Reading Is Bliss
Censorship is a hot button issue. Everyone has an opinion about it. As far as societal problems go, censorship is polarising. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought about it. One believes that there are segments of society, such as children, who should be shielded from the dark side of humanity. The other believes that exposure is not necessarily a bad thing - and that freedom of choice is the highest of human liberties.
I fall in the latter camp. As a reader, and someone who has worked as a journalist, and a person who loves words...I don't believe that any books should be censored. I have made the point before that children are self-censoring. By virtue of their age and intellect, they will generally choose reading material that is within their comprehension.
All the children I know would plain refuse to read anything that made them uncomfortable. It is not within the nature of kids to continue doing something they don't like. Almost every avid reader in NZ will know why the issue of book banning and censorship is in the news this week, of course. I won't add to the debate, as it's already a well-trodden path, except to say that I am in the Ted Dawe camp.
But I think the great thing about this debate is that it shows many, many people are opposed to book censorship, and it can only be a good thing. Banning books is about censoring ideas. As a fan of the dystopian, societies that ban ideas are not just unprogressive, but downright dangerous.
In honour of #notbanningbooks, here is a list of controversial books that I have enjoyed, and why I think they should continue to be available to all.
I have been reading a lot of stroppy feminist writing lately, which I am rather enjoying. The latest is Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me - the title is self-explanatory. I guess this roughly segues into today's blog topic...how dating is like dystopian fiction.
I have not grown up* in a dating culture. Kiwis in general never used to "date". There's a simple reason for this: dating requires the skill of being able to make interesting small talk. Readers are especially bad at making small talk. We're an awkward bunch, often intensely focused on a handful of topics that involve fictional characters or obscure, unproven theories.
Ahh dating, the tale of real-life dystopia. I ventured into the deep, dark, previously unexplored territory of online dating as a complete novice a few months ago. There was method behind my madness.
I figured that I could sit at home, surrounded by my books, cat and shoes, hoping that a younger, single version of my hero David Mitchell would fall into my lap...or I could put myself out there and be open to meeting new people. And online was where I thought other readers would be most likely to hang out.
So the Man Booker Prize longlist was announced just last week, and unless you've been living under a rock - you will know that Anna Smaill, none other than the NZ author of my favourite book of the year (totally true, cause The Bone Clocks was published last year), is on it!
I often get extremely frustrated when the list comes out. Mainly because I have made so many predictions about what will go on there, and am disappointed every time. In fact, I'm quietly steeling myself for IF The Chimes doesn't make it to the shortlist. I have a good feeling that it will, but one can never be too sure.
To commemorate The Chimes (please make it to the Booker shortlist), I've decided to list all the books I thought should have been listed or won, but didn't. This is not a reflection on The Chimes at all. I don't have a crystal ball, nor am I a fly on the wall of the Booker judges' room, if there is such a thing. Good luck, Anna!
In random order, here is my list.
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
This was shortlisted for the Booker, but did not win. A little savvy googling led to the knowledge that a book called Vernon God Little - described as "a novel of postmodern gamesmanship". While I admit it sounds interesting, Oryx and Crake was brilliant! I am of the sincere belief that anything written by Atwood turns to gold. If I had the power, I would award a Booker to every single book she's written. Even her early works.
I am a girl who likes boy books. That is, I am a girl who likes to read fiction that are traditionally considered male - sci-fi, fantasy, horror and speculative fiction - to name a few. Many of my female friends also fall into this category.
I have covered the issue of gendered books in this blog before, so won't rehash it. But at the heart of it, my problem, and that of other readers like me, isn't so much girl or boy books, but that society still has those labels.
When I was younger, I also used to read romance, and felt that it was something I had to hide because it would make me seem far too soft and emotional. I have to admit that I read them for the racy sex scenes (hey, I went to an all-girls' Catholic school) more than anything else...though it certainly helped that all the heroes were tall, dark, handsome, brooding and filthy rich.
But I feel far more comfortable admitting that I love boy books now than I ever did when I had a secret fetish for girl books. I think the deeper issue beneath this are societal and cultural expectations.
Romance novel heroes are the perfect example of the strong, silent, self-controlled male trope. From Heathcliff to Darcy, Hamlet to Christian Grey, men have been encouraged since time immemorial to be emotionally reserved, to shun the idea of icky feelings.
"Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire."
I can't lay claim to this quote - it's by the great Roland Barthes, French literary theorist and a man who writes like he's making love to the page. One of Barthes' theories in The Pleasure of the Text, a book I devoured while doing my Master of Creative Writing, is the idea that what is sexy remains in shadow. The hint of skin, like in the above quote, can be far more alluring than full-body nudity.
This has made me ponder what makes a book sexy. What elements in a story turn readers on?
Barthes can seduce, but he can also be too much. There is something so cocksure about the way he writes. An element of arrogance that can make him seem distasteful and dare I say it, even a little pretentious. Or a lot. Depending on where you stand on the subject of literary critique.
I tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey about three years ago, and though I forced myself to plow through (har har) the books, I honestly found them enormously dull and the sex contrived. There was nothing particularly shocking about the BDSM lite and (spoiler alert) preggo sex at the end. It was like reading Mills & Boon as a tween, but a little more hardcore. I also thought that Christian Grey was rather emotionally abusive. If he hadn't been so wealthy, if he was some penniless pothead living in his parents' basement and surfing Tinder for girls, no woman would return for a second date.
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