I Needed A Good Book As A Kid
When we talk about Literary Citizenship, it seems like we say a lot about making the world a better place for writers, and getting people interested in books. Which they definitely should be. But maybe we should start talking about how to make the world a better place for readers too. Let me explain. As a kid, reading was such an important part of my life. I read on the toilet, at recess, when I should have been sleeping, during church.
One series that I loved with all of my heart was A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. What made it so great was that Violet Baudelaire, the oldest, was a girl like me and she was the one who was generally in charge, saving the day, fixing everything. As a kid who was also, incidentally, a girl, and someone not very in control of the events in her life, this was the coolest of the cool to me. I gobbled by way through the entire series and then started looking for others like it.
What I found was a little disappointing. Most other books had male protagonists or were about things that didn’t interest me. I found one book with a woman in high heels, one leg cocked, holding shopping bags and decided to give it a shot. In one of my classes, some guys behind me saw the cover and started snickering. I was so embarrassed that I walked back to the library with it tucked under my arm, cover hidden, and turned it back in before I’d finished it. Laurel Snyder really does a better job of talking about this in her article than I do, but more or less the problem was that, despite the wonderful worlds that books could offer me, the culture surrounding them was making it hard for me as a reader.
We All Needed A Good Book
That was a really roundabout way to get to my point. What I mean to say is that books shape us. The things we read growing up teach us how to think and feel about ourselves and those around us. The books that we read now can open our minds to new ideas or teach us about things we might otherwise have never encountered. Why then couldn’t I find more books about women that didn’t make me feel ashamed to be seen with, or why did they have to be something I should have felt ashamed of in the first place? I know that those books are out there, and that people are out there who wouldn’t laugh or turn their noses up at certain genres. I think it’s our duties as readers and writers to help people find those books, and to recognize how important they are.
When I suggest books to my little brother or younger relatives, I try to think, “Which books would have been great for teaching me about gender roles and what a load of malarkey they are? Which books would have eased some of my confusion about liking boys and girls? Which books would have encouraged me to never let a romantic partner mistreat me instead of romanticizing it?” I want to promote books that I needed growing up. Or books that I read today and think, “Hey, yeah. That stuff.”
So what are some books that you needed and didn’t know about? What are some books that you had that helped you figure things out? And how are you making sure that other people know how great they are? Feel free to share your suggestions either in the comments or on Twitter with the hashtags #litcitizen and #THATbook, or follow @litcitizen (on tumblr too) where we will be posting ideas of our own.