelie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir is a fantasy YA re-telling of the death of the Romanov family, and was pulled and scheduled for a later publication date after facing backlash for its Russian elements and portrayal of slavery. Blood magic, murder plots, and historical allusions fill Blood Heir’s bloodied pages, and I’m interested in getting a look at what Zhao’s done with such a notable slice of history.
I Bet His Favorite Book is 1984. Read a problematic classic.
The Picture of Dorian Grey, by Oscar Wilde
Considering when most classics were written, it’s hard to find a classic that isn’t problematic in some way (even the most progressive ones.)
So, I wanted to read a classic that I not only hadn’t read before, but was considered ‘problematic’ at the time of its publication. Bonus points for a controversial author.
Explorations in hedonism and possibly-not-so-subtle homoeroticism had the original printings of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey edited and censored—even if that didn’t stop the author nor the book from facing backlash about its scandalous contents. Wilde himself wasn’t free from scandal, either, having faced imprisonment for indecency (read: homosexual activity.) Today, the West is more open to queer writers and fiction, but while an American author likely wouldn’t face imprisonment for homosexuality, the censorship and scrutiny that queer authors face in their work and day-to-day lives hasn’t necessarily ended since the height of Oscar Wilde’s career.
Don’t Subtweet! (passive aggressively subtweets) Read a book that sparked a drama.
Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo
Ninth House was the first book I saw that had real discourse attached to it in regards to trigger/content warnings in books, and to a slightly lesser degree, the mislabeling of female-authored books as being young adult. I remember reading through Twitter threads long and short about this issue, and felt that most of the important points that could have been made when talking about this book were lost under a lot of people blaming Leigh Bardugo for things she simply cannot control.
Forced Diversity. Read a diverse book.
Everlasting Rose, by Dhonielle Clayton
Often, when books have a wide range of diversity, critics who push back against such books claim their problem is that the diversity is ‘forced.’ Seemingly calling out tokenism, ‘forced diversity’ has become a buzz phrase most often used by people who don’t accept diversity even in its most organic and respectful presentations. So, I chose the sequel to one of the most beautifully written (and astonishingly diverse) YA fantasy books that I read last year, Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton.
To Wrap it all Up
The Cancelathon runs all month, so if you’re on the fence about joining, you have plenty of time to look through the prompts and see if you’d like to participate. The prompts that I chose aren’t the only ones that you can pull to read from, and include really cool suggestions like reading a manga or graphic novel/comic, a book that had been previously banned, or literally any book not written by Sarah Dessen.
There will also be discussions on A.G.’s channel all through this month relating back to the Cancelathon and discussing cancel culture, so keep an eye out for those.