Hey there, book nerds!
I’m coming to you today with several thoughts swirling around my head — and I need your help!As many of you know I’m participating in #ContemporaryAThon and selected my reads in advance. I started my third book today and was shocked to encounter a sentence on PAGE 1 that literally made me put the book down. Now, I’ll admit maybe I misinterpreted the writer’s intention. Maybe I missed the joke? Maybe it’s not only no where near the level of gross it felt to me but also not offensive at all? I’ve posted the blurb below so you can judge for yourselves: In case you can’t read the passage due to picture quality it’s a paragraph devoted to the beloved “Would You Rather” game. It starts out innocently enough: Nothing but fish sticks for meals or nothing but N*SYNC garb to wear? (Personally, I’d rock the N*SYNC paraphernalia, but that’s just me!) But then the game took a dark turn and gave us the sentence that inspired this book chat: (Would You Rather) “French kiss your dog, Dali, OR have sex with Chaka, the Special Ed. King?” Basically implying: you know what’s more disgusting the idea of tonguing your pet or having sex with a special needs individual? Absolutely tasteless, right?? Again, maybe I’m TOTALLY reading this wrong and it’ll be explained in latter pages, BUT this is the world you presented on PAGE 1 with no additional context clues to assume differently. I read this — repeatedly out of shock — and set the book down. And as I sat in my car I started to wonder: Should I be offended by this? Am I allowed to be? Which sparked a long chain of follow-up questions:
1) Does time play a factor?
This particular novel was published 17-years ago when the “P.C. Culture” wasn’t as prevalent. Should that be factored into my reading experience today?
2) If time ISN’T a factor than does genre add some weight? Had this not been a YA contemporary, but a “classic” instead would that have made it “better?”
For example plenty of “classics” are riddled with racism, homophobia, slurs, and a slew of otherwise offensive themes by today’s standards. From Ma hating the Indians in Little House to the N-word-filled Huck Finn. Does their distance from today’s narrative and considered genre play a part in how we analyze their stories?
3) Are there certain offensive ideologies that are “allowed” or “necessary” for growth?
Tons of scholars, librarians, etc come to the aid of “banned” books stating that their questionable content is essential to the development of the human experience. That we need to understand the world — and its prejudices — in their uncensored form in order to learn and evolve past it.
4) Piggybacking off #3, is it acceptable if the majority of people don’t find the material offensive? What about if it’s written by OWNVOICE authors?
Several meetings were held in my home state when a certain school district banned Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give for it’s “obscene and offensive language and themes.” I remember rolling my eyes at the debates being thrown against THUG, but (playing devil’s advocate) why are my opinions more valid than theirs? Does the fact that it was written by an ownvoice author play a role in what content is okay to read?
5) Should these instances affect our overall ratings and reviews for these books?
Whether you believe genre/time period matters or not — should their presence in the material affect or sway your overall rating for the book?
At the end of the day I know there’s no right or wrong answers, but this fueled a fire in my belly that’s yet to be put out. I’d love to hear your thoughts and see how the rest of my beloved community responds to this topic and the questions posed. Looking forward to your thoughts!
And, as always: Happy Reading!