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how to live with yourself and continue to be an avid reader

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Sep. 17th, 2009 | 03:48 pm

It's actually pretty easy.

What I think is really interesting about students refusing to read an assigned book and everybody getting over-excited is why they refuse to read it.  Example:  I was friends with a girl in high school who refused to read Lord of the Flies because her older sister read it and got nightmares (this was a pretty tight-lipped, religious family), i.e., my friend was scared of Lord of the Flies.  In the case of Mari Mercado and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle's graphic sex (who knows, I haven't read it), the why is:
"It's not fair that I have to read something that I'm totally against," she said. "If I have to drop out of IB, that's something I have to do. I'm not going to read the book."

Marí acknowledged that some people might consider her closed-minded. But that's not her problem.

She wants to be able to live with herself.

"I read a lot. I'm an avid reader and I have an active imagination," she said. And when it comes to the passages she saw in her school assignment, "I'd rather not try to imagine it."
I get that she's a high schooler, but "It's not fair that I have to read something that I'm totally against"?  To me this implies that she thinks books are screeds/manifestos, and she shouldn't have to read anything whose "message" she objects to.  Which has always struck me as pretty odd as a pro-censorship argument, since it's usually sex or violence that's being objected to.  That's not really a message, it's a content issue.  She objects to phone sex?  I really doubt the book is a big argument for phone sex either.  And then there's the hyperbolic statement about being "able to live with herself."  It's not like anybody's making her perform phone sex, right?  She's just looking at words on a page?   Does she read the news about war or animal torture, I wonder (I'd give the example of history textbooks, but mine was so ridiculously and literally white-washed that I won't).  Reading something doesn't mean you've taken part in it, ya know.

But I'll tell you what, Mari: I'm not a big fan of graphic sex in books either, and I was an avid reader at your age too (at your age!  I sound so old).  Catch-22 is full of that shit, all from the perspective of military men.  I pretty much just ignored it, and Joseph Heller turned out to have written a really awesome, important book that really won't be remembered for its sex.  That's clearly not what Heller was most concerned with, and it's not where his writing packs its punch.  That comes at the end.  That comes when Heller finally shows us Snowden dying in the plane, when Nately dies, and finally when Aarfy rapes and kills a maid, and the military arrests Yossarian instead, for going AWOL.  It's actually one of the more bluntly moral books I've read.  And I would have missed out on it, and all its paradigm shifts, if I had refused to read it.  It's one of my favorite books now. 

As for your fear of imagining "it"... come on.  If you're seriously vividly "imagining" every word you read I'm surprised you have the time or focus to be the ultra-good student that this article says you are.  So either you've got some issues to work out, or you need to learn to SKIM, child, and not take everything you read so seriously.

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