Have you found that books or authors that you usually enjoy have lost something for you?
I’m in the middle of an Isabel Dalhousie book by Alexander McCall Smith, The Careful Use of Compliments. Typically, his books are a welcome respite from the world, full of philosophical musings, gentle mystery, and the kind of misunderstandings that elicit a smirk from me. I love how very Edinburgh his books are, allowing me to spend time “in” one of my very favourite cities.
But I’m reading this now, in the middle of a pandemic, as the disparities between rich and poor become bigger by the minute, and racist systems threaten to topple a democracy and suddenly whether or not a painting is a forgery or a steal at 25,000 GBP doesn’t delight me as it once might have.
The first time I remember this happening to me was in December 2016. I had been a fan of Jen Lancaster for a long time, reveling in her ball-busting rhetoric, laughing at her dogs’ antics and neatly glossing over her more right leaning tendencies. It was a simpler time! I needed something to make me laugh and picked up one of her books and couldn’t even finish it. Her focus on the renovations of her dream home, her delight in all these things; she was exactly what I didn’t need.
I had dabbled some in social justice reading before 2016. But there was also a lot of fear because I didn’t want to feel bad. I especially avoided reading too much about Indigenous issues in Canada, preferring to read about racism in America as a Them problem where I didn’t need to take much accountability.
I pushed through that. Now I regularly read anti-racist books, books about sexism, about experiences that are different to mine. I search them out. I look online at #ownvoices recommendations to add to my TBR, I listen to podcasts featuring BIPOC hosts or guests. I am actively trying to educate myself all the time, getting my representational reading to 32% (which is still not great but better than it used to be before I was intentional about it).
And I guess one of the results is that I’m not able to enjoy all books the same way. Isabel Dalhousie musing about the rights of countries to decide who gets to gain citizenship and thus access to the benefits of said country (in a book from 2007) is just not hitting me in the same way it would have had I read it in 2008. I would have probably rolled my eyes but I’m not sure it would have made me want to throw the book across the room.
I’m not as into thrillers where women are the victims anymore. I read far fewer books by men (21% to date this year), especially if there’s a violent element to them (since it’s nearly always perpetuated at women). I think part of my issue with this Isabel Dalhousie book is it’s a man writing a woman and the whole time I’m like “this is a man thinking he’s thinking like a woman.”
With so many amazing books written by women, why do I even need to read books by men anymore? (I kid, I kid. But for this reader, male authors are not the default)
And yet, I’ve found romance novels and I love them! I never would have read them before we set the world on fire but now they provide a delightful escape. Give me all the Jasmine Guillory books, put me on the holds list for the new Bromance Book Club book, and yes I would like to read the next book in the League of Extraordinary Women series!
So I am a changed reader but it’s books that have changed me in the first place. Anyone else feeling like this?