Reading Is Bliss
I can be a bit of a loner. So I was immediately drawn to this story on The Guardian about the top 10 loners in fiction. I only recognise a few of them, a constant reminder of how few books I've ever read in the greater scheme of literature - I'm resigned that I'll die with a huge unfinished backlist of books that I meant to get to someday.
So in that spirit, I've decided to make my own list of literary loners. The Guardian story says of loners that they can be "dangerous, caring, happy, desperate or none of these things", so in other words, they're human, which fits in with my criteria too!
But in all seriousness, I think literary loners are not always so by choice. Sometimes loneliness can be imposed upon them. At other times, it's part of their nature. It's interesting going to parties or being around large crowds in a room, because you can always pick out the loners. They're the ones with a drink, standing conspicuously in the corner, either unable to or unwilling to mingle.
Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Nick is the biggest literary loner I can think of, perhaps a subconscious reflection of Fitzgerald himself. He goes to all these parties, and speaks to all these people, and sort-of befriends Gatsby (a fellow loner, but I thought he was too obvious), yet he stands apart from them all. It's what actually makes him such a great narrator for the novel, because he's not in the belly of the beast, so to speak. It allows him to be flawed, yet sympathetic, and I'll always maintain that he was a little in love with Gatsby.
There's a social media campaign going on at the moment called #weneeddiversebooks - which is being run in protest at the lack of representation by when it comes to authors of colour and female writers at some of the biggest book conventions in America (you can google the hashtag and read more about the debate yourself).
While I agree whole-heartedly with the idea of diversity in literature, I also think we need to go even further. We need books by people of different ethnicities, books by LGBT authors, genre books, books about niche interests like raising bonsai kittens on farms, heck...the more diversity the better.
I realise this wasn't the original intention of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign, but literature needs a diversity of voices and backgrounds. People read to think, to learn and sometimes to escape. What better way to do this than through a character, setting or point of view radically different than your own?
It doesn't mean you have to agree with everything being said, but the best sort of books push the envelope and helps you form your own opinion about different topics.
I think there is a need to be cautious about pigeon-holing authors during this campaign too - for sure, I'd love to read writers of colour, but not all African-American authors, for example, should feel that they have to be the next Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. Not all Chinese-American authors should feel like they need to live up to Amy Tan or Lisa See.
My first real "book-fatuation" (I know it's not exactly a sexy made-up word, but bear with me here), was for that childhood gem, Charlotte's Web.
I had flirted with Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton before this. Had a passing affair with Anne of Green Gables. But Charlotte's Web was the first book to really crawl under my skin. I was sad, mad, shocked and then a quivering mess at the injustice of it all.
Fast forward a few years, and The Stand became my new favourite book, introducing me to what would become one of my most treasured genres: post-apocalyptic fiction.
Other books came and went. There were the Steinbeck years, when I became obsessed with first The Grapes of Wrath, then East of Eden, that remained for the longest time, my best-loved book.
Because of the huge response to last week's blog post, I've decided to write a clarification.
It seems that some Stuff readers last week thought my post meant that I would stop boys or girls from reading books, simply because they have main characters that's not of the appropriate gender. No, this is not true. I'm opposed to gender marketing of books - a very different and in actual fact, opposing, issue.
If anyone of the naysayers had looked up the "Let Books Be Books" or "Let Toys Be Toys" campaigns that I mentioned, they would very quickly realise this.
It also amused me to no end to have people calling me the "thought police" and "too PC". Let's examine this: "thought police" is a reference to George Orwell's 1984, a novel about totalitarian governments.
My blog post sought to make people think about the choices we make in life and for our children - and whether the beliefs they display now about gender is a reflection of biology or culture. So...I was actually doing the opposite of thought policing, I was inviting people to get out of their comfort zones and think for themselves.
The lovely Nick Barnett over at Four Legs Good sent me the link to a great article by Katy Guest, literary editor of The Independent on Sunday - where she declared they would no longer be reviewing gender-specific children's books.
It was a big line in the sand to draw, and I say "Ms Guest, this is long overdue".
We don't live in a post-feminist society, despite what Miley Cyrus and her other sparkly fairy friends believe. We live in a world where gender discrimination is still embedded on many levels - where pre-teens (that's girls as young as 6, which I think most people would agree is too young) are being sold padded bikini tops in chain stores.
Yes, things have improved immeasurably for women since the 1950's, but are those really the times we want to hold up as a benchmark? The price of freedom, as they say, is eternal vigilance. I am of the firm belief that true equality cannot be achieved until we get buy-in from the other 50 per cent of the equation - men.
And there's no better place to start than the small and impressionable. Let all parents start with their children. They are still relatively moldable clay, without too many pre-conceptions (or at least few that can't still be changed) about the world around them.
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