How Do You Continue Enjoying a Book That Offends You?

TW: Mentions of homophobia, transphobia, rape, and victim blaming

Say that you’re reading a book and generally enjoying it – right until it hits you with some pretty offensive opinions. They aren’t the main message of the book and they don’t come up often, and there are definitely other messages in it that you love, but you still can’t get those offensive lines out of your mind.

So what do you do? Stop reading? Keep reading? Does it depend on how far into the book you are? Does it depend on how strongly offended you are?

Let me tell you about my situation and maybe you can tell me what you’d do – because I honestly haven’t figured out a good solution. Before I start, I want to say that I don’t expect to agree with every author that I read. I don’t expect them to be perfect and without their biases and bigotries. Everyone has them. However, that’s not going to stop the offense from bothering me and leading me to question what I should do.

stranger in a strange landThe book that inspired this post is Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. It’s classic scifi but just in case that’s not your deal and/or you don’t know what it’s about, here’s a quick Amazon summary:

…the story of Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth’s cultures or religions. But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mention de facto owner of the planet Mars. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love.

My parents have been trying to get me to read it for years, and my boyfriend included it in a stack of scifi books that he thought I should read. Finally, I gave in. For the most part, I enjoyed it. It has some amazing messages about sex positivity and body positivity. I wasn’t super crazy about the obsession with female youth and traditional gender roles, and towards the end the characters all sort of meld into this same personality, but I was mostly digging it.

And then, with only about a hundred pages to go, Heinlein hits me with this:

…[Jill] had explained homosexuality…and had given him rules for avoiding passes; she knew that Mike, pretty as he was, would attract such…fortunately Mike’s male water brothers were decidedly masculine, just as his others were very female women. Jill suspected that Mike would grok a “wrongness” in the poor in-betweeners anyhow – they would never be offered water.

Ouch. I was really growing to love Jill, and then she says that? First, we have an idolization of masculinity and feminism when assigned to the “proper” or traditional genders, which would imply that feminine men or masculine women would be wrong. We don’t need to figure that out for ourselves though, because Jill goes ahead and tells us they’re wrong and calls them “poor in-betweeners”. What?

(For reference to those who haven’t read the book: “water brothers” are people that Mike has shared water with and essentially formed an intense, unbreakable bond with; “grok” is a Martian word that means many things, but in this context we can basically say that he’d sense it.)

I was just shaking that off when, less than a page later, Jill tells Mike this about saving her – or other women – from men making unwanted sexual passes.

“Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault. So don’t be hasty.”

Oh, god. Homophobia (and I would say transphobia) and victim blaming right after the other. Not only that but, “It’s partly her fault, so don’t save her.” Mike takes most things very literally and trusts Jill implicitly, and she knows it – so she knows very well that if he senses a girl being raped, he might not stop it because of what she’s told him.

It was difficult to keep reading the book. On the one side, I had really enjoyed it up to that point and was very near the end. These weren’t messages that had come up before and didn’t come up again (though admittedly I could have missed it; I was a little out of it when I finished the last 100~ pages). I also keep thinking – well, this was written in a time when these ideas were pervasive, and even then, they only come up this once.

But wow, they hurt. You probably already know that rape culture is a pretty big deal to me, and LGBT issues are right up there with it. I also find it much harder to handle women who spread rape culture. If we don’t support other women, who will?

I ended up having some other problems with the ending and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet – but this whole thing is what I can’t stop thinking about. That little bit of internal narration, that little bit of dialogue, completely overtaking my ability to really think about the book.

What would you do? Have you faced a problem like this before? Hit up the comments.

Confession: I Dog Ear Books

Oh, book art. What would I do without you?

Oh, book art. What would I do without you?

I dog ear the pages of books. I do it to save my place or to mark a favorite section. I also have about a million bookmarks, store-bought, friend-made, receipts from foreign countries, train tickets, cool pieces of paper or ribbon, and anything else that can conceivably be used as a bookmark. But sometimes I dog ear instead, because sometimes that’s what feels right.

I write in the margins. Marginalia is one of my favorite words. Isn’t it beautiful? I bracket my favorite passages and underline beautiful sentences. I draw hearts and sad faces. I often wish I could keymash. Sometimes “asglkhasgl;akhsglaks” says more than real words can.

I bend paperbacks when I’m reading. I leave them open page-down on a table when I get up for a moment. I don’t see it as breaking their spines. I see it as breaking them in, like shoes you’re going to rely on for years, shoes that will take you places. I relish the long white lines on the spines of well-read books.

And you know what? I feel no shame.

All the time, I see people talk about how horrifying it is to do such a thing to a book. They could never do that! It’s disrespectful or hurtful. And that’s fine. If your method of showing love to a book is to keep it pristine, I respect that.

But I believe that books should be interacted with. I love going back to a book and seeing all the little things left behind by me or another reader entirely. What did that last reader (even past me) love and hate? What did they have to say? Where did they stop reading? Which page corners were so often folded that they’re almost coming off?

It’s a journey, just like the story. Well-read and well-marked books are one of my favorite things. I would like it it other book-lovers would stop acting like dog-earing pages makes me some heathen. I’m an avid reader, just like you. I just read a little differently.

Note: This post was originally posted on my Tumblr, but this topic has been on my mind and I decided to edit it and post it here.

And now a quick writing check-in. From 1/23 to 1/29 I wrote 5090 words, with two zero days. Both stats are way better than last week. Let’s hope that’s not a fluke.

Tuesday Reads: Top 10

Before we start looking forward to the new year, I propose that we reflect back on 2012. In this case, I’m going to talk about my top 10 books of 2012 out of the 74 that I read.

Presented in alphabetical order:

BlackHeart_3-678x1024Black Heart by Holly Black

This is the final book in Holly Black’s Curse Workers trilogy. You should obviously read the whole trilogy, but this is the one that I read this year. They are wonderfully funny and dark urban fantasy novels, and definitely my favorite of her books. Let me put it this way: After I finished Black Heart, I rolled around on my bed squealing and proposed to Holly Black on Twitter. She accepted.

Blindsight by Peter WattsBlindsight

I’ve already written about this, so I won’t say much here. The short of it is that this is an intelligent scifi book that will send your mind reeling and probably make you doubt your own place in reality.

8490112Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Ah, more YA urban fantasy. I kind of have an addiction. This is set largely in Prague, and is about a young girl raised by magical creatures. She travels the globe collecting items, using doors that instantly take her wherever she needs to go. Also, there are angels.

The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe_Fault_in_Our_Stars

Do you want to laugh and sob and generally read something beautiful? Read anything by John Green. But mostly read this. No, seriously, read this. It’s about adolescents dealing with cancer. It’s full of humor and wit, and you’ll feel you’ve learned something. Also you’ll cry. Like, a lot.

100K2The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Political intrigue and drama between feuding gods. There’s romance, magic, violence, an adorable trickster god, and a polyamorous god triad. Why aren’t you reading it right now? (Really, it’s beautiful. This is one of my favorite books of all time.)

Kindred by Octavia Butler8310

Kindred is about a young black woman from the 70s who finds herself drawn back into the 19th century deep South. You can see how that would be not so ideal. She faces her trials head on, and discovers both how easy and difficult it can be to change people.

TheNightCircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but why wouldn’t you when the cover is this gorgeous? I really love both magic and circuses, so a book about a mysterious traveling circus and magicians training apprentices to win a bet was definitely going to be my thing. It should be your thing, too.

Shade’s Children by Garth NixShade's_Children

I’m definitely late to the party on this one. Almost all of my friends had already read this book. When I started asking for post-apocalyptic novels, this got suggested a million times. If you want to read a book about a team of kids with mysterious powers fighting to live in a world where all adults have mysteriously disappeared, this is one for you.

towelhead-novel-alicia-erian-paperback-cover-artTowelhead by Alicia Erian

This is one of the most difficult books I have ever read. It’s about a young girl in 1990 who deals with racism, neglectful and abusive parents, and sexual abuse, all while attempting to find herself. You will want to throw this book against the wall and you will cry, but it is so worth reading.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelmwhere late the sweet birds sang

Sometimes scifi doesn’t age so well. The technology can be horribly dated. This book, though? I didn’t realize that it was written in the 70s until I checked. It doesn’t feel dated at all. Instead, it’s just wonderful. It’s a book written in three parts about how most of humanity is wiped out and then replaced by clones until it all comes back around to the return of humanity. This will make you think about what it means to be human.

What books did you love in 2012?

Tuesday Reads: Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

ZooAnd now for something completely different. This week, we’re looking at Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. It’s a quick, exciting read about certain mammals turning against humanity. If that makes you think of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening and plants turning against humanity, you’re not the only one. Luckily, Patterson and Ledwidge are better writers and at least make an attempt to give plausible scientific reasoning for animals gone crazy.

(Let’s not talk about how The Happening is one of my big guilty pleasures, though.)

First I’m going to talk about a couple non-spoilery things, and then I’ll give some big spoiler warnings for the rest of the review.

Like I said, Zoo does a pretty good job at giving plausible scientific reasoning behind the plot. I’m not the best at science so I can’t say how accurate it really is, but they had some good hand waving. The characters used a lot of vocabulary that sounded awfully legit and Patterson and Ledwidge never gave me a reason not to trust them. Any stretches of science here can’t be any worse than what Doctor Who does every episode (bless their paradoxical hearts).

Once the secret animal uprising became very public, we got to see the people who were running from the threat, the people trying to solve it, and the people protesting any attempt to resist the new world order. Some just carried protest signs along the lines of, “Payback’s a bitch!”, but others were militant and joined the animals in attacking humanity, particularly government officials and scientists. I don’t find it unreasonable to think that the particularly wacky PETA people out there would react like that. Actually, I wish we’d gotten more than a couple pages with them. They probably would have pissed me off really quickly, but they were interesting and added a new layer to the chaotic, muddled character of the general public.

There were also several points where the environmental message kind of hits you over the head, but for the most part that didn’t bother me too much.


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The Trials and Tribulations of Owning a Kindle

You might have noticed that part of Tuesday Reads is telling you whether I read the book in a physical copy or on a Kindle (there are other options, but those are the two I use). That might seem silly and needless, but I do have a reason for it.

I own a second-generation Kindle. I’ve had it for years. It’s been replaced twice, covered in stickers, and it’s not quite as shiny white as it once was. It currently contains 216 books. Its name is Hermione Danger. It often spends most of the school year in a drawer while I’m consumed by novels for school (I almost always buy those in a physical copy, because it’s easier for me to stay on track with my teacher and classmates), but months will go by where it barely leaves my side.

But there are days when I hate taking it out in public. Almost every time I read it before class or in the student center or outside, someone asks me, “Is that a Kindle?” I’m always hopeful at first, and I get excited. I love my Kindle. I love to talk about my Kindle. So I say yes, and I show them how easy it is to use, how many books it has, how I can send Word documents and PDFs to it (great for critiquing stories), and I talk about how great Kindle support has been over the years. Every once in a blue moon, the conversation will end with something like, “Maybe I should look into getting one.”

More often than not, it ends in, “Oh, that’s cool, but I could never get one. I love books too much.”

Excuse me?

Is it wrong of me to take away from that the implication that I don’t love books? That somehow the fact that I own a Kindle means that books don’t matter to me? I know that the other person in that conversation hasn’t seen my bookcases, where books are stacked on books in an attempt to squeeze them all in. They don’t know that I can’t go into a bookstore without spending all of my money on new books, or that donating 500 books in high school barely dented my library.

But why should that matter? They haven’t seen my personal library, but why should they have had to? Why does Kindle owner equal book hater in so many minds?

There are stories where the medium matters. I couldn’t read graphic novels on my black and white second-gen Kindle. If the picture quality was comparable to that of a printed graphic novel and the interface easy to navigate, I’d have no problem reading them digitally. There are stories where interaction with the book itself is an important part of experiencing the story – for example, Theodora GossThe Thorn and the Blossom is uniquely bound accordion style. Open the book from one side, and you read the story of Evelyn. Flip it over and open it on the other side, and you read Brendan’s story. In the case of that book, I suggest you read it in the physical copy.

Most of the novels we read, though, ultimately don’t need to be read in a physical form. Yes, I agree that the feel of a book in your hands and being able to flip through the pages and doggy-ear and make notes and bend back the spine (which plenty of people would scream at me for, but I love) is a beautiful thing.

But shouldn’t the story matter more? If the story is the same from paperback to Kindle, doesn’t it matter more that we’re reading the story than if we’re reading it on paper or a screen?

I know that contradicts my idea of telling whether I’m reading a book in physical or digital form. That’s related to another peeve of mine in this whole ridiculous debate. People seem to think that if I have a Kindle, I don’t read physical books, or if you read physical books, then you wouldn’t ever have an e-reader. It’s true that there are people who only use e-readers and people who only read physical books, and that’s entirely their choice. I’m not here to insult them. What bothers me is that there are an awful lot of people who can’t seem to grasp the idea that someone might like both. That’s why I’m going to tell you what medium I’m reading a story on. It’s entirely possible to use and love multiple reading mediums, and I’d like to prove it.

What about you? Are you a Kindle owner who faces snide remarks from your fellow book lovers? Are you a book lover who just can’t abide by e-readers? Or, like me, do you stand somewhere in-between?