“Reader Police”

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When I was a child, the library wouldn’t carry Nancy Drew mystery books because the librarians had determined that they weren’t “literature.” At the same time Joyce and D.H. Lawrence writings were banned in the United States. School boards continue to decide what books are and aren’t appropriate for children, though what is appropriate seems to differ vastly across the country. But I thought that once I was an adult I could choose to read what I wished and would be free of the “reader police.”

Sadly a whole new group has sprung up to caution me about what I might read. At the moment the furor is over the book pictured above, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. This is a NOVEL. It is FICTION. It is a creation of the writer’s IMAGINATION. The story features a woman who escapes a Mexican gang that has killed all of her family except her son. She and her son make the arduous dangerous passage to the United States. The author is not a Mexican woman who escaped a gang and made her way to the United States with her son. This apparently should make me ignore the novel. In fact, according to the “reader police”  it ought not to have published.

This new criteria seems to suggest that only one who has been through exactly a situation portrayed in a novel should be allowed to write one. The genre for writing about one’s personal experience, however, is not called a novel. It is called a MEMOIR. I have had fun thinking about how many novels should not have been written if this is the criteria for authors. I just finished a NOVEL narrated  by an Italian nun. Sadly the author was an American man. I guess I shouldn’t have found it as compelling as I did.

Empathy comes from the ability to imagine what another is feeling and experiencing. Many novelists are gifted with the art of imagining their way into other people, other places and even other historic times. Some of them do a great job, some do a poor job. But they all have the right to imagine and write. And I have the right to continue to distinguish fiction from reporting.

33 thoughts on ““Reader Police”

  1. If only people who have been through a situation can write about it, then several of my favorite genres (namely historical romance as well as sic-fi and fantasy) are going to have major issues. As far as I know, there are not too many time traveling, muscle bound Scottish lairds waiting to scoop up headstrong and stubborn young women and sweep them back to the Highlands, and unfortunately the world seems to be fresh out of telepathic dragons and the hero and heroines that befriend them, and don’t get me started on the sheer lack of tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside vampire kings who fight evil by night and romance their soulmates by day.

    To be a bit less tongue-in-cheek though, the thought-police style uproar that has surrounded the release of this book has frustrated me. I have not read this book, but as far as I can tell, it was written in good faith, it does not contain any racial slurs nor condone bigotry, and it has a very important and timely message. The fact that a few people who want to dictate who is an acceptable storyteller and what type of person is allowed to tell a story are leading what boils down to a censorship campaign makes me just crazy. If the point (as I have read several places) is that we need more diverse authors telling more stories to get their works published, you don’t do that by censoring some authors, you get a more diverse group by getting more authors published. This is not my normal type of book (I am more of an escapist reader), but it all makes me want to get a copy just to make a point.

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    1. I love it. I don’t even think it is very tongue in cheek since I think it actually illuminates the idiocy of the attacks. I did read the book. It made a very deep emotional impact on me giving one face and one name to the migrant ordeal.

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  2. Great point, and well made.
    ‘Political Correctness’ started as a very good idea, but has now got out of control.
    It will ultimately kill diversity in culture, and suppress real freedom of speech.
    Two of the many things it set out to uphold.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. Hey Elizabeth! Is the furor because it is not a memoir or because it is a person traveling from Mexico to the United States, which seems to be a political issue?
    I think that both India and the US have lost the freedom of the press, so much like the days of Nazi rule.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nancy Drew—how scandalous! I love how we like to portray ourselves as “The Land of Freedom,” as certain groups try to determine how the rest of us should live.

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  5. People spend so much time policing others they would be better served to police themselves. I was surprised the book “The Snowy Day” by Jack Ezra Keats was challenged because of his race.

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  6. Well said. When identifying with people of races/genders/situations different than our own becomes the # 1 cultural sin, we’ve pretty much lost everything the Civil Rights movement had attempted. It’s particularly disheartening to me that people who ludicrously call themselves “progressives” are leading this regressive stampede to undo everything that movement stood for.

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