Monday, September 05, 2011

Julie Luecke on Nora Raleigh Baskin's THE SUMMER BEFORE BOYS

Julie Luecke, an Associate Professor of Education at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, wrote to tell me about Nora Raleigh Baskin's The Summer Before Boys. I'm ordered a copy of the book and will write about it as soon as I can. In the meantime, here's what Julie said:
Another profound disappointment - The Summer Before Boys, the newest book by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Baskin has written insightfully in other books about the Jewish-American experience (The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah) and Autism (Anything but Typical, which won the Schneider Family Book Award), but here she disappoints. The story is set at the "Mohawk Mountain Lodge." Early in the novel there is a reference to reading the Little House books, and then at several points as friends Julia and Eliza pretend to be characters from the past, they imagine sneaking through the mountains to avoid being captured or scalped by "Indians." Sorry, I didn't keep track of page numbers. It's stunning to me that an author of this caliber and her editor/publisher, etc think this is appropriate in 2011.
Some will argue that Baskin is giving readers an accurate portrayal of her characters. Some might say that they see themselves in Baskin's twelve-year-old protagonists, Julia and Eliza.  Are you someone who, at age 12, pretended you were Laura, afraid of being scalped?

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Update, Tuesday, Sept 6, 8:32 AM: 
Baskin submitted two comments in response to Leucke. She submitted the first one as herself, and the second one came in as "Anonymous" but was signed by her. I am pasting both of them below (with time stamps affixed when her comments were submitted). As Baskin notes, she is going to see if she can make changes in the paperback. If the publisher agrees to the changes, I hope that a page-of-explanation is also included in the book, explaining how and why the changes were made. Given her publishing record, Ms. Baskin is quite influential and can therefore effect a lot of change in others if she is able to get the changes done and the page-of-explanation included. I imagine it may be something she will share in one-on-one interactions and gatherings with fellow authors.  In my view, she joins Garth Nix as a thoughtful writer who gets it.  

Baskin's comment on Monday, September 5, 6:45 PM: you are right..and I feel so confused and bad about this. I am very very conscious of the Native American vs Indian terminology. It is also ironic given how I feel about the treatment of native americans in our country ..then and now.

My editor and I did discuss it..and sometimes a decision is made NOT as the author or publisher but as the character in the book. .in terms of the symbolism and authentic voice, and other considerations. But hearing your review deeply affects me. ..I wish there were something I could do. Perhaps I can. 
very sincerely,
nora raleigh baskin

Baskin's comment on Tuesday, September 6, 8:01 AM:. .I was up all night with this blog on my mind, tossing and turning. All I can say is that I've had my eyes opened..And those being eyes I thought were already opened!
I know if I were to read something (even IN character) about Jews or the holocaust that cast a negative or stereotypical slant..I would take it deeply personally.

so, again..you are right. It is a tricky line..character realism vs what I as a human being want to put out into the world.

I am going to see what i can do about the paperback..if someone can perhaps contact me privately ..so I can get it right. I do care very much.. 
thank you
nora

Update, Thursday, Jan 25, 2018:
Baskin submitted a new comment (pasted here), indicating changes have been made to her book. My response is below her comment.


Baskin's comment on Thursday, Jan 25, 2018:  Not sure if better late than never applies here..but hopefully it does.. . A reprint is scheduled and the changes have been made to repair the offensive and hurtful reference in my book. As well, I have been sharing my tone-deafness and my journey to repairing it with students I speak to. It's not easy but I think it's important for them to hear and understand.  
I am not a fan of the angry, vitriolic call-out culture (to put it mildly) but I am more than grateful and appreciative of thoughtful criticism.  
Thank you.. 
nora raleigh baskin


January 25, 2018
Dear Ms. Baskin,

Thank you for what you said in your comment. The change is important, and it is great to hear that you talk about this with students. It is important to them and to other writers, to know that we can admit mistakes and talk about those mistakes with others. That's an educational response that we need to see more and more so that the mistakes decrease, overall.

I doubt that anyone likes being spoken to by someone who is angry about something they've done. Anger is a genuine emotion. It embodies not just the moment that invokes it, but the many ones that came before it. I understand that writers are uncomfortable with anger, but I ask that they step outside of their own space and think of their readers and how many times they've been uncomfortable and hurt by the things writers and others write or say about them.

Debbie

6 comments:

nora baskin said...

you are right..and I feel so confused and bad about this. I am very very conscious of the Native American vs Indian terminology. It is also ironic given how I feel about the treatment of native americans in our country ..then and now.
My editor and I did discuss it..and sometimes a decision is made NOT as the author or publisher but as the character in the book. .in terms of the symbolism and authentic voice, and other considerations. But hearing your review deeply affects me. ..I wish there were something I could do. Perhaps I can.
very sincerely, nora raleigh baskin

Conuly said...

As an autistic individual, I didn't find Anything But Typical to be all that insightful. It could've been worse, but....

You can read my review of the book at Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/review/R12NJDSBT2PBCH/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1416963782&nodeID=&tag=&linkCode=

rebecca said...

Nora,

I might be misunderstanding your comment, and if I am, I apologize. You know that it's not an issue of the term "Native American" vs the term "Indian," right?

You say that sometimes a decision is made not as the author but as the character. But the author is responsible for that. If a character needs to say or do something problematic in order to stay in character, then there are ways for the text to point out that the thing is problematic. If characters play a game where they're imagining fake Indians as dangers, the text can present that game as fine or as not fine.

Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

..I was up all night with this blog on my mind, tossing and turning. All I can say is that I've had my eyes opened..And those being eyes I thought were already opened!
I know if I were to read something (even IN character) about Jews or the holocaust that cast a negative or stereotypical slant..I would take it deeply personally.

so, again..you are right. It is a tricky line..character realism vs what I as a human being want to put out into the world.
I am going to see what i can do about the paperback..if someone can perhaps contact me privately ..so I can get it right. I do care very much..
thank you
nora

Chantilly Patiño said...

Very well said Rebecca.

Nora Raleigh Baskin said...

Not sure if better late than never applies here..but hopefully it does.. . A reprint is scheduled and the changes have been made to repair the offensive and hurtful reference in my book. As well, I have been sharing my tone-deafness and my journey to repairing it with students I speak to. It's not easy but I think it's important for them to hear and understand.
I am not a fan of the angry, vitriolic call-out culture (to put it mildly) but I am more than grateful and appreciative of thoughtful criticism. Thank you.. nora raleigh baskin