Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dissonance

This post by Mike Jung captured perfectly some things I've been thinking about some books for a long while. I'm not referring to the particular book he's discussing there, which I haven't read myself and therefore don't feel qualified to comment on. I mean the feeling in general. The feeling of "oh I love this book so much it has so many great things in it BUT there is this racist/sexist/homophobic subplot/scene/character which I don't like and which makes me hesitate to recommend the book." Jung nailed that feeling of loving a work, but then seeing it from different angles and experiencing a growing discomfort with it, yet still loving much in it.

I've had such feelings about Gone with the Wind, and Booth Tarkington's Alice Adams, and the Little House books. I can understand why people might look at the objectionable parts of these books and decide they can't recommend the books at all, they don't want to read or reread them, they don't want their kids to read them. It's trickier to ask what can be salvaged, to love a story despite the parts that make you cringe. To like a book yet not make excuses for what's offensive in it. I've asked myself whether I even have the right to do it. I love that Mike Jung lays all these thoughts and emotions on the line, exploring these very questions.

Oddly--or, perhaps not oddly--I feel less hesitant when dealing with sexism in books. I note the offending passages and move on to get what I can out of the book. I long ago learned to read past, or through, misogyny because it's so pervasive, especially in older literature. Which isn't to say that I can speak for all women, or that we all get offended by exactly the same things, or that we all want to handle offense the same way, or that we're all willing to read the same books. I just mean I'm more likely to feel that I have some authority to discuss such a book. Whereas, in situations where I'm in the privileged group (for example, when the issue is race), I feel like I should do more listening than talking, that I should read more recommendations than I make.

I'm grateful to Mike Jung for discussing this with eloquence and heart.

5 comments:

  1. That's why I tell people I love Audrey Hepburn, and I love her in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and I will even go as far as to say that I like the movie (and I do, for 95% of it). But let's just say that the image of the late Mickey Rooney portraying an Asian character as a demeaning caricature will keep me from ever recommending this movie as a how-to guide for "showing diversity" in film.

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    1. Oh, yes--there are so many movies and TV shows that mix "lots of quality" with "cringe-inducing moments!"

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  2. Yes, I know those cringe-inducing moments when I think, what was that?!

    P.S. I actually haven't read that book either. But I've heard about it. I believe it was a librarian who had first recommended this particular book to me. So in spite of the mixed reviews, I put the book on my to-read list and will judge for myself what I think of it.

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  3. Interesting topic. I feel that way about some of the classics of science fiction and fantasy, which I absolutely lapped up as a teenager -- and now I feel kinda stupid for completely missing the rampant sexism in them. Reading them now is not at all the same pleasurable experience it once was, though I feel conflicted because I still remember how awesome they once were.

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    1. And there's no way to un-see those things once we've seen them.

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