When People Call Classics “Irrelevant,” They Only Reference Classics by Men—Why?

Introduction

Complaints that classics are irrelevant and boring and possibly single-handedly responsible for making students loathe reading have been around seemingly forever.  I responded to this a couple months ago by explaining that classics actually fostered my love of reading, and the Orangutan Librarian recently argued that classics truly are relevant—and that doesn’t need to mean the same thing as “relatable.” 

However, as the claims that classics are dull and fun-squashing and have no value continue, something pops out at me from the conversation:  Every single example I have seen of a boring classic that someone hated reading in school has been written by a man.  While this could be a positive sign (people actually like classics by women?), I’m worried that something more negative is going on, that perhaps people are not thinking of literature by women as counting as classics at all.

smaller star divider

Maybe Classics by Women Are Actually Good?

When I see people mention classics they do like, they often are books by women.  Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is incredibly popular.  There’s a whole book blog community event, Austen in August, devoted to the works of Jane Austen.  Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was recently named The Great American Read by PBS.  Movie and theatre adaptations of all these works are perennially popular, and, of course, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is having a moment in mainstream media due to Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated adaptation.

So it seems clear that people don’t actually unilaterally “hate classics.”  There are some classics they love!  Yet when people dismiss classics and explain how they hate F. Scott Fitzgerald or William Shakespeare or Ernest Hemingway, their claims are rarely qualified with even a quick admission of, “I guess I do like Jane Eyre,” or an explanation of why some classics might have more value or be more interesting than others.  Why?

Are Women Missing from the School Curriculum?

Perhaps this is partially because women writers are often missing from official school curricula and syllabi (though hopefully the tide on this is changing).  When I think back to the books I read for literature classes in middle school and high school, only a few by women come to mind: Summer of My German SoldierTo Kill a MockingbirdEthan Frome, and Frankenstein.  I’m sure we read short stories and excerpts of longer works by women, but these were the only major novels I can think of in seven years’ worth of schooling.  If I didn’t go on to major in English in college, my knowledge of classics purely from schoolwork (not books I read on my own time), would certainly have been dominated by men.

My position might be slightly unique.  I went to smaller schools, which means I had the same literature teacher for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, who was a man.  I had a female English teacher my first year of high school, but I had one male teacher for the next three years.  This means not just that the books I read were largely chosen by men; for six years of school, exactly two men had control over my reading list, and I know for a fact that their personal reading preferences did influence the syllabus.  In fact, Little Women used to be assigned in my middle school—before a female English teacher left, and her replacement decided that it was a girl book that the boys wouldn’t want to read (or maybe he didn’t want to read).

However, I think it’s fair to say in general that male authors are probably being assigned more than female authors, so when people think of classics, or think of just “required school reading,” books by men come more immediately to mind.

Does This Devalue the Work of Women?

I worry, however, that the frequent citation of classics as works by men and the complete omission of any mention of books by women means that people are not considering work by women as classics at all.  Perhaps these readers find Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre interesting…but they’re somehow categorizing them as separate.  They’re “just” romances or “just” books about the narrowness of women’s experiences, not sweeping narratives like the Iliad that deal with themes of the world and war.  This ties into the trend that today’s authors have noticed where books by women are frequently assumed to be young adult novels, even when nothing about the books’ descriptions, plots, or marketing would suggest they are written for younger readers rather than adults.

smaller star divider

Conclusion

If people actually do enjoy some classics by women, I would like to see that reflected in the continued conversation about whether classics have value/should be taught/are all boring and stifling a love of reading.  It makes sense to me to argue that a particular book is a bit dull or should be replaced by another in the classroom; it makes a lot less sense to me to imply that are classics are by and about men (particularly old men, which I point out is not true in this post).  Classics by women exist, and the question of whether they should be taught in the classroom deserves a lot more attention than it’s currently getting.

Briana

Some States Want to Legalize Censorship in Libraries

Earlier this year, a Missouri bill proposed the creation of parental oversight boards that would have the final say on which materials libraries are allowed to shelf in certain areas, and who is allowed to check them out. The boards, which are to be comprised of five community members, but not librarians, will decide what materials are sexually “inappropriate” for minors and remove them from areas minors can access them. The bill specifies that librarians who allow minors to check out the books could face a fine up to $500 or imprisonment.

Now, a new Tennessee bill is proposing the same: a parental oversight board will have authority over what materials libraries shelf and where, and librarians can be fined or imprisoned if they are found not to be in compliance with the board’s decisions. The bill is again specifically aimed against depictions of sexuality deemed by the board to be “inappropriate” for minors.

Libraries already have internal processes in place to ensure that materials in each section are age appropriate. These decisions are made by professionals trained in the field. Libraries also already have in place processes for when parents or community members challenge books that are shelved in the library. Adding another review board that has authority over librarians–individuals who are actually trained to develop age appropriate collections–is unnecessary and insulting. It is also a troubling sign that some community members are hoping to limit others’ ability to access certain materials they find personally objectionable.

These new bills are a form of censorship. They seek to prevent individuals in the community from checking out specific books. But a review board should have no authority to tell other people what their children can or cannot read. That is the responsibility of the parents, not of the government.

The Missouri bill alone was troubling, though perhaps individuals who do not live or vote in Missouri overlooked its significance. The new Tennessee bill, which has wording that seems just about identical to the Missouri bill, shows that there are enthusiastic censors in states across the U.S. If these bills prove successful, and if they inspire similar legislation in more states, we may be facing dark days ahead.

Why I Don't Like the Ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken

The Ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken

Spoilers!  Only read if you have finished A Heart So Fierce and Broken!

Brigid Kemmerer is one of my favorite contemporary YA authors, so I was not wholly surprised to discover that she can write a compelling fantasy series, as well.  The heart of her stories has always been her characters, who seem vibrantly alive, and who seem destined to capture the sympathies of readers.  Naturally, I fell in love with Harper and Rhen and Grey when I read A Curse So Dark and Lonely.  Naturally, I fell in love all over again in A Heart So Fierce and Broken, and I found new characters to love, as well.  The strength of A Heart So Fierce and Broken is, for me, the conflict between Rhen and Grey.  I remember rooting for Rhen, wanting him desperately to save himself and to save his country.  It is heart-breaking that now he appears to be the enemy.  I feel compelled to root for Grey now, but I wonder what happened.  How could Rhen seemingly change so much?  And how can Harper still stand by his side?  A Heart So Fierce and Broken is so extraordinary because it makes readers feel what Grey feels: the recognition that Rhen no longer seems to be a good ruler, but a reluctance to stand against a man who seemed so good.  And maybe, just maybe, a dash of realization that Rhen was not that good all along–he did lie to his people–but we wanted to support him, anyway.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken places the conflict between Rhen and Grey at the center of the story, setting readers up for a final showdown in which Grey must decide if he is willing to fight his brother to save the people of Emberfall, and in which Rhen must decide if he is willing to sacrifice everyone to cling to his throne.  The premise is original and striking.  Fantasy series very often rely on the “good guys” fighting a dark lord or an otherwise evil villain.  Not very often does one find a story in which the “good guys” must reluctantly face a former ally in order to preserve what they see as the greater good.  The concept is rich and nuanced, because it actually does not seem right to march to war against Rhen.  No matter how many cruel things he has done to save his own title, we know Rhen.  We loved Rhen.  We still want to believe in him.

This richness is why the ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken is so deeply unsatisfying.  By raising Lilith from the dead, so to speak, Kemmerer erases all the moves she made during the course of the story and resets it so that Grey and Rhen have to fight the same villain once more in the third installment of the book.  Far from being a thrilling cliffhanger, Lilith’s emergence is boring and somewhat unimaginative. A more interesting story would be Grey fighting his brother, and torn apart about it.  Grey eventually finding out Rhen is still being controlled by the same old villain and joining with him to defeat her has a “been there, done that” feel.  I would much prefer a story in which Grey and Rhen actually have to rely on their wits and their hearts to find a peaceable solution, instead of presumably just joining together against a common enemy.

The ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken feels a little like a betrayal because it sets readers up for one story only to take that away at the last minute in exchange for a cheap plot twist.  I was excited to read a fantasy series that seemed poised to move away from the black-and-white battles between the protagonists and the evil wielder of magic and instead focus on a battle drawn in shades of grey.  Now, that all seems to be gone.  We will be retreading old ground in the next book, fighting a villain who really ought to be dead.

Should Public Libraries Stop Supporting Amazon?

Should Public Libraries Stop Supporting Amazon?

How Do Public Libraries Support Amazon?

Public libraries support Amazon in various ways. Some buy books from Amazon when their regular distributors do not carry the books they need. Some buy their programming supplies from Amazon. Some encourage their patrons to shop at Amazon by advertising on their websites that patrons can shop on Amazon Smile and donate to the library. Some buy Amazon gift cards as prizes for raffles and reading challenges.

Supporting Amazon seems beneficial as Amazon has low prices, which means libraries can spread tax dollars farther. It also seems to make sense. Everyone already seems to have Amazon Prime, so why not ask them to donate the library when they shop? Why not give out gift cards patrons will want to use? But Amazon engages in unethical business practices, many of which harm the book industry as a whole. Libraries arguably should not be using tax payer dollars to support a business that pressures publishers into unfavorable terms and subjects to their employees to harmful working conditions. Public libraries can–and should–do better with the money with which they are entrusted.

Amazon Pressures Publishers into Unsustainable Business Deals

Many consumers, including public libraries, purchase from Amazon because of their low prices. However, it is well-known that Amazon sells books at a loss and makes up the difference by selling non-book items–meaning other book sellers, particularly indies, cannot compete with their prices

To offer such low prices, Amazon pressures publishers into unsustainable business deals. Because Amazon has a near-monopoly on the book market, publishers can hardly refuse. For example, The Seattle Times reported in 2012 that Amazon was asking McFarland & Co. to buy their books 45% off the cover price– a deal that would lose the publisher money.  Around that same time, the company offered Berkshire the deal of paying 40% off the cover price–then stopped ordering books when Berkshire refused the terms.  In 2015, The Washington Post wrote about the American Booksellers Association’s concern with Amazon selling books below cost.  Their concerns stemmed from the inability of smaller publishers to provide such deep discounts, an inability that could lead to fewer publishers able to stay in business.

Buying books from Amazon is desirable to customers because they want to pay less. However, in the long run, supporting Amazon instead of other sellers hurts the book industry as a whole because it gives Amazon unprecedented power to negotiate unfavorable deals with publishers, hurting their bottom line and thus making them less able to produce more books and less able to take risks on books that may not sell well.

Amazon Engages in Aggressive Behavior to Pressure Publishers to Agree to Their Terms

Amazon can lock publishers into unfavorable deals because they make such a large percentage of book sales. Consequently, publishers need to sell their books on Amazon in order for consumers to discover their products. When publishers do not agree to Amazon’s terms, Amazon might pressure publishers into acquiescence. For example, in 2010, Amazon removed the “buy” buttons from Macmillan titles when the publisher wanted higher prices listed for their books.  In 2012, Amazon removed IPG titles from the Kindle store because the publisher did not agree to their terms.  And in 2014, Amazon refused to offer discounts on preorders for Hachette titles as the two companies argued over e-book prices.

Removing books from the Amazon website is a powerful weapon because so many consumers use Amazon to shop. In 2018, Amazon had 199 million unique monthly visitors and 100 million Prime subscribers; they were estimated to have made 7.7% of retail sales. In the book market, 42% of book sales and 89% of e-book sales were attributed to Amazon. If Amazon refuses to sell a publisher’s books, a publisher will struggle to sell as many books.

Amazon Sales May Not Benefit the Publisher or the Author at All

In 2017, Vox reported that Amazon changed their “buy” button so that consumers might be purchasing from third parties, rather than from Amazon itself. Amazon buys the books directly from the publisher, and owes a percentage of the sale to the publisher (and thus the author) as a result. However, when a third party sells on Amazon, Amazon gets a percentage and the seller gets a percentage–the publisher and the author do not get paid at all.

The new system relies on an algorithm that prioritizes sellers with low prices. Sometimes Amazon wins the algorithm, but sometimes a third party does instead. Consumers who simply press “buy” might not realize they are not supporting an author with their money, but rather a third party who is selling books from sources even the publishers cannot figure out.

Amazon Faces Accusations of Unfair Treatment of Employees

Accusations abound that Amazon employees are treated horribly, with warehouse workers asked to handle 400 items per hour, or one every seven seconds, and given only 18 minutes of “time off task” per shift, meaning that employees have resorted to urinating in bottles or trash cans to avoid being penalized for being “off task.” Some employees have alleged that they were advised to finish working before seeking necessary medical care. Drivers report being pressured to drive at dangerous speeds, to skip meals, and to avoid bathroom breaks in order to deliver on them. In all the news stories linked, Amazon denies the truth of the reports and insists the company treats their employees well. But still Amazon workers in Europe went on strike last year on Black Friday, demanding safer working conditions.

Amazon Produces Exclusive Content Libraries Are Not Allowed to Buy

In 2018, Audible (owned by Amazon) announced that they were acquiring exclusive content from big-name authors like Margaret Atwood and Michael Lewis.  Currently, libraries are unable to purchase and share original Audible content, meaning that readers who wish to listen to it have to pay a subscription. Refusing to sell to libraries prevent libraries from fulfilling their mission of providing equal access to content and knowledge. It seems odd that libraries would financially support a company that does not wish to support libraries in return.

Conclusion

Libraries are entrusted with taxpayer dollars in order to serve the community. But who is benefiting when libraries buy from Amazon? Mostly Amazon. Supporting Amazon financially and giving the company control over the bookselling market could have a negative impact long-term, causing publishers to earn less money, leading them in turn to publish fewer books and to take fewer risks on books that do not seem like bestseller material. This means authors could earn less money and readers could have less choice.

Furthermore, despite Amazon’s protests, complaints about the way they mistreat employees continue to proliferate. Employees explain that giving everyone free one- or two-day shipping comes at a human cost: injury, fatigue, and burnout. If public libraries are to support their community, they should support businesses who treat their employees well.

Finally, Amazon seems to have little regard for the mission of libraries, to provide equal access to all. Instead, they are producing exclusive content they do not allow libraries to purchase, thereby creating social inequity. Libraries should spend their money on retailers who in turn support libraries.

What Can Libraries Do?

  • Purchase books and materials from other retailers. In many cases, Amazon’s prices seem comparable with Barnes and Noble’s online prices. Or libraries could look into buying from indies or directly from publishers.
  • Support local businesses with their money. Many local businesses have their own gift cards that can be used as prizes or reading incentives, instead of Amazon gift cards.
  • Partner with local indies. Consumers love Amazon because they love the low prices. But indies can give consumers other value–for example, by hosting author visits with libraries. Patrons get to meet authors and have their books signed. Indies get to sell their books.

What Can Library Patrons Do?

  • Find out if your local library buys from Amazon. Write to the director asking that the library support a more ethical business. Explain why you are asking for this change; the director may not be aware of Amazon’s business practices.
  • Attend a library board meeting and ask for the library to end or limit Amazon purchases. All members of the community are stakeholders in the library and the public is allowed to attend library board meetings and comment. Meetings should be announced on the library website.

Thoughts on Macmillan's AMA Regarding Their E-Book Embargo

Thoughts on the Macmillan AMA

On January 25, 2020, Macmillan CEO John Sargent hosted an AMA at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia to address concerns about the e-book embargo imposed by the publisher last November.  The embargo stipulates that libraries can only purchase one license for a new e-book title upon its release.  They must wait eight weeks to purchase additional copies. Sargent’s hope is that frustrated library patrons who cannot check out a book in a reasonable amount of time will purchase it instead, driving up Macmillan’s revenue.  Libraries have protested strongly to the embargo, some of them even imposing boycotts upon Macmilan e-book titles (though they continue to purchase print versions of the titles, which are generally cheaper than e-book licenses and can be kept until weeded–unlike e-books which expire after a certain number of check outs or after a certain number of months, and must then be repurchased).

Publishers Weekly‘s coverage of the AMA indicates that Macmillan has no intentions to lift the embargo anytime soon.  Sargent stated that more time must pass before the publisher knows whether the embargo has been financially successful.  He also explained that librarians will never get the data they have been clamoring for, since that is private business information, some of it held under nondisclosure agreements.  None of this is surprising.

What is surprising is Sargent’s continued ignorance of how libraries work and why they are important to a democratic society.  This might have been excusable when Macmillan announced the embargo–a CEO probably has no need to use a public library and so is unlikely to understand what libraries do or how they support communities.  Months of meetings with frustrated librarians, however, surely should have inspired Sargent to research the work of libraries more closely. Instead, he explained to librarians during the meeting how libraries work and how that hurts Macmillan’s bottom line–even though his understanding of libraries is at best exaggerated and at worst totally incorrect.

The Publishers Weekly coverage states that Sargent blamed increasing accessibility to library cards–and thus to digital e-book lending–as a troubling trend that allows library patrons to choose to borrow instead of buy.  He suggested that patrons see the books as free and so they see no reason to buy e-books.  He even gave an example of how library patrons might go to extreme lengths to avoid paying for an e-book: 

‘”If you are in the state of California, you can easily own a library card for every library in the state of California, and when a book comes out that you want, you can put your name on every wait list in every county, and there are apps being developed to make that easier to do, and so that drives up the number of lends for every book in every library and that causes the amount of money per reader reading a book to go down. And that is the change that we worry about.”

Sargent’s example is uncompelling because it imagines a scenario that seems far from common; the average library user likely does not hold dozens of current cards. In fact, many libraries require patrons to be taxpayers in their service area, or they charge an annual fee to non-taxpayers, which the average individual presumably does not pay. Additionally, it seems unlikely that the average patron would place multiple holds for the same book in multiple systems. If they did, however, Sargent would have to demonstrate that these holds are all lost sales to Macmillan. But it seems that someone so dedicated to getting a library e-book was never going to purchase the book, anyway.

Furthermore, patrons placing holds are possibly increasing Macmillan’s bottom line by prompting libraries to buy more e-book copies to meet demand and lower hold wait times. If a patron places, say, ten holds at tend libraries, and only reads one of the copies that comes in, doesn’t Macmillan win? The other libraries still purchased a copy to fill the hold and, when that copy is checked out, it counts towards the 52 checkouts a metered copy has, before the library must repurchase the license. (Metered copies are available for two years, or 52 lends, whichever comes first.) Sargent’s claims do not seem to make sense, if you know how libraries work.

The coverage of the meeting suggests to me that Macmillan is not truly open to finding a way forward with libraries. Sargent mentioned that he is interested in either limiting availability or driving up price, but that libraries are opposed to both. (Physical books are generally much cheaper than e-book licenses for libraries.) It seems that the two sides are currently at an impasse.

Interestingly, however, the AMA might bear fruit in that librarians finally recognized that they may have to address how much power Amazon has over the e-book industry going forward, as Sargent confirmed his data has been coming from the online retailer. I have always found it odd that many libraries seem to purchase books or program materials from Amazon, and to encourage patrons to shop there by asking patrons to use Amazon Smile and name their library as the recipient of their donations. Amazon has a long history of harming authors and publishers, and they have exclusive content they refuse to allow libraries to buy, creating more social inequity. Public libraries supporting Amazon never made sense. Perhaps now libraries will begin to realize that cheap prices might not be a fair exchange for giving Amazon a near monopoly on bookselling.

The Macmillan e-book embargo will likely continue for some time. However, I have hope that library and consumer boycotts will encourage Macmillan to reconsider their position and to recognize the power libraries have to market books, to create readers, and, yes, to create consumers.

5 Things My Favorite Book Bloggers Do

5 Things My Favorite Book Bloggers Do: What Makes Me What to Read Your Blog
smaller star divider

Write Informative Reviews

I’ve posted about how I think it’s possible for a book blog to not have any reviews at all, but I’ve also written about why I think book reviews really aren’t going away and personally…I like reading reviews on book blogs. Specifically, I like reading medium to long reviews that really get into the heart of the book, what’s working and what’s not and why. I also like to know about the themes or any interesting questions the book raises, since that’s the most interesting thing to me, not necessarily whether the plot is fast or the characters are witty. Reviews that are actually mostly summary or that are too short to really help me decide whether I’d like the book are less interesting to me.

Write Discussion Posts

I think unique and thoughtful discussion posts are what really help certain blogs stand out and brand themselves. Specifically, I love blogs where the discussions go beyond common topics like “Do you comment back on other blogs?” and “How many books do you read at once?” to address questions I might not have thought about myself or that I haven’t already seen a dozen other bloggers discuss.

Include Evidence in Their Posts

This is apparently a bit controversial, as the one time Krysta talked about including evidence in blog posts and backing up claims, a lot of people disagreed and said blogging is just a hobby and not an academic endeavor, so they didn’t need to do research. However, “evidence” is a broad term, and mostly what I mean is that I like to see bloggers support what they’re saying. In a review, this is as simple as giving an example or explanation of why, “The main character is whiny.” If the reviewer gives a quote or explains a scene where they think the character is whiny, this is helpful to me.

For discussion posts…more research might be necessary, and I appreciate bloggers who put in the time to do that. There’s a lot of incorrect information on the Internet and that can bleed into the book blogosphere. A blogger who does research is less likely to make incorrect claims like, “Children’s books are not priced cheaper than adult books” or “Libraries don’t pay a lot of money for ebooks,” and I love following bloggers whose posts I can trust.

Elaborate on Their Lists

Books lists are a really fun part of the book blogosphere, and I love when bloggers go beyond simply listing titles to explain more about the books they have chosen for the list. For example, has the blogger read the books on the list and what are their opinions on them? Or was the list mostly curated by Googling something like, “Books set in Antarctica,” and the blogger doesn’t really know much about them or whether they recommend them?

Write Posts They’re Passionate About

I’ve seen some complaints that (in particular) big bookstagram accounts and big booktubers often seem to be more about marketing than sharing a love of books, and while I think this is less common in book blogging, I do think readers can tell when someone is writing posts they love and when they’re writing posts they think will get traffic. My favorite book bloggers write about topics they’re passionate about, even if those things aren’t the best for getting page views, and it helps their blogs seem vibrant and unique.

smaller star divider

Conclusion

I think a common theme among these points is that I like following blogs where I feel I am getting valuable content. For me, blogs are about reading, learning, and discussing, and my favorite bloggers give me robust information that I can think about, form an opinion about, and engage in conversation with them about. Again, this does not in any way mean I am expecting book blogs to be academic blogs with a bunch of sources and a Works Cited at the end, but I do appreciate blogs where I feel I’m getting unique perspectives and voices and informed content that might not be getting elsewhere.

Briana

Why I Wouldn't Change the Ending of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women

Spoilers for Little Women abound in this post! Read ahead at your own risk!

Jo’s rebuttal of Laurie’s marriage proposal in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has upset generations of readers. The best of friends, the two seem meant for each other. Instead, Alcott weds Jo to a man twice her age and matches Laurie with Amy, as if being denied one sister meant he would just have to try another. (Amy, of course, gets Laurie’s money.) For many, the pairings are deeply unsatisfying. Personally, I never could accept Laurie and Amy, but I have always loved Jo and Professor Bhaer.

Alcott’s choice to wed Jo to a non-traditional hero was quite deliberate. In the late 1860s, she wrote to a friend, “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life. I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please any one.” Her original plan was to leave Jo single–or wedded to her work, if you prefer. However, her publisher insisted that Little Women would not sell if Jo remained unmarried. The middle-aged Professor Bhaer is Alcott’s attempt to subvert traditional gender roles. If Jo must marry, it will be on her own terms–not to the young, handsome, and wealthy boy readers expect.

Although I can easily imagine an alternate world in which Jo does marry Laurie, I respect Alcott’s decision to subvert readers’ expectations. So often teenage characters fall in love and immediately find “The One.” But real life does not work that way. Real life is messy. Most individuals will probably date more than one person, before they find the one they marry. I like that Little Women reflects this, that Little Women says it is okay to fall in love, but also to fall in love again.

I also like that Alcott basically responded to her publisher’s (sexist) demands with her own wicked twist. She gave her publisher a marriage, but not necessarily a romantic one. Professor Bhaer disapproves of Jo’s sensationalist stories, which, for many readers, makes him instantly unlikable. (Personally, I choose to read his disapproval as true concern for someone he cares about.) Their romance proceeds, not smoothly, but with awkwardness and misunderstandings. It ends in the mud and in the rain, under an umbrella. Prince Charming Professor Bhaer is not–indeed he seems the very opposite of the smooth, polished Laurie, who woos Amy at balls and on foreign lakes. So Alcott gets the last laugh. There is a marriage, but probably not the one her publisher wanted.

The ending is, to me, however, profoundly romantic–and that is one of the key reasons I would never wish it changed. I love that Alcott took an “ordinary” woman whose only good feature is ostensibly her hair and an “ordinary” middle-aged man who seems a bit grumpy at times and gave them a love story. I love that she took two awkward people and threw them together in a bunch of awkward moments–and that could not change how they felt about each other. I love that they profess their love to each other messy and uncomfortable in the rain. They are nothing like a fairy tale couple. They are better, because they seem real. And so Little Women tells us love is possible for everyone, not just the charming or the young or the beautiful or the rich.

In light of Alcott’s views on her characters, the news that Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz will release a retelling of Little Women called Jo & Laurie in which Jo ends up with Laurie has not resonated well with all fans. The current Goodreads reviews show a number of readers upset that reimagining the ending of Little Women is an insult to Alcott’s feminist vision. For my own part, I agree that (obviously) Jo and Laurie marrying each other is not what Alcott wanted. It is, in fact, not what I want, either, so I probably will not read this new book.

However, I see no harm in fans of Little Women releasing an alternate version of the story. That is what fans do. They take a story and they make it their own. They try out different story lines and different endings. Alcott may not have wanted Jo and Laurie married, but plenty of fans throughout the years have disagreed with her. Releasing a retelling will not take away Little Women from us. Those of us who ship Jo and Professor Bhaer will still have Alcott’s vision to delight and move us.