Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Passionate Reader

Living Dead GirlBy now you’ve probably seen the controversy over Bitch magazine’s list of 100 YA Books for the Feminist Reader. Basically, Bitch magazine put out a list of 100 books, a few readers complained about some of them, and they removed three from the list and replaced them with other books. Which made many more readers angry.

This blog post is not about that, because frankly, I’d be about two weeks late covering the topic and many other bloggers have already done a great job discussing it. I'm going to write about something positive I saw in it, personally.

One thing that fascinated me about the topic was that some commenters were shocked that readers were so worked up about the books being removed from the list. So emotionally invested. Reeling with perceived unfairness.

But isn’t that exactly the sort of passion that literature should evoke, ideally?  I understand when someone doesn’t like the same books that I do. I love the idea that there’s no one Universal Reader, that different stories and techniques work for different people. But when someone bashes a book I love?  It hurts my feelings.

When you find a story that moved me small, it rather implies the things I care about in real life are small, too.

Someone called Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, which I blogged about last year, ‘torture porn’, to justify its removal from the list. Now, that book was very hard to read, due to the subject matter. But I found it worthwhile. I consider to be an incredible piece of fiction about the triumph of a girl’s spirit over terrible suffering and depravity. It’s a feminist work, but it’s also a powerful, relevant piece of literature. We force ourselves to read about suffering, unpleasant as it is, to better understand the human spirit, and perhaps to recognize the plight of our fellow humans. To me, that's true whether we're talking about a heartbreaking work of non-fiction like Elie Wiesel's Night or a work of (all too realistic) fiction like Living Dead Girl.

When you suggest people read that sort of thing because they like to read about the torture and sexual abuse of a young girl, though, that becomes just a might offensive to me.  And that, I think, is the sort of thing at the heart of why readers became so inflamed about books being removed from the list once they’d been so honored. Don’t tell me the books that moved me, that I love, aren’t worthy after all. 

To me, wherever you fall in the Bitch magazine debate -- even if you find the debate itself silly, as some do -- you can’t deny that passion about books is a beautiful thing. It means people are engaged with their literature. That these authors wrote stories that touched people deeply, enough to be personally angered on their behalf, protective of these stories.

Personally, I think that's pretty cool.

1 comment:

Old Kitty said...

I think the lesson here is not to have lists.

And if you are going to make lists then stick to them! If you don't like this list then go and make your own list!

Anyway!!! Literature should always provoke and invoke discussion, debate and intelligent thinking!! Take care