Tuesday, February 5, 2013

People are cray: books edition

Within the past week, I've read five novels. I figured that, since I can do anything I want at this point in my life, I may as well catch up on the hundred or so books that I've been meaning to read.

I've been using Goodreads to track my progress, because I like seeing my stats and the tangible evidence that I'm so freakin' awesome at reading. I haven't added any friends because I'm not interested in the social aspect of it; I'm very particular about what I read, and it's very rare that someone recommends something that I actually end up liking. Well dang, I sound arrogant and obnoxious. Sorry about that. The truth of it is that I'm really picky and I don't wanna hurt feelings all over the place by shutting down book suggestions. Occasionally, though, I like to peek at the reviews to see what other people thought of the books I read, and, well...

Holy gosh darn freakin' crap. People are SO WEIRD. I know that Rule Number Whatever of the internet is to never read any comments, but I like to anyway, and they always just baffle me. You would think that adults, reading books intended for adults, would act like adults about it, but apparently that is too difficult.

I want to give examples for the awesome feminist classics I read, because the weird comments there were the weirdest. The other two books were random; one weird fluffy pseudo-fantasy book, and one murder mystery thriller (although that had some interesting comments as well).


I'll start out with The Bell Jar. The book takes place in the early 60s and centers around Esther Greenwood, a college student on a summer internship. Throughout the novel, it describes her internal conflict with societal expectations of women and her personal desires and confusions as to what she wants to do with her life, as well as her continual descent into depression, suicide attempts, and resultant medical treatment. 

Personally, I connected with the book on several levels. The distorted thinking, confusing apathy and sadness, and desperate despair are thoughts and feelings I am well acquainted with. It was strangely comforting to see my own thoughts on the page, expressed by another human being. I also understood Esther's desire not to lose her own identity in the course of experiencing life. She was afraid of committing herself to big choices because it could prevent her from making other choices; her biggest fear was to become a wife and mother and slowly see her personality disappear. I, too, have the fear that I won't be me anymore once I have kids.

Now, onto the crazy. The biggest thing people had against this book was... (can you guess?) it was depressing. Hah! They were all like, "Ugh, it doesn't even make sense for her to be depressed. It bothers me that there wasn't an anti-suicide message in the book. This book was too depressing, and it didn't serve a good purpose for the plot, it was just self-indulgent..." 

Blah blah blah dumb crazy. Okay. People. I understand that if you've never been depressed, you won't completely relate, and that's just fine. But the author is showing you what it's like. She's showing you what it's like to be so depressed that dying doesn't seem so bad. To throw in a "Hey kids! Suicide is bad!" message would undermine the tone of the book, and it would be insulting to depression sufferers. She's not promoting it; she's showing you what it's like to feel that way.


Onto the most controversial book of the three (and, in my opinion, the best); The Color Purple. It's written as a series of letters by the main character, Celie, a young girl who lives in the South. Hmm. I wanted to write a plot summary but I don't think I can write a short one. Instead, I'll mention the main controversial points of the book to provide context for the crazy comments.

Because it's first-person from the perspective of an uneducated young woman, it's not an easy read. It's like reading Huckleberry Finn; you have to get used to Celie's dialect. The book talks about violence, incest, sex, sexual and domestic abuse, racism, homosexuality, and has some swearing. Also, it uses the word f*ck colloquially (I don't recall it used as a swear word), which may be offensive. (?)

And now, for the weird: People complained that the book was too confusing, but not always because of the dialect; they expected the book to spell everything out for them. They forgot about that thing you have to do once you leave high school that people call reading in between the lines. You don't have a teacher who's going to say, "By the way, that line is implying that these characters are falling in love." You have to pay attention and figure that out yourself.

Less weird and more depressing: people obviously got their undies in a bundle about the fact that a book talked about the terrible things that actually happen in our real world (and seemed to completely miss the message and beauty everywhere in the book). This makes me sad. I'm sad that people are more offended at a piece of art imitating (events in) life than the events themselves. The people reading these books aren't children, or teenagers. They're adults, who in theory are mature enough to handle adult themes, and if not, should be adult enough to know when to walk away.

Oh, and people complained that the book made them feel feelings. Ones that made their heart feel funny, their tummy hurt, and their brain itch. They said, well, rape is bad and stuff, but do we have to talk about it in such a negative way? The author should have written about it in a more positive way! Excuse my French, but WHAT THE HELL? Rape is not a happy subject. You will feel uncomfortable talking about it, reading about it, hearing about it. As that one wizard guy said, "Fear of a name only increases fear of a thing itself." Get used to talking about real things.

My favorite comment from a fellow reader was that those who consider themselves Christians should avoid this book, because it's too offensive. Guess I'm not a Christian?


The last one for today is The Red Tent, historical fiction about Dinah from the Old Testament. In essence, the author took a few lines from the Bible and turned it into a 300+ page book; kudos, Ms. Diamant. Dinah was the daughter of Jacob (who had like a jillion sons) and Leah (who supplied a bunch of those sons). The point of the book is to explore what life may have been like for women in the Old Testament, how women passed down their legacies from mother to daughter, and what Dinah's life was like.

I thought it was a lovely read. I'll definitely remember Jacob's family better in the future, and that Simeon and Levi were total scummy jerks. I know that there were liberties taken with the text, obviously, but I enjoyed the fact that women were actually important and in the foreground of the story. I wish more of the Bible were like that. And heck, all of the scriptures.

Anywho, this book naturally drew lots of Judeo-Christian readers, and their complaints were... really weird. First, someone said she would have been able to enjoy the book more if it had been Biblical fiction instead of non-fiction. Uh... did she miss the part where, on the cover of the book, it says A NOVEL? And I'm pretty sure the back of the book says it's historical fiction. And a section on the inside. So... lady, that one is all on you.

Other people whined that the book was chick lit thinly veiled as historical fiction. Okay. No. No no no. Chick lit is fluffy. Light-hearted. It's like eating sugary whipped cream. It goes down all right but after you eat it, you realized you didn't really eat anything at all. Sure, chick lit and women's literature both have women in them. But women's literature has substance. You usually leave it feeling like you learned something. If someone says that a historical fiction novel depicting the trials and triumphs of women during a very dangerous time is chick lit, they need to go back into their cave and spend some time thinking.

Okay. The bestworst comments were about the fact that the book depicted Jacob as a real man, and not a mystical demigod. People were so offended at the idea that Jacob probably had a... are you ready for me to say this?... SEX DRIVE. (How do you guys think he ended up with so many sons?) There's a scene in the book before Jacob gets married where a character (I don't remember which) sees Jacob masturbate in the woods from a distance. It's not graphic, and it's euphemistic, but the readers get what's going on. Some of the comments were like, "HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST THAT A PROPHET OF GOD WOULD DO THE YOU-KNOW-WHAT-BAD-THING?" And I'm like, "So, you're offended at the suggestion of that, but not at the reality of the forced circumcisions and consequent murders? Okay." They also hated the idea that Jacob might ever get angry, or frustrated, or sad, or have any feelings in general.

Of course, people were also offended that there were PG-13 sex scenes where the characters were excited to have sex because they wanted to get it on, not because they were hoping for another awesome sturdy son. They didn't like that Leah was a strong woman who liked sex! They didn't like that the patriarchal system was portrayed in a negative light! They didn't like that the women celebrated their menstrual cycles together instead of shutting up and dealing with it! They didn't like that Joseph was GAY (I am still scratching my head over that comment; I have no idea how they jumped to that conclusion). What I learned from these comments was that if you depict the Old Testament as anything but dry and boring with perfect prophets, you are crossing unseen, holy lines.

1 comment:

Meg N. said...

I love your thoughts. It bothers me too that people get offended or upset over the discussion of real issues that affect real people. They act as if we should sweep everything remotely negative under the rug and ignore it. This doesn't make the problems go away.