November 02, 2012

Go. Read. Think.

I've heard authors say, “Well, we can’t take responsibility for what a reader will take from a book. It could be anything.”

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris could have been reading Judy Moody just as easily as The Catcher in the Rye.

It's a tempting idea for anyone who has ever written anything. You write what you write. Readers take whatever they want from it. May the reader beware.

No one blame Author X if kids start filleting one another in the woods (or Author Y if they start fellating).

That is absolutely fair. But as any workshop or football coach will tell you, don't accept the compliments if you won't believe the criticism.

Probably one of the more interesting discussions you'll have with yourself today: are YA novels getting edgier? And, if teens are responding with increasingly edgy behavior, is it the fault of the authors? Do we hold books responsible? Do books have a power for evil? Because, surely we all agree that books have the power for good... don't we???? Caveat lector at CBC Diversity.


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I look at the whole question very differently. I think of literature as more descriptive than prescriptive. It drives me nuts when people look at books about experiences that occur in the real world and think that the problem is the BOOK, not the real-world experience (be it rape, eating disorders, drug addiction, etc.).

Books reflect those parts of our society that we allow them to reflect. Every society pretends certain situations or people don't exist and thus seeks to keep them out of its literature. Those of us who fight censorship are fighting for the literature to be allowed to reflect as much as possible what exists in our world, in our fantasies, in our fears and imaginations.

I don't think that fiction functions as a recipe book for either good or evil. I think it reflects, and thus serves as a source of recognition. Therefore, I think that what "saves," if literature ever saves anyone, is that simple recognition that we are not alone; we are part of a larger world. And it's why I think, at the same time, that most worries about books as bad influences are misplaced.

tanita✿davis said...

I wrote a long answer over at CBC, and I think Blogger ate it. In essence, I disagree with the whole structure of the question, because I don't think books are a power for good -- I think the "warm glow" that an author might claim from getting a "you saved me" email isn't theirs to accept. People save themselves, in a manner of speaking. And you're right - if we truly accept books as mirrors/windows, then we are showing the world as it is, not SuperBadEdgyOhNoes vs. Good...

I do enjoy thinking about this, though, and I'm always appreciative of your reasoned responses, Jen.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I was also thinking, "People save themselves." Yes. I believe that (and also that, unfortunately, they sometimes harm themselves). I do think literature is valuable and it's essential to my own life, but is that "saving?" Pondering ...

Just thought of an analogy and I wonder if it works. So here's a thought experiment:
If you make a hammer, and someone says, "Oh, thanks for making this wonderful hammer; it worked perfectly and enabled me to build this desk!" you can be proud of your hammer, but you know you can't take credit for building the desk. And then if some poor soul says, "I smashed my finger with your hammer!" who bears the blame for the injury?
Just came up with that, so I'm not sure it works 100% as an analogy, but it brings up some points that may be useful.

This could be a whole forum or panel discussion in itself! Thanks for bringing it up.

tanita✿davis said...

In comments on the post, Gabrielle Prendergast likened the books to food - unless you're Muslim or Jewish, there is no food that is inherently "bad." All of it will enable you to survive on a deserted island. All of it might also contribute to indigestion/obesity/heartburn or, say, choking on that island.

This really is provoking thought.