"Meh." "Ur Annoying." "Go Away."
The Toronto Public Library is getting into the spirit with its "Anti-Valentine's Day Anti-Party."
The interesting tween-engagement tactic involves an evening of trivia, arts and crafts and "un-festive snacks," all set to a soundtrack of break-up songs at a downtown branch. "Bring your sarcasm," library staff instructed.
"Seek refuge from the mushiness at one of the Anti-Valentine's Day Anti-Parties," the invite online reads. "Join us for a party where hearts, Cupid, the colour red and public displays of affection are banned and black clothing is encouraged. Join us to create your own anti-romance book cover, test your knowledge of former celebrity couples and write the worst break-up letter."
An earlier version of the invite caused a light stir when it was suggested that young guests would be vandalizing the covers of romance novels. That caught the attention of Vicki Essex, a romance writer and former library employee. In an open letter to the library, Essex took issue with the possible desecration of books and the dissing of a very lucrative genre. (Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.3-billion U.S. for 2013.)
"While I understand the anti-Valentine's Day sentiment, holding this public event does not help foster positive attitudes toward healthy romantic relationships in young people," Essex wrote. "I can understand the program's effort to be edgy and tongue-in-cheek and draw more patrons, however, I cannot condone the destruction of reading materials in this fashion with the explicit intention to mock, marginalize, abuse and denigrate the romance genre."
Library staff promptly took to Twitter to dispel any confusion. (The evening won't involve actual books, just print-outs.)
The website Jezebel largely sided with Essex, with blogger Erin Gloria Ryan pointing out the obvious about subversive teens at a "cool" event: "Think, for a second, about what would happen if teens were given Sharpies and romance novel covers and told to go to town in an authority-sanctioned environment."
Reader reaction was mixed at Jezebel. One commenter complained that an anti-romance novel party "mocks the only space in media or literature that is both produced and consumed almost exclusively by women."
Another reader saw the event for what it is, a safe space for nerds, in line with what the library's always been about: "It sounds like a fun [thing] for kids that might otherwise feel sort of left out [in the] cold by Valentine's."