Fiction or non? The question reminds me of the days of yore (i. e., the 1980s—my childhood) when restaurants would ask you, smoking or non? But much like those questionably-defined sections in restaurants, where the smoke would drift indiscriminately around, the question in writing of fiction or non? is not always easy to define.
Last week my writing group was working with the idea of truth in fiction, and I wrote a short story based on an experience that I had had in my life. It was fictionalized, but there I was, on the page, albeit with a different name. I rarely translate my memories so literally into my writing, so it was a strange feeling.
It gave me a chance to think about how reality and imagination collide and interact. And I remembered that, several years ago, in a storytelling class I was taking, my teacher wrote on the chalkboard a sentence that really struck me:
"Storytelling is the soul's speech and it is free to move between realities
of imagination and literal events."
I like this response to fiction or non? I wrote it down at the time because it felt freeing to think that I could move back and forth, that something could have elements of both literal life and imagination, and didn't have to be all one or the other.
When I was working on the writing group exercise, I was oddly preoccupied with finding an equal, 50/50 balance between the truth and the fiction, and it wasn't until afterwards that I thought to wonder why. Why not lean all-in to truth, and then have a fire-breathing monster appear? Why not write a vampire fantasy that your great-aunt suddenly shows up in? Why not have fun with it?
At the moment, I'm quite enjoying messing around with the interplay of truth and fiction. It lets me colour outside the lines a bit, and it keeps me from getting too serious.
Want to try it?
Writing Prompt 1: Write a short story/poem/vignette/essay about something that happened to you in your life, with a fictional twist.
Writing Prompt 2: Write a short story/poem/vignette/essay about a world where magic is real and commonly used, and insert something/someone from your lived experience into it.
Have fun, and happy writing!
As I keep mentioning, certain books feel like certain seasons to me. It could be for any number of reasons—that the book is set in that season, or it has descriptions evoking a specific time of year, or it is thematically linked to what I've come to think of as seasonal elements and energies. Whatever the reason, here are some of my top autumn reads, because 'tis the season.
1. Autumn by Ali Smith. Is this one a little too obvious? I'm putting it here anyway. If the cover by itself doesn't give you all of the autumn vibes then I just don't know. There are some lovely seasonal moments in here, but the beauty of this book is truly in the transcendent relationship between the elderly Daniel and the young Elisabeth.
2. Pretty much anything by Rainbow Rowell, but perhaps especially the graphic novel Pumpkinheads, and the two novels Fangirl and Attachments. The latter contains the following: "October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!"
3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Forget the Netflix series. Dig into this chilling book that will remind you what haunting REALLY it. A perfect Halloween read.
4. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott. Lest we get too comfy and cozy, this book is a beautifully-written and heartbreaking reflection on the legacy of colonization, told through the lens of Elliott's life experiences.
5. Lady Into Fox by David Garnett. An odd little tale, a bit haunting and more than a bit surreal. Published in 1922, it's the story of a man whose wife turns into a fox. Yep, that's what I said.
6. Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto. This one isn't so much about the season per se, as much as it evokes a feeling similar to that of your first day back at school—a kind of new beginning, but with that blend of melancholy and comfort that Yoshimoto does so well.
7. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. I wrote at length about this one in another post, but in a nutshell: it's witchy, it's earthy, it's uncanny. That checks all my autumn boxes.
8. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. A book vivid in imagery, folklore, magic, and history, Deathless will make you want to curl up by the fire with a hundred blankets, some piping hot black tea, and some sour cherry jam. It also features everyone's favourite witch, Baba Yaga. You can't go wrong with that!
If you have any favourite seasonal reads, I'd love to hear them.
Happy fall, and happy reading!
Today I read the teeniest-tiniest book. It's actually an essay, masquerading as a book. It's Ursula K. Le Guin's The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, and it is, for some reason, quite offensively purple (my copy, that is).
But let's not get distracted by the purple. Maybe you love purple. Maybe you even love purple the way that I love Ursula K. Le Guin.
I really believe that she was a true visionary—a unique thinker who was also very generous, and wise, and just a really, really good storyteller.
The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction has a pretty on-point title. Building on the theory that the first cultural inventions must have been some sort of containers (A leaf a gourd a shell a net a bag a sling a sack a bottle a pot a container. A holder. A recipient.), Le Guin puts forth the idea of the novel as a bag, something in which we can have space to carry and hold things.
I love this concept. And I love that it is in direct opposition to the notion of story as conflict, which she also declares is reductive nonsense.
I am a person who is endlessly drawn to fiction-writing, although plagued by the usual self-doubts and limiting beliefs, which have to be resolutely set aside daily in order to take up my pen. As a less-than-confident writer, I have read and listened to my fair share of writing how-to guides and advice, and have frequently come up against this idea that story=conflict. It has always stymied me. I write for love of language, to capture the slow moments of life, for its beauty and depth. Not for what Le Guin calls "the story that hid my humanity from me, the story the mammoth hunters told about bashing, thrusting, raping, killing, about the Hero."
And so I am 100% on board with the carrier bag theory of fiction. The idea that when the shape of narrative is a container and not a weapon, it can hold so much more, and that it "cannot be characterised either as conflict or as harmony, since its purpose is neither resolution nor stasis but continuing process."
Plus, she points out, the Hero isn't at his most attractive in this bag: "You put him in a bag and he looks like a rabbit, like a potato."
Remember when I said that Le Guin was a visionary? Well, she's a really, really down to earth one. I laugh-snorted, quite unattractively, the whole way through this essay, which is another reason why I love her.
It's a very female kind of idea, this carrier-bag-shape vs. that of the arrow or spear, and she references Elizabeth Fisher's book Women's Creation as the source of the phrase "carrier bag theory of evolution." I also love her idea as a subversive, feminist reclaiming of a story that is life-giving, rather than conquering.
My teeny-tiny edition, which was published by Ignota Books, includes an introduction by Donna Haraway, a feminist scholar and scientist who has the distinction of becoming the first ever tenured professor in feminist theory in the U.S., at the University of Santa Cruz. Haraway's introduction links the essay to three literal carrier bags, given to her by various women in Colombia during a working visit there in 2019. The connection between Le Guin's essay and the textile arts of the women in Colombia—who weave and sew and embroider as a way to facilitate healing, storytelling, and rebinding—is quite interesting. It's another layer to this tale. I feel it would have been better served as an afterword, once Le Guin has laid the foundation with her unparalleled skill, but it is a thought-provoking inclusion nevertheless.
And now off. As Le Guin says, there are stories to be told, things to be gathered and held like the precious and tiny and potent seeds that they are.
"I would go so far as to say that the natural, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings."
Well, it's that time of year again. The time when I reread Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes.
It's a book I always associate with autumn, although the story cycles through all of the seasons, and describes them in glorious and unpredictable ways. But there is something earthy and eerie and (quite literally) witchy about Lolly Willowes, that puts it firmly in the "autumn reads" camp for me.
Written in 1926, it's the tale of Laura, or "Lolly" Willowes, who is one of those unfortunate women deemed superfluous by society. At forty-seven, she has lived only by the whims of other people, and she awakens one day to a great calling for something different.
Let me give you a taste:
Laura looked at the bottled fruits, the sliced pears in syrup, the glistening red plums, the greengages. She thought of the woman who had filled those jars and fastened on the bladders. Perhaps the greengrocer's mother lived in the country. A solitary old woman picking fruit in a darkening orchard, rubbing her rough fingertips over the smooth-skinned plums, a lean wiry old woman, standing with upstretched arms among her fruit trees as though she were a tree herself, growing out of the long grass, with arms stretched up like branches. It grew darker and darker; still she worked on, methodically stripping the quivering taut boughs one after the other.
As Laura stood waiting she felt a great longing. It weighed upon her like the load of ripened fruit upon a tree.
Can you see it? Can you feel it? That description does something to my soul. I love the image of the solitary old woman, transforming into an upwards-reaching tree, rooted in the orchard that she knows and loves and works, connected to the earth, darkening with the day.
As I type these words, outside of my window coppery and crimson leaves are fluttering to the ground, shaken from their boughs by a gentle but persistent wind. After reading about Laura, the scents and sights and textures of her countryside, and her strange, vivid imaginings, I set the book aside and notice the textures of my own world.
The air has still a summer-sweet scent lingering in it, yet there is a promise of coldness to come. The sky above is blanketed with clouds, but the weave of the blanket is loose—deep blue sky peeks through, between and around the cloud shapes. Crickets are singing and a bumblebee hovers near, sounding strangely loud in the silence. A woodpecker tap-tap-taps the nearest tree. The falling leaves make space in the canopy where light streams through, making shadows dance on the ground.
But let me not deceive you: Lolly Willowes is not an innocent, nature-loving read. It has an undercurrent of unease, and it turns sharply towards the wild and the uncanny once you are immersed. I wasn't lying when I said it was witchy, in every sense of the word.
It's the perfect book for fall, as you watch the trees transform, and smell the decaying leaves.
It's clear to anyone who has read a Rainbow Rowell book that the woman loves autumn. And so it feels fitting today, this particularly fall-ish Sunday, when the air is crisp and a handful of trees are starting to turn to crimson and gold, to talk a bit about my favourite of her books, Fangirl.
It's the story of Cath, a shy, bookish type embarking on her first year at university. Cath's twin sister, Wren, has ditched her, opting to have a stranger for a roommate and to fling herself into the social aspects of school. Cath feels abandoned, and terrified. She's not good at the social aspects. And by default, she too now has a stranger (the intimidating Reagan) for a roommate.
Cath has one thing that anchors her, though. She writes fanfiction—and she's really, really good at it.
I love this book for a lot of reasons: it's funny, it's touching and romantic, it tackles some hard issues like mental health and family dysfunction in a deceptively light way, and it draws you into its world with deftly woven-in details of place and time. Oh, and did I mention it's funny? Rainbow Rowell excels at dialogue; she's a master of the snark with the heart of gold:
"I feel sorry for you, and I'm going to be your friend."
"I don't want to be your friend," Cath said as sternly as she could. "I like that we're not friends."
"Me, too," Reagan said. "I'm sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic."
But I also have another reason for loving Fangirl.
I discovered fanfiction in my first year at university. But unlike Cath, I did not write fanfiction, nor did I speak of it to anyone. It felt like a guilty pleasure, or something I should be slightly embarrassed about.
It seems silly now. Over the years I have read a lot of fanfiction that has blown my socks off in terms of the quality of the writing. It's a delight to find a community of people who are creative, true, and die-hard fans of something that you also love with all your heart. And it's a delight to be able to immerse yourself in a new way in a world that you don't want to leave just yet.
Fanfiction is also remarkable for the fact that those who create it—who spend hours and hours crafting their stories, nailing character voices and nuances, and imagining new layers to fictional worlds—do so entirely for the joy of it. They will never be paid for their work, by its very nature, because it is riffing off of someone else's intellectual property. They do it out of love.
Even knowing all of this, it wasn't until I read Fangirl that I realized that I could tell the world how much I loved fanfiction, and I feel deeply thankful to Rainbow Rowell for showing me the error of my ways.
Rowell herself has championed fanfiction writers, saying that she is inspired by them and has been for years. Her last two novels, Carry On and Wayward Son, are based on the fictional fantasy series that Cath wrote fanfiction about in Fangirl (and yet is not to be confused with the fictional fanfiction which Cath herself wrote for this fictional series, which is, as my mother would say, slightly "spaghetti-heading", but hey, I'm all for it).
If you haven't forayed into the world of fanfiction, let me encourage you to do so. Check out a couple of archives, such as An Archive of Our Own, and type in something that you love—a book, a movie, a television series, a video game—you might be surprised at the number of fandoms represented. In my time I've read some excellent fic for Harry Potter, Star Trek, A Song of Ice and Fire, the works of L. M. Montgomery, and even—you guessed it—Rainbow Rowell books.
And do track down a copy of Fangirl. As I said, autumn really is the time to read it, as evidenced by this gem of an exchange between Cath and Reagan's friend Levi, which—spoiler!—ends with Cath drinking a Pumpkin Mocha Breve (light on the mocha):
"Look at you. All sweatered up. What are those, leg sweaters?"
"They're leg warmers."
"You're wearing at least four different kinds of sweater."
"This is a scarf."
"You look tarred and sweatered."
"I get it," she said.
Happy Reading! I hope you love Cath and Reagan and Levi as much as I do.
I have worn many hats in my time.
When I was very young, and people would ask me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I would always answer without hesitation: I wanted to be a writer. I wrote stories all the time. I kept lists of names that I liked in a little notebook (back then, my preference was for rhyming names, like "Trixie" and "Dixie").
Over the years, though, my certainty wavered. When it came time to decide my post-secondary path, I took my acceptance letter to U of T, with its acclaimed creative writing program that I had read all about, and I pitched it into the back of my closet. I was scared. I was unsure.
Fast forward twenty or so years, and I've been many things—aimless student, food service drudge, salesperson, yoga teacher, administrator, expressive arts facilitator, production worker. And now, having just turned 40, I have come full circle back to my first love: writing, and all things literary.
Aside from this blog, another of my bookish projects is a podcast, Story Girls, that I created and co-host with my good friend Elisha. Two nights ago we recorded an episode on one of my all-time favourite books--Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers.
There is a lot going on in this fabulous, funny, deep, wise, clever, entertaining novel. In the podcast, we do a deep dive into the crafting of the mystery, the building of the romance, and the fact that this is widely regarded as the first feminist mystery novel. We joked that our whole podcast up to this point was just so that we could record this episode, because there is so much to say, and we love this book so much.
But there is one aspect that—although it does come up briefly—we didn't really dig into. And that is the theme running through this book about "doing your proper job."
Several characters have conversations about this. Harriet Vane, the protagonist, is adamant about it. She believes that everyone is suited to a particular kind of work, and therefore that particular kind of work is "their job." One should do one's own job, she asserts, no matter what it is. If there are obstacles in your way, too bad. You have a duty to your vocation.
Another character, Miss de Vine, claims that you can tell what your job is by the kind of mistakes that you make. She says that although there will always be surface mistakes, you never make fundamental mistakes about the thing that matters most to you.
It's a fascinating idea, and especially right now, as I navigate a career change and a whole boatload of uncertainty, I am thinking about it a lot. I wonder if my life would have gone differently if I had read this book in my teens or early twenties instead of my late thirties. Would I have resisted throwing that U of T letter into the depths of my closet? Would I have stuck with my education instead of dropping out? Would I not now be staring back at the past 20 years and trying not to feel like I wasted a couple of decades, when my 8-year old self could have set me straight about wanting to be a writer?
Dorothy L. Sayers was a remarkable woman in many ways. This theme in Gaudy Night makes me wonder about her musings on this topic, and about how she came to have such certainty and confidence.
Part of it, at least, must have been growing up in the era that she did. One of the things that makes Gaudy Night a feminist story is that a main conflict in the novel is the choice between living the "life of the heart" or the "life of the mind." Back then, women were not allowed to work after they married. So one had a very distinct choice between marriage and career. Of course, today this is certainly not a simple issue, and the myth of "having it all" is something else entirely. But for Dorothy L. Sayers, and countless other educated women, they very likely thought about this a lot, because it was a cut-and-dried choice that they were required to make. To be a scholar, or a wife; to have a career, or a family? How did one choose? I'm sure it led to more than one conversation among the women students about what their "proper job" was.
Dorothy L. Sayers took a shot at having it all. As an independent author, she was not subject to the restrictions of a workplace that outlawed marriage. She did eventually marry, although her marriage was ultimately unhappy. She also had a child with a man she was not married to (high scandal back in 1924), and that was a source of pain as well, as her cousin adopted the baby, and he grew up ignorant of his true parentage.
So if we take a look at the belief espoused by the character Miss de Vine in Gaudy Night, that "if there's any subject in which you're content with the second-rate, then it isn't really your subject", we might be tempted to argue that Dorothy L. Sayers was taking more trouble with the life of the mind than with the life of the heart. After all, her creative output was an unqualified success.
For myself, I don't know. It's certainly true that I have made some "fundamental mistakes" in my life. It's also true that none of them have been book-related (unless you count that time I tried to read The Blind Assassin).
At this point in my life, I'm inclined to agree with DLS, Harriet, and Miss de Vine. Every person may not have a strong calling to something, but if you do, I believe it is your responsibility to follow it. If you don't, it will only chase after you anyway. It may never be your career, your main source of income, or your ticket to a life of luxury. But it will probably fulfill you in a way that nothing else will.
"But one has to make some sort of choice," said Harriet. "And between one desire and another, how is one to know which things are really of overmastering importance?"
"We can only know that," said Miss de Vine, "when they have overmastered us."
"Real life is lived when tiny changes occur." - Leo Tolstoy
My home is filled with hand-me-downs. This is not ONLY because I like the vintage look (I do), or because I've never had the means to buy new furniture (I haven't), but also because I like to be surrounded by items that remind me of my loved ones, and that make me feel connected to the past.
In the bedroom that I have repurposed for a home office, I have a small, 3-shelf bookcase, made of particleboard, that once sat in my grandma's bedroom. It is filled with many of the same actual books that once belonged to her, because one of the things that we shared was a love of reading, and I developed many of my literary tastes at her knee.
But one new feature of this bookcase, now that it sits in my home instead of hers, is that among the novels are kept the many volumes of my grandma's personal diaries.
Of these many volumes, only two of them are journal-style, by which I mean the kind of thoughtful, rambling writing that we tend to associate with journal-writing. The majority of her diaries are those short, squat, 5-year diaries with locks that flop open, the keys long gone. These are the types of books that have four lines per day and a partial date at the top for you to fill in the last two digits of the year.
I've seen these types of diaries very much poo-pooed by those who are proponents of the journaling process. They are dismissed as prescribed, as overly practical, and as too restrictive to allow the writer to get very deep into their thoughts and feelings. Who cares, seems to be the implication, what you did that day, or what the weather was like?
Well, I do, for one. These short, regular jottings record so many of life's details. I don't know how my grandma regarded this daily ritual—she must have gotten something out of it, for she kept these diaries faithfully for decades. But I know that for myself, when I am anxious, or stressed, or grieving, there is nothing more comforting or calming to me than to open up one of her diaries from the 1960s or 1970s, and read about my grandma's daily chores on the farm, or her social visits, or her choir practice schedule.
My typical routine is to turn to the page that corresponds to the date I am reading it on, and see what she said about the weather. Her brief daily writing always included the weather at the end, even if she had to squeeze it in along the edges: "bright, cold"; "gloomy & wet"; "mild, windy"; "lovely sun & cloud". I get a real sensation of her lived days, as well as her mood and feelings—don't ever let someone tell you that you can't imbue four lines of writing with your personality!—by reading these pages.
Polaroids from the farm, circa 1980s
Sometimes we want to sit and write down our thoughts and feelings at length—to let it be messy, cathartic, exploratory, descriptive, or wordy.
Other times that feels overwhelming, or too time-consuming, or like rehashing a problem we already feel exhausted about. In those cases, I think that a four-line-a-day diary routine could be just the ticket to keep the fingers nimble and the inkwell from running dry.
There is something bewitching about keeping a record of the little details in life, those things that probably culminate in patterns, and may otherwise go unnoticed. I recently began keeping a reading list in a notebook of every book that I read. I love to write about books (obviously!) but I don't need to write a full blog post about every single book I finish. I save these for the really special ones. Nevertheless, there are lots of reasons why I like the idea of a reading journal that is a simple list, with a star next to titles that I particularly loved. I am thinking of starting another simple diary, to record the daily weather, or maybe the daily clouds.
I feel like it's a way to practice being more open-eyed, more alive. And it's also a way to practice crafting with words. Choosing just a handful of select words to express the exact feel of the day is something I am interested in experimenting with.
Thanks for being an inspiration, Grandma. <3
So I had this dream. In my dream I was on a stage, and I was really belting it out. The dream is fuzzy (as dreams are), but I think I was singing—which is not something that I do in my waking hours, except maybe at home, for fun, when only my cats can hear me.
Anyway, singing or speaking: that's not the point. The point is, that in my dream, I was filled with this enormous sensation of freedom and joy. It was expansive and powerful, and I woke up with a lingering feeling that there was meaning to all of this confusion called life. It was sublime.
I don't normally have such profound dreams. Typically my dreams are more of the absurd muddle-of-people-and-places, late-for-something, unexpected-test variety. So this dream was pretty special. And I don't need a dream analyst to tell me where it came from. It came directly from the pages of Elizabeth Acevedo's novel-in-verse The Poet X.
The evening before dreaming this uplifting dream, I had finished reading The Poet X. Because it is a novel-in-verse, it was a quick read, and I had let its rhythm carry me like a wave through the narrative in one afternoon.
The Poet X was my introduction to both its author, Elizabeth Acevedo, as well as to the novel-in-verse form. I discovered that not only did the verse keep me reading, pulsing from one beat to the next, but that the author is an exceptionally skilled storyteller.
This is the story of Xiomara, who is a teenager living in Harlem. Xio is a poet, and an incredibly insightful, fierce, tender, and indomitable heroine. Xio's story is one of having the courage to let your voice be heard—in the face of pain, in the face of family, in the face of everything you have been taught.
The narrative grapples with religion, abuse, loyalty, authenticity, misogyny, prejudice, love, and friendship. Xio's story is not an easy one. At about three quarters of the way through the book I was sobbing into the pages, but still not able to stop reading. And by the end I was so immersed that I could feel the exhilaration, and the unstoppable force that was Xio.
It moved me so much that I experienced it all over again in my dreams that night.
And THIS, my friends, is what I loved about The Poet X, and what I love love love about reading books in general.
Good books can transport you. My lived experience is pretty far from that of a teenaged Afro-Latina poet growing up in Harlem. And yet, this book carried me there, and shared with me a place and a time that I didn't really know before. I have now walked in Xio's shoes, and I have walked in the shoes of countless other protagonists throughout my life. My world has expanded because of them.
There are a bunch of studies floating around out there that link fiction-reading to empathy. For us readers, this does not come as a surprise. Reading connects us to the world, not as a homogenous whole, but as seen through the eyes of individual people. Characters like Xiomara open up our hearts, and show us a whole new perspective.
For me, it's one of the great joys of reading: getting to inhabit other worlds and other people. Getting to feel something down so deep that it turns up in your dreams.
I could go on and on about The Poet X, and its glorious fusion of rhythm and story, character and heart. But it'll be easier if you just go read it. I promise, you won't regret it.
Well, there is terribly exciting news in the internet land of feminism and literature: the highly entertaining, scholarly, and thought-provoking Harry Potter podcast Witch, Please is back for a reboot!
Let me back up.
In the past several months, J. K. Rowling has caused great harm, and dismayed many a fan—including myself—by turning up the volume on her problematic online rhetoric and doubling down on her cissexist and transantagonistic hate speech. Over the years, Rowling's bigotry has been steadily eroding my love of the Harry Potter books, to the point where I can no longer read them with pleasure. (Which really bums me out, because tbh, I love me some Fred and George Weasley.)
So I'm extra excited that self-tagged "lady scholars" Hannah McGregor and Marcelle Kosman have rebooted their podcast, because I know that they will have Some Things To Say about all of this. And I'm hoping that they can help me to walk this thorny path of loving something that has deep issues.
This is a question that I grapple with pretty regularly. My reading taste varies, but I would say that I tend to have a special love for older books. I love to explore the dustiest sections in used bookstores, and I am a big fan of small press publishers who print forgotten stories and authors (I'm looking at you, Handheld Press, Persephone Books, and Slightly Foxed).
But it is always jarring to be reading and enjoying some beautifully-told, nuanced tale written in an era past, and to be suddenly brought up short by a casual racial slur, or an attitude of misogyny, bigotry, or harm. Even in the best case scenarios, these older books are silent about significant groups of the population, thus contributing to the erasure of identity and experience.
So what to do with these texts? I feel that it is too simple to just say that they are a reflection of their time, and call it a day. Although that is certainly true, to dismiss their problems in this way does not address the harm that they potentially have had and could continue to have.
In episode 1 of the Witch, Please reboot, Hannah and Marcelle talk about the freedom of allowing yourself to acknowledge the problematic aspects of a text that you love. Rather than pushing them aside, they say, you can bring your whole self to your engagement with a book, and not have to cut off the part of you that is hurt by it. This is an idea that very much intrigues me.
As Witch, Please also acknowledges, the relationship between a reader and an author is complex—and perhaps a topic for a different post!
For now, I am working on figuring out how to engage fully with a text—both the good and the bad—without necessarily having to turn my back on it. It is difficult for me to reconcile aspects of a book that may contain both lyrical insights and harmful prejudice.
One of the ways in which I am grappling with this problem is by researching. When I read an older novel, and especially if there is something offensive in it, I research more about the time period, the author's experience, the cultural context, and the experiences of the marginalized groups of the time and place. I want to know how these particular prejudices came into the author's life. I want to know more about who is being excluded from this story, and why. This has led down some fascinating avenues of learning, and, even more exciting—to the discovery of more books, with different perspectives and stories of their own to tell.
It's certainly easier to engage with an entire text, with your entire self, if you are not already emotionally connected to it. A book series like Harry Potter, which many of us were very attached to before Rowling became overtly hateful, is harder to face.
But I'm hopeful that there is a way through, where we can find meaning and joy in a book, and at the same time call it out for falling down where it could have done better.