“If I Were A Banned Book If I were a banned book, I’d be the dirty bits and the heaving breasts and the twisted sheets and the scented oils and the chains and rope and dripping candle wax. I would coax you into multiples, and I would urge you to invite another. I’d be the empty bottle of gin on the kitchen table. I’d promise to call, but never would. If I were a banned book, I’d tell you to challenge authority and question everything and demand answers. I’d tell you that the 1 percent is nothing without the rest of us labeling the 1 percent the 1 percent. I’d teach you to cook anarchy and embrace diversity and kiss your same-gender lover in public. If I were a banned book, I’d let you ask me about sex and growing up, and I’d sing the caged-bird songs, and I’d be each of the nobodies who would answer to the name nobody. I’d teach you to sail a raft and swim against tides and dance in towns where dances aren’t danced. If I were a banned book, I’d be the light on long-past midnight in your attic, and I’d be the cauldron around which dance witches and in which fire burns and toil and trouble doubles. If I were a banned book, I’d bring flowers to the grave of a mouse and I’d teach you that forever sometimes means forever and sometimes means less than forever but always means what forever will mean to you, then, at that moment. If I were a banned book, I’d be the secrets you write in your diary and I’d be the lies you write in your diary and I’d be the truths that you wish weren’t truths that you write in your diary. If I were a banned book, I’d be cupboards and wardrobes and the hidden door under a stairwell in which lives the boy who lived. I’d be beanstalks and magic shoes and godmothers, winged and otherwise. I’d be potion poultice poetry. I’d be words wings wizardry. If I were a banned book, I’d dance with insects outside of an enormous peach, and I’d race wolves in woods overgrown with ivy and snow. I’d be the substitute teacher who’d let you smoke cigarettes outside. I’d be the comic book hidden behind your history book. If I were a banned book, I’d urge you to go ask Alice, and wrinkle time, and ride in talking cars. Everyday, I’d crown a new king fly-lord, and everyday would be a good day to say goodbye to something. If I were a banned book, I’d be the Pigman and I’d be a Wallflower and I’d be the story of Sleeping Beauty, written under a penname. I’d kill mockingbirds and I’d talk about the things we talk about when we talk about things like death and love and sex and forever, which, as I already would have taught you, sometimes means less than forever but always mean what forever will mean to you, then, at that moment.”—William Henderson - Nov. 30, 2011
Liking David Foster Wallace Does Not Make You Smart
So I have A LOT OF FEELINGS about people who use their love of very particular kinds of literature to sort of “one up” people who like other kinds of fiction. Who dictate that if you like Book A instead of Book B, you are a plebeian sheep with a grade-school education. Or something.
A little background about myself, if you will allow me.
I have an English degree with a Creative Writing emphasis. My degree doesn’t mean much, but I did what I really enjoyed. Except for the part where I could never get into any of the fiction classes, so I did poetry and non-fiction (autobiography, in particular) instead.
And oh my gracious, that autobiography class, you guys. Talk about an exercise in navel-gazing. Anyway.
My point is that I read all of the Good Stuff. Ye Olde British Literature, Romantic Poets, Shakespeare, Everything Old White Dudes Wrote Ever, Super Special Lady Fiction, Postmodern Indecipherable Bonkers Lit, Kurt Vonnegut Is Awesome, the whole shebang. I read (and even enjoyed) everything from Beowulf to Joyce. If you want to talk about how fractured language reflects schizophrenia in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy or gender fluidity and how it relates to Irish Catholic sexuality in the Circe chapter of Ulysses, I will stand toe-to-toe with you.
But here is the thing: it does not make me Smarter Than You.
And frankly, I cannot abide by people who sneer down their noses at what other people read and act like their intelligence is superior because they read something they’ve arbitrarily decided is “real” literature.
Because you know what? I also read science fiction. And fantasy. And contemporary. And humor, and graphic novels, and non-fiction.
AND SO MANY YA NOVELS. BECAUSE I LOVE THEM.
I know this is a difficult concept to grasp, but people can have more than one interest. People can like completely mundane things and also be incredibly intelligent in a multitude of ways.They can acknowledge that something can be different and not to some preset standard, yet valuable all the same.
I’m not going to pretend I’ve never read something that I put down because the writing, characterization, world-building, or general structure just didn’t function to my standards. I absolutely have. But here’s the thing about my standards: they are mine. Acting as though everything to come out of a category is pure gold is folly, but so is hand-waving it all away as useless fodder for the brainless.
Whether you only read super high-brow literary Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction or you read pulp fiction genre fluff or you read everything, it has nothing to do with your value or your intelligence.
A wise person once said: you know who cares about what other people read? ASSHOLES.
I’ve read all the literature you’ve read. I like it. I STILL READ AND WRITE AND LOVE KIDLIT. Because it is valuable, because it is “real” literature, because it speaks to me on a variety of levels. Do not presume you are superior because you’ve taken some English courses and can have Deep Discussions About Literature. One of the concepts I currently have on my plotting backburner is a YA novel loosely based on Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I used to write highly literary (and published) poetry about being abducted by aliens. I also write short stories about making out with hot Italian boys in the rain. I CONTAIN MULTITUDES. DO NOT FRONT TO ME.
Here is my point: if you feel the need to shit on other people because of what they do or don’t read, it says more about your insecurities than theirs. If you need to prove your intelligence by regurgitating the same tired lines people have been repeating for centuries, you are showing your ass.
Like what you like. Read what you read. Do not presume it makes you a genius among fools.
Sneering at teenagers and their fiction does not make you brilliant. It makes you Every English Snob With A Gin-and-Tonic. Enjoy.