Did you miss me? I decided to enjoy the last of my holidays engaging with such fun activities as reading books (because you just know I don’t have to read enough of those as an English major). Now, with books, enjoyment is a risky prospect. You might end up with some really bad writing, or something that simply doesn’t appeal, or, occasionally, a fabulous book that ends up disappointing you with a flat ending. Perhaps, as happened to me the other week, you borrow that book you’ve had on your reading list only to find that the first sixty pages of the library’s copy are missing.
One of my favourite things about reading books is the chance to escape from whatever’s going on for me in my own life and into worlds of other kinds, the places pulled out of other people’s heads. I love books for lots of other reasons, too: the way they can help one work through one’s own experiences and ideas, and even the weight, feel, and smell of them. However, reading books while being progressive is, as I said, a risky prospect. I might be off in my own little escapist world when boom! The author presents his readership with something awfully misogynistic, making it clear that he thinks his only readers, or the only ones worth pleasing, are his fellow men.
After all, books are a cultural product, and their authors draw on material from the world, in which inequalities abound. Reading books doesn’t get to be an escape or an entertainment if you’re trying to relax away from the bigotry in the world around you. Books certainly aren’t going to help you develop your inner life or help with your personal dilemmas in those instances! Power structures always seep through. One’s reading can’t be a place of fantasy or an escape into someone else’s life, or not thoroughly, if it keeps replicating the bits of one’s own one would rather not deal with just then. At the end of the day, books are never really an escape into other worlds because they are intertwined with this one.
I love books for the potential of other existences and realities, even if sometimes we can’t get there. I also love them for reflecting the world we have, good points and bad, as layered commentary in the text or a simple replication of oppressions on the authors’ parts. Even if it’s unpleasant to be jerked out of your enjoyment, at least here, captured on the page and irrefutable, is evidence of the way bigotry works into everyone. It’s well worth unravelling the oppression in our imaginations.