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Fandom 101: Interacting with Casual Readers

Yash Kesanakurthy

Staff Writer

Somewhere between starting her schooling in Saudi Arabia and finishing high school in Singapore, Yash Kesanakurthy realized that she disliked school. It was the fateful move to Vancouver, Canada for a BA in Economics (which, surprise, didn't pan out) that led her to the MA program in Children's Literature at UBC. She had fun immersing herself into the academia of children's literature but nothing beat the joy of writing for The Book Wars, being able to set aside classics and pay attention to the culture of contemporary YA. And now, everything is PB/MG/YA and nothing hurts. Well, some things hurt but nothing her bookshelf can't fix. Currently, she is working on her own YA fantasy novel and an all-ages picturebook. Her life goals include: getting a pet dog, getting published, and presenting you dear readers and Rioters with posts that engage and entertain. (Maybe not in that order?) Blog: The Book Wars Twitter: @SeeYashTweet

I have found that when I love something (like, Stay Up Late Contemplating Headcanons love something) I have trouble:

  • talking about it
  • not talking about it.

While it seems like all I do is talk about the object of my fannish affections, I also have a hard time talking about it in a way that seems balanced, thereby putting off the vaguely interested reader. It’s a sad and somewhat uncomfortable moment when this happens. It is, however, the kind of uncomfortable that reminds me that— as a fan— I do and say a bunch of things that makes it seem like what I love is flawless when, in fact, the opposite could not be more true.

I have been trying to figure out what being a “fangirl” entails ever since I was fourteen. Over the years, I’ve come to make a list of reminders for when I’m interacting with non-fannish readers:

  1. Be Open to Discussion: I’m ashamed at how easily I forget that casual readers aren’t really “causal”. Like all readers, they read with purpose and intelligence. They may/may not spend time discussing Outer Space AUs but that doesn’t mean they don’t passionately engage with whatever they’re reading. Being open to people outside the fandom raising interesting questions and occasionally blowing holes in my ships is getting easier. Part of the fun of being a fan is that I can engage with things that bother me about my fave and/or fandom by writing, drawing, or the exhaustive usage of GIFs.
  2. All Faves are Problematic: “Your fave is so very problematic and I—” “Oh yeah? Well, your face is problematic!” In order to avoid underwhelming, unintelligent retorts like this one, I try to take a moment or two to analyze my impulse to “defend” my favourite author/book. I usually end up having to admit that I’ve built up this apple of my eye to be untouchably perfect. In the long run, this does neither myself nor the author any good. It stifles the possibility of something I love becoming something that so many others can love. I forget that being a fangirl should not mean prevent me from being other things: a more empathetic writer, a critical reader, a kinder person, a better friend.
  3. It’s Nothing Personal: Fandoms come in all shapes and sizes. There are some fandoms that are large enough to organize themselves into gatekeepers, controlling how people view their faves. Often, this is done to shut out contrary opinions. I think it’s time to cut that shit out. Our faves are (like the rest of us) deeply flawed and therefore the things they make— no matter how well-intentioned— will also be deeply flawed. Applying concealer on these blemishes is an awful thing to do. It serves to perpetuate one kind of story. Being a fan should not have to mean hiding flaws when recommending beloved books, or ignoring those flaws altogether. Engaging with flaws can make writers and books better. Kamala Khan was totally right when she pointed out that “good” isn’t just an adjective, it’s also an action. I truly believe that “protecting” our faves from thoughtful critique stops us from doing good as a community of passionate readers.
  4. Different People, Different Connections: I choose the books I do because something about them resonates with me or satisfies a certain desire at the right time. I know that the reason I love “What Really Happened in Peru” as much as I do (apart from Jesse Williams reading the audiobook) is because it’s the closest I will ever get to the Doctor Who I dared to dream of. I also know that other readers just don’t get that connection. It took embarrassingly long for me to be okay with that. Each of us seem to have treasure maps that are fashioned to find the things we most treasure. The destinations are bound to be different. Joining in on someone else’s treasure hunt may cost me nothing, though I may have a lot to gain.
  • Seriously, Listen: I entered the YA lit community as a teenager. Being a fangirl was the quietest way for me to rebel. I got to control the way I learnt about romance, feminism, writing, and sexuality. Thanks to gatekeeping, I don’t think this is a privilege that most teen girls have these days; the opinions and feelings of readers and dissenting fans are systematically invalidated. As an adult fangirl, it helps to remember that I don’t just have the privilege of enjoying YA lit, I also have the privilege of supporting and listening to newer, younger fans and readers.

    Make no mistake, this is a guideline that involves practice and maybe some fumbling. It is also, I suspect, incomplete. Additions anyone?