I won a copy of this book from the publisher, Quirk Books, via a BookLikes giveaway. This in no way affects my opinions of the book as expressed below.
I’ve been a huge fan of The Mary Sue, a website devoted to diversity and feminism in pop culture, for several years now, so when I found out that the site’s associate editor Sam Maggs had a book coming out about fangirl life, I was on it in a minute. Not only was I already a fan of Magg’s writing for the site (and her personality on Twitter), but books about geek life geared towards women are thin on the ground since, like any geek-centric product, it is generally assumed that the consumer is male. This attitude is gradually changing, but the books are slow to catch up, unless they are trying to capture a very specific fandom group (Supernatural anyone?). Just take a look at one (of many) lists about “must read” geek books: http://www.wired.com/2011/10/9-essential-geek-books/. See a pattern? Other than the SFF subject matter, they are nearly all dude-centric (the D&D handbook is debatable, I guess). This list is maybe a bit skewed for fiction, but the nonfiction selection, books like American Nerd: The Story of My People and The Geek’s Guide to Dating, are also focused almost exclusively on the maleness of geekdom (though neither is a bad book).
Well, no more my geek sisters! Sam Maggs’ Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy has arrived to fill the void in our fandom-loving hearts! The title doesn’t lie, it IS a guide to many aspects of geek culture, but it also more than that; it is a celebration and a validation of the glories of being a geeky girl. It can also be seen as a reclamation: Maggs helps us take back the term “fangirl,” which for a long time has been a pejorative in the culture, used to demean girls who are “invading” fandom and characterize them as fake or overly enthusiastic (as if you could love too much and not enough at the same time).
Fangirl’s Guide has something for everyone; I read it straight through, but it also lends itself perfectly to perusing and flipping open at random, as each topic is clearly defined and beautifully laid out. Maggs covers everything from how to attend a convention safely and how to combat online trolls, to the best ways to get your fanfiction noticed and where to seek out some of the best heroines our current media has to offer. She intersperses her intergalactic exploration of geek girldom with interviews with her fellow awesome lady geeks, like writer Erin Morgenstern, Valkyries comic collective founder Kate Leth, comic writer/artist Kate Beaton, actress Tara Platt, and many others.
Aside from the much needed representation of girls in geek culture, why would any self-professed geek need a “guide” to being themselves? Thanks to the internet, we are more connected than ever, but in real life we’re generally pretty isolated from fandom at large. Understanding how to navigate through the minefield that is the web, and the crowded, socially challenging realm of conventions and meet ups is vital information that many of us have to figure out through trial and error, but Maggs gives us the tools we need to make enjoying and sharing what we love easier to navigate. She’s been there, done that, and she’s here to share her hard-won wisdom with us, which is really valuable when, like me and a lot of self-identified geek girls, we have experienced rampant sexism, social anxiety, and a host of other kinds of negativity that can wreak havoc on our psyche. She also writes in a thoroughly engaging style, incorporating all of the glorious fangirl in-speak and pop culture references that make her writing for The Mary Sue (and other venues) so much fun, and allows her to tackle important topics, like embracing feminism or engaging with online trolls, with a light touch.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the book itself is beautiful, from the layout and gorgeous contrasting color scheme, to Kelly Bastow’s fabulous-yet-understated illustrations. (I am a bit biased- my favorite color is teal/turquoise, and it is the dominant color throughout).
I suppose it is an intended irony that I am fangirling over Fangirl’s Guide. But Sam Maggs has given us something not only fun, but valuable; a guide but also a badge of honor. I can carry my copy, with “The Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism” proudly displayed on the back cover, and feel like I am waving my flag for the world to see.
(I desperately need a print of “The Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism,” with Kelly Bastow’s awesome female superhero from the cover together, like, stat. Someone needs to make this happen. Or point me to where it has already happened.)