Should Fiction Be Safe?

In his book, Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman asked the question, “Should fiction be safe?”

Unknown

Now that trigger warnings have escaped the internet, he wondered if they’re going to move over into fiction. He talked about reading books he wasn’t ready for, how they scared him and made him think. But that as an adult, he’s glad he read them when he did.

It made me ponder that question he asked. Should fiction be a safe place?

First, what is the purpose of reading? Entertainment? To increase empathy? To broaden one’s mind? To travel to places and times the reader has never been?

Second, what would be the purpose of a trigger warning in a book? In my mind, it would be to shield the reader from material that could cause potential emotional distress.

My Experiences Growing Up Reading Everything

Before I address the first and second point, I’d like to say that my parents weren’t readers, and as such, never told me I couldn’t read anything. I read Watchers (which has some explicit sex scenes) at 12. I read all of Thomas Harris’s and many of Stephen King’s books when I was a young teenager. I also read romances and middle grade books and young adult books and science fiction books… basically, if it was fiction, I read it.

IMG_9155

There were some books I wasn’t emotionally ready for. I skipped over sex scenes in books when I wasn’t interested. Some drug references went over my head. Violence in books sometimes made me afraid to go out at night. I remember reading a particularly graphic sex scene in a book about a serial killer. Though the violence was no problem, the sex grossed me out, and I abandoned the book.

I’m not a sex fiend or violent now. I’m an incurable optimist with a streak of dark humor. Nothing grosses me out, and very little bothers me. I have thick skin and lots of concern about the suffering of others.

Should I have been allowed to read anything? Well, my answer is yes. I like the way I turned out. 🙂 Maybe that permissive reading style isn’t right for everyone, but it worked for me.

I say all this so that when I talk about whether or not fiction should be safe, you understand my frame of reference. Everyone is going to have different experiences which shape them.

What is the Purpose of Reading?

To answer the first question, to me, fiction is all of those things. Sometimes I want a book purely for entertainment. When I do, I might look for a Nora Roberts/ JD Robb book. I might ask my friends for recommendations. I might go to Goodreads or just look on my ever-lengthening TBR or wishlist and look for something that seems light.

All books help to increase empathy and broaden one’s mind, but if I’m looking for something specific, I might go for something that explores a current issue from a fiction point of view, like The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, or something more classic, like Lord of the Flies, by William Golding.

When I’m looking to travel, the Outlander series is a wonderful way to go.

What I’ve Learned From Books

When I read something that’s difficult, like The Hate U Give, I’m pushed outside myself. I’m inside the head of a narrator and shown something different from the life I live. Those books are not “safe.” They test our empathy and proclaim, in no uncertain terms, “Bad things can happen to anyone.”

When I read a book like Watchers, by Dean Koontz it makes me consider what our moral responsibility is to the world around us, and what, as humans, is our place in this world.

When I read a book like You, by Caroline Kepnes, it makes me think about the information that I put on social media.

When I read a book like The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon, it makes me realize how privileged and lucky I really am. And how much little things I say and do can affect others in the world around me.

One of my best friends always says, “Everyone I come across has something to teach me. It’s my job to find the lesson.”

In the same way, every book I read has something to teach me. Am I paying attention?

Should Fiction Be Safe?

I would argue that it shouldn’t be.

There is no safe place. Not in the fiction world, not in the real world.

There is always going to be something that will scare me, but not someone else. Something that might not upset me, but might upset someone. I love books that distress me. That means that something resonated with me emotionally. Those are the books I think about and want to discuss. Even if I disagree. Maybe especially if I don’t agree.

Sometimes those books make me feel a little sick. Sometimes they creep into my dreams or make it hard to fall asleep. Sometimes they make the world seem like a scary place.

But they also make me feel fully alive.

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood, got either 5 star ratings or 1 star ratings on Goodreads. Why? It’s a disturbing and belief-shaking book. It asks questions that aren’t okay in polite company.

I had absolutely no idea what the book was about going into it, and if I had, I probably wouldn’t have read it. Based on my beliefs, I would have said I wasn’t interested.

I am so thankful that I got a copy of the book without knowing anything about it ahead of time. It’s one of my all time favorite books. I love everything about it, but my favorite thing is that it made me question something I “knew” to be true. I had to re-evaluate my beliefs.

It is very easy to believe something. It’s not easy to evaluate those beliefs and allow for new information. That doesn’t mean you have to change your mind. But any belief worth having is worth critically thinking about all sides.

Really good books make that possible.

I never know ahead of time which books are going to shake my foundations. For me, that’s the fun of it.

So, my reader friend, I ask you: should fiction be safe?

Advertisements

5 Things Friday- November

One

What I’m Reading

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold. This book is written by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters at Columbine. It’s not just a memoir; it also integrates information on mental health and the thought process of kids who commit this kind of violence. She tries to make sense of the tragedy and talks about the subtle signs of Dylan’s mental state that she missed.

One of the things that really struck me about this book is that while she never tries to minimize the tragedy other families experienced that day, she reframes Dylan’s death as a suicide. Sue Klebold is an advocate for suicide awareness, treatment, and prevention. This is a fantastic book that anyone with children (or who knows people with children) should read. All proceeds from the book go to mental health research and charitable organizations.

Two

What I’m Writing

I’m starting work on my next book, a YA horror about a world where Death has been kidnapped.

Three

What I Read This Week

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. It took me a long time to get through it because it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Honestly, it was a decent book, but not great. There were parts of it I really liked, but overall, it sounded better than it was.

I also read Almost Interesting, by David Spade, on audiobook. That was a fast read and a lot of fun.

Four

When I Wasn’t Reading

I binge watched Stranger Things at night (so good!). During the day, I know I was busy, but I honestly don’t remember what I was doing. Writing? Cleaning? I know I mowed the lawn, but that’s about all.

Five

Favorite Picture of the Week

Did you read or watch anything particularly good this week?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

My Life of Crime as a Book Pirate

When I was a kid back in rural Pennsylvania, I went to a lot of flea markets. At one of the larger ones, there was a book seller who sold paperbacks with the covers ripped off.

Because I read everything, I read the part that said that if the cover was ripped off, the books had supposedly been destroyed and that they were stolen.

But as a kid who didn’t have a job and loved reading more than anything, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I figured if it were really illegal, the cops would have shut it down. It was a big stand with tons of books, in business for all the years of my childhood, so I figured it was somehow okay.

I recently found some of those books in the boxes I’ve transported to Texas. I know now that those stolen books really are a big deal, and that the author and publishing company didn’t receive their fair share. So, I recycled all the ones I didn’t care about, and have put the ones I do on a pile to re-purchase.

I might buy them from Goodwill or Half-Price books or some other secondhand shop, but at least doing that, I know that the author got their royalties at one point or another.

Don’t get me wrong, I do buy new books and frequent my local library. I do my best to support other authors. I’m hoping to be published one day myself, and I’m a big believer in the golden rule.

I do have a confession to one single incident of book piracy as an adult. When I lay out the case for you, let me know if you would have done the same thing.

The date is July 19, 2007. In two days, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows will be released.

I’ve bought every book at midnight since Prisoner of Azkaban. My husband comes home from work that fateful Wednesday night, and says to me, “I have something to tell you, but I’m not sure if I should.”

Turns out, he somehow found a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows online. Someone had gotten ahold of the book and taken a photograph of every. single. page.

As the evening wears on, I go back and forth, my conscience fighting with the rare opportunity I’ve been handed: the ability to know if Harry lived or died two days early! (Also to find out if Snape was a good guy or bad guy. I was Team Snape from the moment he killed Dumbledore. I just knew!)

Finally, I say, “Give it to me!” And he does.

I read that book all night, and finish at 6 a.m. the next morning, my eyes bleary and my head aching. I drink some coffee, take a shower, and go to work. The knowledge that Harry lived keeps me awake, and I brag that I know the truth. I refuse to give anyone any spoilers; that wouldn’t be fair. I say if they still want to know, I’ll tell them Monday, after everyone else had gotten a copy of the book (and the info would probably be available on the internet anyway).

I did; I read my pirated copy of the book. But I don’t really feel that bad about it.

At midnight on July 21, 2007, I stood in line like everyone else, and got my legit copy. Then I went on to buy it in paperback as well.

I don’t know whatever happened to the copy I’d gotten illicitly. Knowing me, I probably deleted it as soon as I had the “real” version in my hand. Which, I might add, I read again that weekend.

Everyone has the temptation that turns them criminal. Now you know mine.

Have you ever pirated a book? What would have you done in my situation with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?

What got me thinking about this was a very interesting article by Maggie Stievfater about how piracy does actually make a difference to authors. I encourage you to read it. It’s not just about loss of sales, but the possibility that a series could be cancelled due to lack of interest. If that had happened with the Raven Boys, I would have cried.

The Hate U Give- A Review

IMG_9837I didn’t really have any expectations about The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas going into it. I’d heard good things about it, but then I often hear good things about books I end up hating.

My Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) YA book club picked this book for October, so when I couldn’t get it from the library (I was #63 on both the audiobook and print edition), I decided to just buy it from Amazon.

I loved it. I freaking loved it.

It’s a hard book to read at times. Starr is 16, living in a poor neighborhood with other black kids, where crime is common. Her parents sent her to a predominantly white school so that she can have a better education. Because of this, Starr straddles two worlds. One where she talks slang and gives attitude, and one where she pronounces her words properly and doesn’t raise her voice so no one thinks she’s the “angry black girl.”

When Starr’s friend Khalil is shot and killed in front of her during a routine traffic stop, Starr has to figure out how to make her voice heard and navigate her anger with the police, and by extension, all white people who make assumptions about what happened.

Starr’s uncle is a cop, and her feelings about police officers become confused. On one hand, she’s afraid of what could happen to her or her other friends. On the other hand, she loves her uncle, who says that the cop who shot her friend is an “okay guy.”

This is a book that could have been preachy, but it wasn’t. Though Ms. Thomas clearly has a statement to make about police shootings of young black men, it’s presented as Starr trying to make sense of her feelings and understand both points of view.

I read a lot of articles by people expressing anger over police shootings, but I don’t think I fully understood their point of view. This book helped me get inside of it and see the despair, fear, and anger that people feel in reaction to these shootings.

No issue is black and white, and anytime I can more fully understand the shades of gray, I appreciate it.

If you haven’t read this book, definitely check it out.

Have you read it? What did you think?

 

Backwards Bookshelves… Why??

Have you heard about the latest trend? Backwards bookshelves. It’s where you take your lovely books and turn them around so the spine doesn’t show.

Some proponents of the idea say it’s “simple” and “clean” and “beautiful.”

I say it doesn’t make sense.

I’m a practical person. I like using items for the purpose for which they were intended. I sit in chairs. I eat with forks. And I read books.

I’m not saying these items can never be used in a decorative or interesting way. But turning books backwards seems to relegate them solely to a decorative purpose. And that makes my heart sad.

The whole reason I love my bookshelves is so that my books are displayed and I can find what I want. When I’m not sure what I want to read, I browse the shelves, looking at the interesting spines with their multitude of shapes, colors, and the continuum of wear.

Turning them the other way washes out their individuality. Each book could be the same as the one beside it.

Decorator trends are best left in magazines.

I’m going to keep my books right side out.

Would you ever do this?

My Crazy, Bookish Adventure Weekend

Some people are going to read this post and be like, “Book stuff isn’t an adventure.” If you’re one of those people, this post might not be for you.

For those of you who are like, “Books? Tell me more!” read on.

Always Raining Here

My bookish weekend started on Friday when I finally got my copies of Always Raining Here.

IMG_9780

It’s a webcomic that ran from 2012- 2016, a story about two teenage boys’ quest for love. (Okay, it didn’t start out as a quest for love… but they’re teenage boys!) I’ve been waiting for these books for awhile, so it was a nice surprise to finally get them.

The Texas Teen Book Festival

Saturday was the Texas Teen Book Festival with a few authors I’d heard of, and many more who were new to me. The authors sat on panels such as “You + Me = Fate” and talked about themes in their books, writing process, the importance of diversity in books, and other interesting topics.

Though I could have bought these books cheaper elsewhere, I bought a bunch at the festival for a few reasons.

  1. It’s important to support other authors. One day I hope to make a living from people buying my books.
  2. They’re signed! Signed books are always better!
  3. If I don’t buy them immediately, I put them on a list and forget that I really wanted to read them.

IMG_9779

(I’ve already read When Dimple Met Rishi, and it was lovely.)

The Library Sale!

I love the sale at my local library. Not only are books cheap, but I love used books. Part of it is that I just love owning things that other people owned, that have wear marks and maybe writing in them. The other part of it is that I’m conscious about waste, so when I can buy used, I feel good about my purchasing decisions.

I went for the YA/ children’s books first, and was immediately perplexed. Instead of stacking the books so the titles could be read, they looked like this:

IMG_9782

My apologies for the blurry picture. Please don’t tell my husband… he’d be appalled.

Why would you stack books so that you can’t see the spine?? It’s incomprehensible to me, and reminds me of that weird backwards bookshelf trend (which will be the subject of Friday’s blog… stay tuned).

From there, I moved into the main room with all the other books. I was briefly distracted by a copy of The Annotated Alice, an annotated version of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland from 1960. I actually own the exact book that was being sold, but I don’t have much willpower when it comes to Alice in Wonderland. I want to own multiple copies of every version of this book ever made.

IMG_9783

Yeah, I don’t understand it either. Moving on.

I acquired some great finds, including an old Stephen King anthology with “Rage,” a rare short story that King himself asked to be pulled off the shelves.

IMG_9781

The leather-bound book is a copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. Now, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have bought this book, except that someone had put it with the religion books. I know volunteers run library sales, and someone just put it there because it looked like it belonged, but it made me laugh, so I had to buy it.

I bought Girl On A Train because it sounded better than The Girl On the Train, which I disliked, though everyone else seemed to think it was great.

There was also a book I spotted called, “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.” This raised so many questions for me. Is there also a “Manly Art of Breastfeeding”? Is the implication that someone isn’t womanly if they don’t breastfeed? What if I don’t have children? Should I breastfeed other people’s children in order to be more womanly?

IMG_9771

I didn’t buy that one though. I figured someone else needed tips on being womanly more than I did.

Did you have any bookish adventures this weekend?

SaveSave

In Celebration of Banned Books Week

I keep a list of the most banned books hung up and highlight them as I read them.

I love Banned Books Week, a week devoted to increasing awareness of the freedom to read.

My views on this haven’t changed that much over time. I believe only in self-censorship: the ability of oneself or one’s guardian to decide what should be read. To be clear, I mean that a child’s parents should be able to decide what he or she reads, but not that a single child’s parents should be able to decide what everyone else is reading. Books should challenge us, make us think, sometimes offend us or present ideas we’re not ready for. Because that’s how growth happens.

My parents let me read anything I wanted growing up. They never told me I shouldn’t read something or worried about content. I was exposed to all kinds of interesting ideas, which I believe has made me open-minded and interested in a variety of things. And almost impossible to offend.

I remember that one time, as a teenager, I was reading some novel about a serial killer. (I’ve always been a bit obsessed with serial killers.) And in the book, murder and mayhem never bothered me. But there was a particularly graphic sex scene that grossed me out. So I abandoned that book and moved on to something else.

I’m sure there would have been other kids my age who were fine with the sex scene, but would be bothered by murder. Just because a particular topic wasn’t appropriate for me doesn’t mean that it wasn’t appropriate for someone else. And just because I read about murder with nary a nightmare, doesn’t mean every teen should read that stuff. I’ve also always hated books with any kind of cruelty to animals. (Yes, I realize it’s fiction… but I don’t even like thinking about it.)

Censorship and banning books basically mean that a particular book is appropriate for no one, which I find difficult to believe. It’s a way of imposing the beliefs of the censor on everyone. The thing I love most about people is our endless variety of thought and belief.

Interestingly, a lot of the most frequently challenged books are the ones that tend to be most meaningful. If a book is important and has something meaningful to say, someone is going to be offended by it.

Here’s a link to a list of the most banned/ challenged books of 2000- 2009.

Of the books most challenged in 2016, I’ve only read Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. (Wonderful book, BTW). In celebration of this year’s banned book week, I’m going to read Looking for Alaska, by John Green, challenged for “a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to ‘sexual experimentation.'” Because kids can’t find anything they want to know about sex on the internet, right?

Censorship and the suppression of reading materials are rarely about family values and almost always about controlabout who is
snapping the whip, who is saying no, and who is saying go…

Yet when books are run out of school classrooms and even out of school libraries as a result of this idea… I tell kids… Don’t get mad, get even. Don’t spend time waving signs or carrying petitions around the neighborhood. Instead, run, don’t walk, to the nearest nonschool library or to the local bookstore and get whatever it was that they banned. Read whatever they’re trying to keep out of your eyes and your brain, because that’s exactly what you need to know.

-Stephen King

What’s your favorite banned/ challenged book? Are you reading anything in honor of the week?

Related Posts:

Words Have Power

Don’t Ban Eleanor & Park

SaveSave