Can you identify these YA novels by their New York Times Best Seller descriptions alone? Give it a shot.
I’m a librocubicularist; I read in bed.
This? Is why I think it’s vital that we fight for diverse literature in schools. When the book-banning folks come out, it’s so often to shut down a person belonging to a minority group speaking about experiences that make people uncomfortable. Of course we are uncomfortable. We are complicit. It takes discomfort to impel change.
Not all kids will get a real picture of the world at home; I certainly didn’t. Those kids may go on to be the next generation of oppressors, having been taught lies that cause them to see minorities as subhuman, unless they have outside influences to show them otherwise. It matters that they read books by African-Americans, by women, by LGBT authors. It matters that they gain empathy and experience others’ lives.
It matters that they become uncomfortable enough to change."
Murakami section in Blackwell’s book shop, Oxford.
I think there’s something to that “there is a perfect Jane Austen novel for every stage of life” quote.
Pride and Prejudice was the one where it all started when I was a teenager, Sense and Sensibility resonated with me the most in my early twenties (God I’m old), and this last year or so I have felt myself increasingly drawn to Emma.
Maybe it’s because Emma makes a lot of mistakes throughout the novel, but dusts herself off and gets back up again. She thinks she has the world all figured out, that if she does A the result will be B, and over and over again she turns out to be wrong. Instead of letting that stop her, she learns from her mistakes and takes another step towards a greater understanding of the world and emotional maturity. She start off quite arrogant, convinced that she knows people and what’s best for them and that she can make things happen through determination alone, but has to admit that the world just doesn’t work like that.
Having to face that you are not as clever as you thought you were, that so much is out of your control, that you have been truly ignorant and did/said some bad things in the past, that not everything will turn out the way you want them to, that great privilege come with great responsibility, and that you are just one fish in a big, big pond, those are all part of becoming a “proper adult” and Emma’s journey is one that I can really relate to. Watching her adapt and evolve and become a better person by making one mistake after the other, it is an intensely satisfying narrative.
I also find that I admire her sense of independence and that I really like the relationship between Knightley and Emma. It is an affection that runs deep and evolves over time: there is respect and honesty there that makes them both want to be better people. They know each other’s vices and virtues and they truly like each other, for better or worse. Much more satisfying than most love at first sight stories, I think.
Emma is all about the learning curve, about failure and disillusionment, about discovering the complexities of life and your place in it, and it is very dear to my heart, especially now. Who knows which Austen novel is next.
Personally, I think you have to decide for yourself if you can still enjoy someone’s work when you don’t agree with their personal values. It depends on how passionate you are about said values and how much you love the book, I think.
It is a fascinating discussion though, one that I still don’t have a final answer to myself. Where would I draw the line? Should we draw that line at all?
I have already spent a good thirty minutes staring at my bookcase, trying to decide what to read next. I’ve let you decide before and that worked out really well, so I’m going to ask for you advice again!
What should I read next?
1. Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
2. The King’s Speech, Mark Logue and Peter Conradi
3. Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
4. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
5. Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell
Seamus Heaney’s last words: ”Don’t be afraid” (Noli timere), painted by Dublin artist Maser
If you ever feel like your friendships are prone to drama, just remember that Siegfried Sassoon once wrote an angry letter to Robert Graves telling him that he was going to haunt Graves’ house/family if he died in WWI, and Graves later wrote back to Sassoon saying that Sassoon’s recent gunshot wound to the head knocked some sense into him.The funny thing is that some of you might think that I am joking or exaggerating when I absolutely am not.