I am almost fifty five years old. In my entire life, in two countries, I’ve never come across a book so dangerous it couldn’t be read. I’ve never come across an idea so dangerous it couldn’t be debated. And I’ve never come across a book that while being read went out and hurt other people.
In fact the only books I ever heard say one shouldn’t read or it would hurt people if one read it, it was because some group, often some government thought that the ideas in those books could hurt them.
Most such books were very silly. I’ve read the communist manifesto. No sane human being who has read in the world of humans and understands other humans can read that utter piece of delusion without laughing out loud. Unless that human being knows the graves that piece of nonsense has filled. But the people who fall for its honeyed nonsense are not rational people. They’re people broken in the same way its author was broken: little people hungry for power and sure everyone else had what was due to them. It wasn’t reading the words that broke them. They would have broken anyway.
I’ve never read Mein Kampf. No one I knew growing up owned a copy. People I trust tell me it’s remarkably silly and also hard to read, unless the translator does a fantastic job. At some point or other I might skim it. Not that I think it will convinced me, but because I think one should have an idea what’s in it. In fact, I’m fairly sure it won’t convince me. People did not fall in behind Hitler because of the words in that book, but because of the Brown shirts, the show of strength, the fear their country and their people weren’t central to the world as they always thought they were. (And since I’ve been reading about the genesis of the German people, I have a little more insight on how badly that would rub Germans wrong.)
I read Friedrich Nietzsche which in a recent mystery show I watched was portrayed as the gateway to becoming a serial killer. I was actually 12 when I read him, and he struck me as very silly. I read Camus at about the same time. I read Ayn Rand. Only Jean Paul Sartre put me off his reading. Something about his writing and his way of expressing things and seeing humanity was like being submerged in toxic sludge. But I wouldn’t say other people SHOULDN’T read him. On the contrary. I think he’s given a great deal of power and credit he doesn’t deserve.
I can’t say any one book changed my mind or made me a better or worse person.
Heinlein did change me, but it was subtle and overtime, and mostly he changed me less by telling me what to think than my asking questions that simply weren’t asked in the society I was born and raised in “to whom does tax money actually belong?” and “why should the common person not have the right to defend himself, when criminals don’t care if guns are illegal, because they are — duh — criminals?”
Those questions over time changed me into who I am, but you know, I was not and I’m not sure that what I believe would even have Heinlein’s approval, much less his endorsement. And as much as I admire him, I have problems with several of his ideas like the fact he views humans as a net drain on the Earth and believed Malthus’s old lies. (Though it was mixed, of course. All real humans are. His characters were very life affirming.) And I don’t believe his marriage arrangements would work for a majority or even a significant minority of the population. Oh, I’m not against them, understand. If you’re one of the few for whom it does work, be my guest. There is too little happiness in this world to be restricting the ways in which people find it. I just don’t think, humans not being bonobos, it’s the natural, untutored way of mankind, where we’d all go except for preachers and repressive societies. But he was a man of his time and upbringing, as we all are. Which means some of the things he believed he was rational on, were actually the blinders of his time and situation. To his credit he knew it, and he advocated reading widely, both fiction and non-fiction, and experiencing others thoughts as much as possible to knock out the blind spots in yours.
I took him at his word. For fun I’ve read fiction by everyone from deep racists (and no one does racism as well as the elites of the nineteenth century. Not all, of course, but the baseline for “not racist” was in a place we’d now consider racist) to modern science fiction feminists.
I will not read a book that won’t hold my attention but other than that, I will read writers of any political stripe. I even like some authors whose basic outlook on life makes me want to pound my head on a wall until it breaks. I rather enjoyed the Left Hand Of Darkness. I read it three times. Once for the book, once for magnificent character development (I’ve been trying to pull that trick of making the reader hate the character, then prove the reader wrong and break his heart for a long time. It’s a hard one) and once to yell at the book “Biology doesn’t work like that.” and “that’s not how an hermaphrodite human race would work.” and “you’ve been blinded by stupid feminism.”
(It’s the book that started me writing a — duh — world with a bio-engineered hermaphrodite race. (Bio engineered for equality and peace. It …. doesn’t work that way.) I wrote eight very bad books in that world. Hey, I started at 14. Reading them wouldn’t hurt you, except in the sense I didn’t know my craft. Yes, that world will be revisited… maybe next year, if I can stop being interrupted by health crisis and actually write. Probably indie because my goal is not actually to drive my publisher insane. I swear.)
I’m often offended by lying history, which is why I stopped reading Anne Rice at Queen of the Damned. Oh, it’s lying biology too, but I could give her that, its being fantasy. I’m not going to tell you not to read it, though. As long as you realize she was pulling history from ass, it’s not a bad set of books. Yeah, even if you prefer to set vampires on fire. She does setting really well. Makes it a character. Good idea to read it.
The point is, that books I deeply disagree with, but which are still interesting, I read. Most of the time the worst they do is make me roll my eyes and go “yeah, that is the problem” when the author intrudes upon the action to explain how everything would be solved by a sufficient application of Marx. At best, sometimes, they make me see that they might kind of, sort of, have a point. Or at least, as with Heinlein’s ideas on marriage, reading him makes me go “Uh, yeah, I understand how with his history and living when he did–” And that is good.
Look, unless you believe — as mom would put it — that you are pregnant with truth, and know all the ultimate dos and don’ts of mankind, so that you’ll be forever vindicated, yay and verily, world without end, even if you’re fairly sure that your set of beliefs is the “closest to right humans can get” you know that people believed differently in the past and likely (if you’re not an idiot and understand humans and history) will believe differently in the future. Reading different opinions allows you to see how other people can believe what they do. (Even if sometimes it just causes you to say “against stupidity the gods themselves strive in vain.”) This not only allows you to test your own beliefs against the flint of other minds, it allows you to turn your insight into them into introspection and say “maybe this thing I believe is not so much right, but simply what I believe due to this blindspot.” (It is entirely possible I find the idea of group marriage weird because I’m a deep introvert, who for a long time thought she couldn’t even do a conventional marriage, because I need so much “getting away and being by myself” time. Turns out marrying another introvert works. Also, with time you get okay with having him in your space all the time. You can sit there and read next to him and recharge as well — better — than when alone. Am I sure this is my blind spot? No. I think the whole idea of group marriage is psychologically too taxing. But I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible it’s JUST my view. Hence, ladies and gentlemen, why I say you should be free to try it. I just don’t think it will ever be a thing of the majority.)
And I’ll be honest, absent magic, I can’t understand how someone reading a book, or even making a book a bestseller — EVEN IF THE BOOK IS BIGOTED AGAINST A GROUP OF PEOPLE — hurts anyone. Dan Brown didn’t cause the Catholic Church to collapse in a heap. Oh, sure, it lent some fire to pre-existing hatred of the Catholic Church among Protestant denominations. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion haven’t caused Judaism to go extinct. Sure, they lent ammo to some very idiotic people who ALREADY wanted to believe the worst of Jews. Both bits of hatred pre-existed the books. Reading them or making them bestsellers didn’t physically run out and kill people or even cause people to say mean things.
This is why this entire dumpster fire annoys me. It annoys me all the more because you know and I know that it happens all the time. I’ve been subjected to this insanity as have my books.
To put it succinctly for those — you lucky few — not following at home: YA author wrote a book in which the character gradually overcomes racism. It honestly seems to all intents and purposes a Politically Correct, innocuous book, which was getting the push such books get UNTIL someone decided that portraying a character who started out prejudiced WAS prejudiced, and that the book was therefore the worst thing ever, and the author was racist, and no one should read it because they’d become tainted.
And then there’s this crap — this crap right here:
Author Tristina Wright was one of several who condemned would-be readers of called-out books, while young readers followed suit.
“Imagine being so privileged you care about your own entertainment more than the hurt of marginalized people,” one tweeted, while another declared, “Reading a book specifically because it’s been called out for racism doesn’t make you a champion of independent thought. It makes you racist.”
Say it with me, ladies and gentlemen: no book ever on being read reached out and PHYSICALLY hurt any marginalized (or none marginalized. Or purple with stripes and three heads) people. Reading a book can cause you to agree with it, disagree with it, change your mind or become entrenched in your own prejudices, but it DOES NOT HURT ANYONE. The Necronomicon is fictional, okay? Reading a book does not open a pathway to the nether realms.
It can’t even be that Ms. Wright thinks reading the book will make people “racist” since the character sees her errors as the book progresses. So why is she doing this? I tell you why. This totalitarian wanna be enjoys the power she has to destroy the career of, honestly, probably a fellow traveler, and to keep emotional bubble children like this one from reading whatever she decides is double plus ungood this week:
Mimi, the teen blogger who had once been so excited about The Black Witch, was among those who urged others to avoid the book, writing on her website and Twitter about the emotional pain it had caused her. She still hasn’t read it, and doesn’t plan to; she feels that Sinyard’s review tells her all she needs to know. “I trusted her take on it. She showed pictures from the book, and certain passages in the book, so it’s not like she was making it up,” Mimi says. And in the wake of the book’s release on May 2, Mimi is upset by the lack of response from Harlequin and galled by descriptions of the novel as pro-diversity and anti-prejudice. “I wanted the author and publisher to understand that there were people who were hurt by this,” she says. “But [Forest] says her book is for diversity, anti-homophobia, anti-racism, and it’s poking fun at all of us, like we did this all for nothing.”
It’s about doing this “for something” and the something is the power of the Puppet Masters.
Mimi is a teen and so we must excuse her twerpitude. You have to go through miles and miles of twerpitude before you finally, perhaps, arrive at being a worthwhile human being at some point.
But unfortunately she’s joined by many so called adults. I’ve heard my own books referred to as “racist, sexist, homophobic” (always in that order, yes) and this given as reason not to read them, because you know, quotes pulled out of context totally tell you what a book is about. Take the sainted Handmaid’s tale, which like most Margaret Atwood I’ve never managed to read, because you know, the world building suspends my disbelief till the neck breaks. Also she has literary pretensions. I’m sure her book contains not a single anti-woman quote if taken out of context, right? That mystery I read last week certainly had a straw man walking around all over saying how women were inferior. And it was CLEARLY meant to make us think the opposite.
If you’re so emotionally fragile that a sentence that goes against your beliefs will forever destroy your psyche; if you’re such a primitive that you think the magical process of reading a book hurts someone; or if you’re a born slave, who thinks other people should control what you read and think and know, then you’re probably marching on the side of people who want the past bricked up and taken down, and put behind walls, so as to give unthinking children like our Mimi above the impression that what they think and what they know (pitiful little as it is) is the only right thought and was always, forever, in the eternal now.
On the other hand, if you’re a free man or woman, or aspire to be, read whatever you want. Do not let the howls of outrage from petty totalitarians and their unthinking thralls lead you to either read or not read something. READ WHATEVER YOU WANT. THINK WHATEVER YOU WANT ABOUT IT. WRITE WHATEVER YOU WANT.
I’m free to declare your thoughts repugnant and you a wanna-be Puppet Master who wishes control human minds (which I also consider repugnant. In fact, vomit inducing) BUT I will not declare that you should not read whatever you want to, or write whatever you want to, and that whoever who wants to read you and finds you amusing should read you, whether or not they agree with you.
Most “scary books” turn out to be either boring or laughable. Some are mildly amusing.
Only people without the ability to think or discern reality think reading something is scary or mind-altering.
Humans grow by testing their thought against other humans. Prevent them from doing this and they remain eternal infants.
“For the first time in my life, I was reading things which had not been approved by the Prophet’s censors, and the impact on my mind was devastating. Sometimes I would glance over my shoulder to see who was watching me, frightened in spite of myself. I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy…censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to it’s subjects, This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know, the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked, contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything—you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.”
― Robert A. Heinlein.