Back to the Books
So it’s back-to-school time. I remember those days with gratitude that I’m no longer scheduled for regular papers and exams, but also a wistful pining for all the amazing things that remain to be discovered and learned. And all the books to be read, discussed, debated, thought about, compared, dissected, and discussed some more. Engaging with books this way is what drew me to the Romance community, as well, because for so many of us reading seems to be an inherently social activity. I still remember some of those epic book discussions on AAR and other places, where multiple conversations would be going on simultaneously, and they’d lead to all sorts of unexpected places. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved the genre as much as I did when we were regularly having those discussions.
Of late there seems to be a collective turning away from books in the Romance community, despite the fact that a shared love of books, first and foremost, brought us all together. Not that there aren’t important and interesting discussions going on, but maybe the balance is a bit off. I know I’ve been hesitant to talk about books I’m afraid will ignite any number of fraught debates, and I’ve heard many others say pretty much the same thing. Instead of looking forward to all those unexpected directions, it’s like everyone’s a little anxious about stepping too far out of some invisible box.
Then, a few weeks ago, something ironic happened. A book that generated some of the most passionate responses — passionately angry, hurt, disgusted, and horrified — Romance has seen in quite a while burst into our shared discussion spaces, sparking debate about whether it should even be read, let alone discussed. But at Dear Author, Janine and Sunita’s joint reading provoked an incredibly rich, insightful, and important discussion of the book and its myriad problems. And for all of the awful, hurtful things this book raised for people, the discussion we had around it reminded me how powerful talking about books can be. Powerful in intellectual, emotional, and real-life ways. Powerful because it can make us see things differently, understand different perspectives more deeply, gain compassion for different life experiences and points of view, and deliver insight into our own values and perceptions. I know this sounds corny, but I absolutely believe that thoughtful engagement with books can help us to appreciate and enjoy books in new and deeper ways.
So following that discussion, I asked Jane if we could try a little experiment and use this op-ed space to focus on books — on looking at specific characters, scenes, images, tropes, ways of reading, and ideas related to books and reading. Because I really miss doing that in a way that’s not about evaluating whether a book is good or bad, or judging it as worthy or unworthy — but just talking about what we see when we read and how that makes us feel. Right now I’m working on a post about Twilight and how certain tropes from that series have been adapted in other books (like Transcendence). I’m also contemplating a piece about the use of culture and religion in Faith Hunter’s Skinwalker series. And I’d love to take a closer look at different examples of the hero’s redemption arc we see so very often in the genre.
None of this precludes posts on other topics, although for a while I’m going to try to focus my own posts on the books themselves. Or maybe you have a post you’re dying to write about the proper use of titles in historical Romance. Or the symbolism of Scottish castles. Or whatever. I just figured I’d give you all fair warning, and ask if there are any books or characters or tropes you’d like to see discussed here.