I love reading and I’m a fan of many different genres and categories. I enjoy reading about different characters, situations, and worlds.
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” Oscar Wilde
I feel like I see a lot of articles and posts about the book world and publishing industry that focus on the types of values we want more of in books, particularly YA because it’s just a popular age category. And I agree a lot with the fact that we need more of strong female characters, role models, and diverse characters from diverse authors. I’ve posted about strong female characters before and my thoughts are similar on the topic of diversity in characters and authors.
While I agree with the things we need more of, I don’t think that books need to, are expected to, and should only do certain things in order to be valued. I appreciate aspects of books when they do include things I respect, like strong female characters, but I don’t think all books have to feature strong female characters in order to be relevant. Books, in my opinion, have one job and that is to be well written. An author need only to write his or her book with a good story worth telling in mind.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” Salman Rushdie
I feel like I’m living in a world where instead of just applauding things we like, we demand that there be more of it. In that mindset, we don’t just recommend books with things we like and promote them from time to time, we demand that there be more of them and demand that authors write more of them. We admit that maybe other things are good, but it doesn’t have that aspect we are all about right now, so it’s not as good, or at least, if it is, it’s still not worth talking about. If we can push for something and create a catchy hashtag for a movement or push, we do that. Maybe simplifying issues just leaves less room for actual discussions.
I know that the big picture is that if we demand more of something, publishing industries will comply. I don’t know much about the publishing industry as a whole and what kind of prejudices exist. I know only that it’s difficult to get a book published. Maybe it’s necessary to pressure the industry because no other type of encouragement works. But it rubs me the wrong way that I see such a plethora of articles about what we need more of in books. It happened after The Hunger Games craze when everyone demanded characters be more Katniss-like in YA because she’s the best role model for young girls. I feel like that devalues other books with other kinds of characters. There are many kinds of people in the world and I love that we can encounter nearly all types of people in fiction. Not all books have to have role models anyway. By demanding more of a kind of character, I feel like it puts pressure on authors to write books that feature only things we aspire to be or things worth looking up to instead of writing fiction that serves other purposes.
“The important task of literature is to free man, not to censor him, and that is why Puritanism was the most destructive and evil force which ever oppressed people and their literature: it created hypocrisy, perversion, fears, sterility.” Anne Frank
I know it’s normal in society for us to what more of things we like. Pressure for more isn’t necessarily demanding less of everything else, but I feel like sometimes it’s close. It makes us look away from the less obvious choices, when perhaps the book in our hands is full of strength and diverse characters, it just isn’t advertised on the cover.
I know people are just suggesting what they want more of and not trying to ban books or censor content and I think most readers agree that those behaviors of unacceptable. But I know how easily our opinions are manipulated by media articles and what we share on social media. It’s easy to create an issue or bring attention to issues and there’s little room to do anything other than agree. And that’s the weird thing. I do agree with the articles and movements I’m seeing about what there should be more of in books. I just think it’s unfair to promote, discuss, and focus only on one thing, like strong female characters and assume that “everyone else” will continue to focus on the other books.
Still, something rubs me the wrong way about the push I see to demand more of x, y, and z in books. I only demand that people continue to write good books. I wish there was less of certain aspects and more of others, but I don’t care that those books are or aren’t happening. Authors have no duty to give me anything other than a good story and I’m sure in any good story, I’ll find things of value in it.
“Bring on the controversy. I write real life. It’s harsh and sometimes gritty, but it’s real. Why should we tip toe around that?” Shandy L. Kurth
It’s time, in my opinion, to look at good books and see how the characters are strong, complex, and compelling. It’s time to look at how the characters are compelling or diverse, regardless of what cultural background or race they are. If we really look at great books, we can see that, many times, we are already reading what we want.
When I stop to think about the books with diverse characters or stronger female characters, I’m realizing just how many of them I’ve read and loved without even going out of my way to seek those things out. It’s incredible and I think it says a lot about what is out there. I think I’d be a little more inclined to be all about any type of “we need more of this” attitudes if I looked at my shelves and saw something but white male authors and characters with spineless female leads. And I’m not really seeing that at all. I mean no disrespect to the diverse movement at all in books. I support it for many reasons. Perhaps this post is more about why I’m not re-sharing the content I see, despite fully loving the fact that I am seeing different characters, religions, cultures, lifestyles, etc in the books I’ve been reading.