Literary Tropes

It bothers me quite a bit when, in order to make a female character interesting, writers make her some sort of damaged goods.  She’s been raped, beaten, her father never loved her, her mother never loved her, she’s an orphan raised by wolves/hateful relatives/on the streets, she had an affair with a prominent member of society and his bastard baby was stillborn, she murdered her abuser and buried his body in the garden, etc.  And from the pain of this backstory she manages to pull herself up by her bootstraps and carry on and this makes her beautiful/desirable/interesting.  It makes me a little ill that writers resort to this sort of storyline.

Are they really telling me that a woman can’t be interesting without being damaged in some way?  She can’t be interesting because she’s smart?  Because she reads?  Because she invented something?  Because she made a scientific discovery?  Because she’s really good at fixing cars?  Because she’s spent twenty years studying ballet and is now considered the world’s greatest dancer?  Is a woman really only interesting because of her sacrifices, because she’s overcome some sort of diversity?

I say all this because it’s true: but also because I’m a little annoyed with myself.  The story I’m currently crafting, which I really like, involves my protagonist’s (somewhat) dark past.  She never talks about it, and I don’t really want it to come up at all, really.  But I want it implied that she left America, in part, because she was leaving something [someone (a man)].  But she also leaves America (and this man) for herself.  I want that to be abundantly clear.  But she was also leaving someone and that is actually important.

The real trouble I’m having is plot.  I don’t know what causes the rising action or the climax.  I’ve had a number of ideas that bring her past into the story, but I don’t like that idea.  I don’t want to dredge it up because I don’t want her to only be interesting because of something she’s done before the story starts.

I think I really need to flesh out the rest of the characters.  Maybe something will develop there.

I also don’t want it to be a romance, or about the “friendzone” even though it sort of is.

I’ll keep working.

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This Holiday Season I am Grateful for: Library Book Club

Or, that time I crashed the Library Book Club Social Hour.

My sister loves reading.  She loves reading in the nicest, purest, most normal way possible.  People of my generation, you, me, lovely book bloggers on the Internet, we love to read in this weird, exhibitionist sort of way: we take pictures of our bookshelves and post them online, we Instagram the books we’re reading, we write essays and post them on our blogs about the books we’ve read, we keep digital lists of the books we’ve read this year, we buy tee shirts with book covers on them, and artistic prints made from the entire text of a beloved novel.  Let’s face it, we are a lovely group of weirdos.  We are over the top in our expression of love for reading, our love for books, storyline, and plot.

My sister, however, is the Unexpected Reader.  Just by looking at her, talking to her, following her social media one wouldn’t think she devours stories, it certainly might surprise some people who know her very well, but she loves books.  And she recently chanced her arm at the public library’s Book Club.  I was flooded with texts about how much fun it was discussing a book with a group of people, how someone told her they were glad she came, that the group needs more “young people”, she saw people there she hasn’t seen in years!  She went back the next month.  I was super proud of her.

December, there was no book.  Instead the book clubbers had a social gathering scheduled.  Even though I’d never been before, my sister invited me and I’m so glad I went.  The woman who runs the book club brought snacks, coffee, tea, and had a fun (nerdy) activity planned for the book clubbers.  She selected newly acquired books from this year, wrapped them in fun paper and wrote their genre on the paper.  She had us each select a couple of books and we went around the circle unwrapping and sharing the book description.  We got a little silly, well, a reserved silly since we didn’t all know each other, and had fun discussing what we thought of the book based on the description.  We chatted a little bit about the ones we knew more about (I had just read about Welcome to Night Vale and what book did I pull?).  Overall, it was a lot of fun.

My sister checked out the book club book for January and we’re planning on both reading it so we can both attend the January meeting (assuming I’m still in the area then).  I am ever so grateful that a) the library has a book club, b) my sister was brave enough to go on her own, and c) she invited me to the party and got me interested.  I’m always complaining that since I left college I have no one to talk books with, and, yet, every month there’s a group of people gathering across town talking books!

Things I Really Like:

  • Rainy days, when I don’t have to go anywhere
  • Coffee, always
  • Taylor Swift’s latest album
  • Paintings by Vincent Van Gogh
  • Snuggling
  • Comic book movies, esp Marvel
  • Pirates, Ninjas, Witches, Robots
  • 19th Century European Literature, primarily British
  • Colorful flowers
  • Baking sweets for others
  • Writing
  • Mysteries of most descriptions: books, movies, TV shows
  • Ocean beaches
  • Being silly
  • Kittens
  • Reading really captivating books
  • Loving; Being in love
  • Vodka, Honey Whiskey, Red Wine
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Bringing joy to other people
  • Experimenting
  • Jane Austen

Today’s Entry

I am currently working my way through Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking:

So far, it’s very, very worth reading.  Reading about someone else creating, and struggling to create, has me doing creating of my own, and that, alone, makes reading this book a good decision.  But it’s also a good decision for other reasons.  You should read it.

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Today’s Entry

Amanda keeps coming back to this concept: “On a good night, you couldn’t tell who was giving what to whom” (Palmer, 104). She writes it specifically about flowers. Flowers she gives as a thank you for dollars in her hat as the Bride, flowers at Dresden Dolls shows. She’s writing about the back and forth appreciation between artist and patron; and recycling that love: giving the flower to a third party, someone in need of that rose, or petunia, or daisy.

My senior year of college my American Literature professor, an extraordinary Polish woman with whom I am still in awe, invited a writer she knows to come speak at our school, a woman named Suzanne Strempek Shea. As with everything at my college, it was a small gathering. My professor suggested (in the same manner my mother “suggests”) I stick around afterward and speak with her since she is a writer and that’s what I wanted to do.

We had been assigned one of Suzanne’s books the previous semester. I’d read it in the way I “read” many books in college: read the first fifty to one hundred pages, skimmed some, paid close attention during discussions in class (can you believe I have a degree in English?). I felt weird about speaking to an author (one with actual published novels), let alone one for whom I hadn’t had the decency to finish the one book of hers I’d encountered.

But I had won one of her novels in a raffle that afternoon so I could use asking her to sign the damn book as an introduction. I cannot tell you what we talked about. I remember we both had somewhere else to be. She was very gracious in telling me I could email her whenever I wanted. Her email was on her website, she said.

Right. Like I’d ever have the confidence to do that.

About a year later I was working as a teacher in a seasonal outdoor school program. Which meant, amongst other things, that I was unemployed half the year. One of those bouts of unemployment occurred from Thanksgiving to Easter. I spent that first winter out of college drifting around my parents’ house while harrowing, frozen gales wailed without (I don’t like winter). To occupy myself I began writing a modernized version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in America with the full expectation it was going to be terrible.

At some point I thought maybe my story could go somewhere and I panicked about some of the concepts and language I was using and, dear gawd, what if my mother read it one day… or my grandmother? Gawd, what then?

That’s when I remembered something Suzanne had said at Caz. She said, as a writer, you can’t let what someone else might think hold you back. You’ve got to write it anyway. It’s your story, your voice, your authenticity. Forget about what would please your mother or your grandmother and just write. I was so overwhelmed remembering that piece of advice that I immediately, at one in the morning, looked up Suzanne’s email and wrote her to tell her my exact epiphany as it had happened.

She’d tossed a flower into the crowd that afternoon in New York, and I was handing the one I’d caught back to her to show my appreciation.

Little did I know just how much.

Some time later Suzanne’s book Sunday’s In America came out. I’d known of the project. Either she had mentioned it at my school, or else I’d read about it on her website (or both), I knew the book was out and that she was doing readings in the area. My sister, K, had heard NPR’s interview with Suzanne about the book. I mentioned to K wanting to figure out if I could get myself to one of the readings.

Excited, K was on board.

The only one we could both attend before I had to return to my teaching job in the woods was in an area of south central Massachusetts where no one goes unless they live there. In reality, it was probably only a little over an hour’s drive. It felt like K and I were driving forever. We eventually found the combination library/town clerk’s office/auxiliary firehouse/town municipal building, parked, and filtered into the library.

There were, maybe, twenty people there. Thirty, tops. K and I were clearly outsiders. All the (mostly older) ladies seemed to know each other. Many seemed to know Suzanne. But, as she grew up in the next town over and still lived there, it wasn’t surprising.

I don’t remember any of the reading.

Afterward, we were invited out into the hallway that ran the center of the municipal building where we could meet Suzanne, buy her book, and have it signed. When it was our turn, which was almost immediate — I think the nice town ladies were being polite giving the out-of-towners the chance to go first — I, very nervously, reminded Suzanne that we had met before, that her friend was my professor, that I had emailed her a few months back.

That’s when she said: “Rebecca?”

She stood and came around the table. I remember her being very tall. I don’t know how tall she is, but she felt tall; and I felt young. Very young. And insignificant. There was no reason for a locally known, published author to remember a recent college graduate/aspiring writer with severely limited Life Experience who was, at that moment, on a day trip with her Big Sister.

“I’ve been meaning to thank you for your email.”

What the fish?

She went on to tell me, when she received my email, she’d been struggling with the exact same thing. She was working on Sundays In America and was having trouble. She’d gotten stuck worrying what Other People would think of what she was writing. Then she read my email that parroted back the words I’d heard from her only a year previous.

“I printed out your email. It’s taped up over my writing desk. I look at it whenever I start to doubt myself.”1

At this point I was completely speechless.

Suzanne hugged me, repeated her thanks. I left amazed that my small, seemingly insignificant action, one done impulsively and spontaneously, had a very large, very real impact. My email, in part, gave a woman back the state of mind she needed to finish working on her book.

The one we were there to purchase and hear her read.

The flower was back in my hands.

That summer I finished my story. Not awesome. But finished. For me, that alone, was cause for celebration. And while that particular story has gone nowhere (it’s been on a bottom shelf for six years), the lesson I learned while writing it made the act itself worthwhile: The smallest act (poking a child’s nose, mailing a card, handing a stranger a flower) can do volumes of good.

It was a good night.

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1My recollection of her words are approximate, but I am confident they capture the spirit of what she said to me that day.

“You are a snob and a half!”

I have been a book snob, I can admit it.  I was never the horrified book snob, nor was I the shocked book snob, and there was no fear that I would try to convince you that you needed to be more like me and start reading books, any books.  I wasn’t going to waste my time trying to find a genre you might actually like.  No, I was the sarcastic judgmental book snob. 

I have been the sort of person who judges you for not being inclined to read fictions, literature, or books of any sort.  I have made disparaging remarks about your person and your intelligence.  You were a non-reader, then you were, basically, a vapid waste of a mind.  You were a person without curiosity or knowledge.  You were boring.  You might have gone to all the cool parties I was never invited to, drank wine coolers and peach schnapps while I was sipping Mountain Dew and coffee, you might have been having sex while I was reading about other people having sex, and you sure as hell thought was the boring one, never knowing I thought you were as useless as tits on a bull.

I was such an asshole.

And a hypocrite.  Because if you did read books, like any good book snob, I judged you based on the books you read.  Only read non-fiction?  Boy have you lost the magic!  Only read Harry Potter?  Did you know there’s a whole diverse world of books available to you?  You thought Romeo Romeo and Juliet was so romantic sneaking into Juliet’s bushes like that?  Coward marries her in secret rather than using his backbone to stand up to their families!  You read Bridget Jones’s Diary but didn’t see the Pride and Prejudice connection?  Hello, his fucking name is Mr. Darcy!

High School.

And I would have loved nothing more than to tell this person:

“Actually, he, Frankenstein, refers to this character as “The Creature”, not the “monster.”  (What a twat!)

But then I went to college, and while I reveled in finding other people who read, other people who (for class) were reading the same things as I, who had also read other books I had read, who encouraged me to read other “good” books, who took my advice when I recommended books, other people who understood what Natasha Rostova, Amy March, Elizabeth Bennet, Hester Prynne, and Nora Helmer have in common, while all this was wonderful and validating and empowering and great, I learned, too, that judging people for not being readers, or reading certain things, was stupid.  

There were two things that didn’t happen for me in high school, well, a lot of things didn’t happen for me in high school, but specifically I didn’t know how smart I was, and I wasn’t challenged.  I did what I had to do to pass my math and science classes (including crying, failing, and taking the “dumb” math classes), but I breezed through my English and Social Studies classes mildly bored and reading the other stories and chapters of the textbooks that we didn’t cover in class.  My boredom and lack of peer understanding led me to pass judgement on my classmates.  Once I had that understanding, once I found my people, I cared less about what other people were reading, or whether they were reading or not.  I had finally found acceptance.

There are many, many posts on the Bookernet about being tolerant of others’ reading choices and I fully believe that anyone can read whatever they want to read.  But there are also an absurd number of posts about Book Snobbery as if being an asshole about reading is acceptable.  This piece on Bustle, which I like because it’s funny (and because it makes book snobs sound like the jerks they are), is also a little tedious.

Although it is a little strange that people who can read choose not to read.  Especially when there are so many people worldwide, including the USA, btdubs,* who either don’t or aren’t allowed to learn how to read.  It seems a little arrogant to not read when there are people (women) who want to read, who wished they could read, so they can better their lives.  I’m not saying people need to read Tolstoy, or Stephen King, or Jane Austen, or Dickens, or Bram Stoker, or Eudora Welty, or Anias Nin, or Joanne Harris, or Shakespeare, or Neil Gaiman, but to say you flat out do not like reading is a mite smug; you are not above the written word.

Today we read more than ever.  We have the Internet, email, text messages, street signs, store names, price tags, and expiration dates.  The ability to read is essential to Western Culture, and there are members of this culture who have fallen through the cracks.  Learning how to read is seen by many as a privilege, when it needs to be a right.  I’m happy people read, and read a lot, and are confused when people who can read don’t.  But what I truly wish is that the people who hate reading because they struggle with it weren’t left behind.  Illiteracy is an issue that doesn’t deserve censure or mockery.  It requires action and compassion.   

“Sentimentality” in Literature

What’s Wrong With Sentimentality? | Katy Waldman | Slate Magazine

A very interesting, and solid, article by Katy Waldman about reader/viewer response to “sentimentality” from Slate Magazine on 16 July 2014.

I started to get really in depth into responding to what I read here, when suddenly it felt too overwhelming.  Instead I’m going to share my overall impressions of this article and the subject at hand.

1. It’s a really well developed and written article.

2. “Sentimentality” is a key factor in novels/popular fiction since the time of Jane Austen and earlier.  Hawthorne got real fed up with the women who wrote (and sold) sentimental fiction, but that didn’t stop people like Louisa May Alcott from writing them.

3. Teens and Young Adults like black-and-white stories because their emotions and hormones are such a mess and they don’t know how to handle it.  According to neuroscientists a person’s limbic system doesn’t finish forming until the mid-twenties, meaning people under the age of 25 are more guided by their emotions than by rational thought.  Because their an emotional mess, a simple story is going to be appealing.  It’s easy, it’s straightforward (unlike the world).  Adults, starting in the their late-twenties, are more rational and can see the murkiness, messiness, complexity of real life and, as implied by Waldman, want their literature to be as murky and complex, too.

4. Enjoying YA Fiction is shameful for Adults because of point #3.  Adults shouldn’t be thinking like a teen anymore, is the implication, you should be thinking like an adult.  “When I was a child I thought like a child…”, etc.  She seems to be implying (not necessarily Waldman, but those who condemn sentimentality in literature) that to enjoy YA Fiction shows a lack of maturity.

5. “Why,” she asks, “in this age of irony and antiheroes, do we assume the “truer” choice is always the more ambiguous one?”  Why, indeed?  Adults are obsessed with not offending anyone (some, anyhow).  There are multiple rights and wrongs, goods and bads.   Morality is sometimes immoral, and you should “do what’s right for you”.  Life is ambiguous.  A book, being a representation of life, ought to follow suit.

Maybe it’s my interpretation, but a lot of that sounds like someone being afraid to take a stand, made a declarative statement.  A book can be about something.  It can make a moral judgement.  I’m also not sure I understand this point entirely, because I can’t think of a single book that doesn’t make a declarative statement whether it’s this guy is the murderer, or those cops are corrupt, or love conquers all, or Harry is the Chosen One, or Alice was dreaming.

6. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “sentimentality” in literature.  Most readers want to connect with the characters in the books they’re reading.  Otherwise, who cares?  If we can’t empathize with the plight of the hostages AND the rebels in Bel Canto by Ann Patchett we’re not going to get anything out of it.  If we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of Neil Gaiman’s protagonist in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, we won’t understand why he visits with Lettie’s grandmother*.  Having an emotional response to literature cannot be a bad thing, can it?  People love the emotional roller coaster of movies and TV shows.  Our heartbeats quicken as the music swells; tears fall from our eyes when the universally beloved character kicks it, or the guy finally gets the girl; we shout out when we see an injustice played out on the screen (ask me sometime about when I saw He’s Just Not That Into You).  If this is the case, why can’t we have sentimentality in our novels?

7. Waldman speaks to many psychologists studying how people respond to sentimentality in books and programs.  Which sorts of people react more viscerally than others and why.  The one thing I think we can draw from all their research and, based on what they told Waldman and what she shared with her readers, is that each readers brings their own, unique life experience to each work.  No one is going to have exactly the same reaction as another reader, but you can probably hypothesize that an individual will have the same reaction to the same type of work, for the most part.

This entire conversation is silly.  It’s silly, because everyone has their own interests and experiences that affect their reading.  I have a sister who will never read Harry Potter (unless her kid reads them one day), but she’ll devour a book on the history of cod.  I have another sister who would find the fish book supremely boring, and has seen Harry and the Potters perform the weekend of an HP book release.  I love Jane Austen; a friend of mine, who has a lot in common with myself, once described Austen novels as “a really long walk”; she has no interest in these novels, because they always seem to be taking long walks and nothing happens.

I like Waldman’s article.  I like her presentation of the material.  I like that she talked to literature and psychology professors from across the country.  I like the subtle snarkiness that leads me to believe she doesn’t disapprove of sentimentality in literature.  I like that she, instead of approaching the conversation with outrage, tried to explain why people enjoy this sort of literature.  It is very informative and interesting.

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*I chose both the Patchett and the Gaiman novels because I cried when I read them… as an adult.

The Books I Considered While Making the Previous List of YA Fiction

“Contemporary” (1950-present)

  • Holes
  • Harry Potter Series
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • The Giver
  • His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • An Abundance of Katherines
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • The House on Mango Street
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • Coraline
  • The Westing Game
  • The Graveyard Book
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond
  • Harriet the Spy
  • Freaky Friday
  • The Fault in our Stars
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series
  • Stargirl

“Classics” (Time Immemorial-1950)

  • Little Women
  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Treasure Island
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Peter Pan
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Through the Looking-Glass

5 YA Novels Grown People Ought to Read

A writer called Ruth Graham has recently received a lot of flak for voicing an unpopular opinion in her Slate article ‘Against YA’.  In it Graham argues that Adults ought to be embarrassed to read books intended for children.  The Internet Book Community, a community largely comprised of individuals who believe as long as your reading you are awesome, responded with the expected Outrage.

I would be a lying liar-pants if I said I wasn’t peeved when I read Graham’s piece.  Mostly, however, I was shaking my head at Graham’s Susan Pevensie-inability to see the magic anymore; and I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’s letter to his goddaughter in which he wrote that “some day” she’d be “old enough to start reading fairy tales again”.  I was also struck by Graham’s admission that she wasn’t too keen on stories meant for young people when she was a teen.

After sharing this article with my real-life Avid Reader Friends, I was asked by one of them what YA novels I would recommend Adults read.  While I do sometimes read, and enjoy, YA novels, I, like Graham, as a kid sort of jumped over books meant for teens, bypassing them for Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and other books that were above my understanding.  I’ve never been anti-books-meant-for-teens, however, and I do admit I primarily read them because they are the books my students are reading.

That being said, if you are a Grown Person who, maybe was too old for these books when they were first published, or unaware of them, here are, in no particular order, five books intended for teens that you ought to read:

  1. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  Written as a series of letters from protagonist Charlie to an unnamed peer, this story follows approximately one year of the teenager’s life as he makes new friends and discovers girls, drugs, and sexuality.  In his letters, Charlie gives an honest report of why being a teenager is terrible.  Many Grown People can probably read this and see some of their own adolescence in Charlie and his friends.  The book offers grown readers an opportunity to look back and see how much they have changed, and to consider what they learned from that time in their lives.
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Green is a wildly popular author amongst teens and young adults, and, while I liked An Abundance of Katherines better than TFiOS, I include it instead because, while it also shows why being a teen sucks, it’s also a story of an often unseen demographic: kids with cancer.  A whole lot of people will go their entire lives not knowing a single kid with cancer, but they are out there and dealing with something most of us won’t have to even consider until adulthood.  The story is a little silly at times, but it is also important: Green shows the healthy majority that sick kids are Kids.  They have the same hopes and dreams and anger and excitement and wonder and cynicism and idealism as every other kid out there.
  3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  I read AWiT as an adult and I did not understand the physics even a little bit.  What I did understand, and probably what most children understand, is Meg’s sense of alienation and ostracism.  Feeling like an outsider is not limited to middle and high school.  It is a feeling that can, and does, crop up well into adulthood.  What Meg Murray learns on her adventure is a lesson we all need to be reminded of throughout our lives.
  4. Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  The Victorians are my heroes.  They had no problem scaring the pants off their children to get them to behave.  Influenced by a Victorian story for “middle readers”, Coraline echoes this tradition.  Evoking the adage ‘the grass is always greener’, Gaiman shows a world that seems wonderful, but once Coraline looks past the surface, she discovers something sinister.  In my experience children are straightforward; it’s adults that are often not what they seem, and this story reminds us of that.
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  Like Green’s novel, TATDoaPTI, shows a ‘hidden’ population.  Unless you live near a reservation, or you seek them out, few non-Indians are exposed to the lives of the American Indians.  Alexie gives us their plight growing up on Reservations and what happens when they try better their circumstances.  This concept is not limited to American Indians, but found with any disenfranchised individual who attempts to change.  Results of which vary from what happens to Junior in the novel, to what happened to Malala Yousafzai in real life.  Nor is what happens to Junior, and what happened to Malala limited to children.  Grown People ought to be aware of these issues and Alexie’s novel is a fun and thoughtful way to learn more about them.

I agree with the Online Book Community that no one ought to be embarrassed to read any book that is available in a library or for purchase in a book shop.  If you are a Grown Person reading books intended for Teens and you are annoyed, or feel uncomfortable about it, remember: you are not the target audience.  But that doesn’t mean a Grown Person cannot enjoy or get something out of a novel meant for younger people.

Teen novels, like Grown People novels, are not always good.  Some, in both categories, are downright bad.  (For example, I’d say you can skip the Pretty Little Liars books and Something Borrowed without a second thought.)  But most popular contemporary literature is not going to stand the test of time anyway.  The ones that do will be revered by future generations and the ones that we enjoy because they’re easy beach reads will be replaced by other, equally vacuous-yet-entertaining tales relevant to the times.

I had a literature lecturer in England who declared he wouldn’t read the Harry Potter books because he is, and I quote, “an adult”, and that’s OK.  Some people are not interested in teen novels.  If you are, I recommend the above listed books, as well as many more.  There are plenty of YA novels I have read that I have not alluded to because I read them once and my life is neither better, nor worse, for having read them.  I might never read them again, I may have read them repeatedly, but the overwhelming feeling is mostly ambivalence*.  The five books I’ve listed, I chose because I have read them and I feel they are Worth Reading.

Also: I deliberately excluded older novels from consideration for this list because any novel older than the 1950s that is still popular could be considered a “classic” at this point.  Anything that is considered a “classic” is, by definition, Worth Reading, no matter your age.  

*For example: The Hunger Games Trilogy.  I’ve read them all at least twice.  My favorite was Catching FIre, but your life will continue as it always has whether you do or do not read it.

 

I am not your Manic Pixie Bookworm | Kaite Welsh | Huffington Post.

I am not your Manic Pixie Bookworm | Kaite Welsh | Huffington Post.

I wrote this earlier today on Literary Bex (the Tumblr), and decided it is also appropriate here as Literary Bex (the WordPress) is meant to be about writing, and to be a place to write things I feel strongly about that aren’t strictly books.

Being a reader is super weird when it comes to dating, she is not wrong. I have had men either really want to delve into my reading life and become a part of it, or they are overwhelmingly terrified of me because I have a larger vocabulary than they. Either way, both find it sexy that I am “a reader” but, like Welsh says, either way they are objectifying my intellect rather than just appreciating my intelligence. Welsh writes, “I don’t need a prize to congratulate me for doing something I learned when I was four.” That prize certainly isn’t going to be a man who desires only for a girl who can carry a conversation, not a woman with whom to share his life.

The fact that we read isn’t cute; it isn’t sweet; and it certainly isn’t adorable. There are girls across the WORLD who are never given the opportunity to even learn how to read. Their only function in life is to clean, cook, and bear their husband’s babies (preferably boys). They are not even considered people. The irony being, those who get the hots for a girl solely because she reads are also not seeing those women as people. Objectifying “reading” takes away it’s power. Being able to read is the difference between autonomy and disenfranchisement (i.e., American slavery). A woman with the ability to read is potential powerful. If she can read, she has the opportunity to know what is going on in the world; she has the opportunity to better understand her world. A girl who can read has the potential to affect change in her community. She can read policy. She can read laws. She can discuss with others what she has learned from her reading. She can understand injustices. Because she can read, she has the opportunity to do something about it.

Reading might be sexy; because reading means a person is curious and therefore thinks. But reading is so much more than that. Reading is power. Reading is powerful. Reading is empowering. Because I was taught my letters and subsequently encouraged to read, I know that I am more than a symbol. I know that I am more than a stereotype. I know that I am important because I am a Person. I will continue to read, a skill I was taught at age four, so my mind stays sharp, so I can continue to learn about my world, so I can best understand what I can do to change the injustices I see.

I do not read to get your attention. I do not read to get fucked. If I did I would just get fucked over. Because I read, I know what I want from my partner, I know what I want from my life.  And I do not want someone who will fuck me over.

I read for me. I write for me. I do not do these things for you.

Annoying Childhood Books

My niece is reading the last chapter of a book I read when I was her age (and loved) out loud and it is super annoying.  I remember my oldest sister being somewhat annoyed when I read those books (out loud) but I didn’t understand why.  I loved them… until I didn’t.  A fast reader I sped through the series probably a lot faster than the author or publishers ever intended.  I would be finished with a book in a day or two and move on to the next one.  That one done in the next day or two, I’d be on to the next.  I read so many of those damn fucking books in such quick succession that I started to hate the protagonist.  She was such a pushy know it all, I couldn’t figure out why she was such the darling.  Why were those other kids friends with her?  Why did all those adults put so much trust in her?  Why was that boy so devoted to her when she treated him like crap and flirted with other, wealthier boys?

Reading that series was like reading the soap opera of Christian tween mysteries.  The series would be as if Encyclopedia Brown and Sally Kimball were dating, but Sally was seeing Bugs Meany on the side; however they all put their differences aside once a week at Sunday School.  That was this book series.  And if that were the premise of the Encyclopedia Brown stories, they would be just as tedious as the other (with the female protagonist – lest anyone accuse me of finding her tiresome because she was a girl).

All that aside, it’s amazing to me that I read and enjoyed over thirty of those books when I was eleven and twelve.  They were my favorites, I wanted them for Christmas and birthdays; when I finished the ones I had I cried out for “More!  More!” and was forced to wait until either I could buy more for myself or the next gift giving holiday rolled around.  But now, seventeen years later, I listen to another eleven year old reading the stories aloud and I am amazed these books were so enjoyed.  Meant for young readers, yes, sure, they are, but, come on, so was Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and those are books that can be enjoyed as much by adults as they can by children.  The writing in those books and stories are interesting and funny and the writing is easy for young people, but doesn’t belittle their comprehension, like many intended for young readers.

The mystery book series about the twelve year old girl who is smarter than everyone around her in 1900 North Carolina IS written for young readers, and it, clearly, is engaging (I read over 30 of them!), and they should remain in one’s youth.  Right there alongside the American Girl books, The Baby-Sitter’s Club, and, yes, Encyclopedia Brown.  Some books intended for young readers transfer well into adulthood (Phillip Pullman, Suzanne Collins, Madeleine L’Engle), but some do not.  This is what I have learned while visiting with my niece this week.