Can Reading be Harmful?

Reading is supposed to broaden the mind. Reading allows a person to put their feet in the characters shoes and hopefully, be able to do that in real life too. There are plenty of articles about the benefits of reading fiction or why you should date somebody who reads or the ability to empathize when readers start young. What about the harm of reading? Does it exist?

In two days, Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie will be released in theaters around the United States and I’m sure the movie will be a box office hit. Those who got through the book will be excited to see their imagination blossom on screen and those who didn’t read the book (but wanted to) will only have to set aside 125 minutes of their precious time and be visually assaulted without the need to read through Ana’s eyes and will also not have to cringe every time “oh my” is used. Unless they’re going to keep that too. We can hope not.

I’m not going to try to make this a complaint about Fifty Shades because for one there are so many other blogs and forums you can read about the complaints, and two I liked it my first read through. Despite the cringe-worthy prose and complete lack of reality (you don’t have an email address but you got a job out of college being an English major? Really.) I still liked it for the simple fact that it was escapism and took roughly three days to get through the entire series. I felt no more educated by the end of it, but I also didn’t feel horrified.

I also read a lot. I’m not going on about how great I am. I read some simple books but I try to add in books that truly open my understanding of myself or the world. When reading might become harmful is when it only includes the “escapist” books.

We have all heard the arguments about Fifty Shades. “He raped her!” “She signed a consent form!” and on and on and on. My opinion is more on the fact that the whole story is so unbelievable that we shouldn’t have this argument. She’s a 22 year old virgin who managed to get a job at a publishing company (not as a receptionist) right out of college with her English degree. This does not happen. Of course, being a virgin and obviously not able to use technology (why is this a thing?), I don’t think she had enough information to give informed consent, but either way, this book is realistic enough to take seriously.

And yet….

And yet, we worry about how people are taking books like this with simplified plots and paper-thin characters. Despite readers calling it out as horrible or simply, escapism, we worry that it’s affecting our communities. It is possible for reading to be harmful.

It is one thing to simply read for escapism, but the problem comes when people who don’t read often and desire somebody like Christian Grey and even worse, want to be like Anastasia Steele (how horrible are those last names?!). This sounds a lot like victim blaming, so let me explain.

I’m not a feminist who consistently thinks women should be abstained from taking responsibility for their actions. Trust me, I think Christian is manipulative and I don’t care that he has all of these childhood issues because he should have had some of those solved before pursuing a relationship with a girl as ‘vanilla’ as Ana. Yet, I still worry that Ana, along with Bella, might be seen as role model. Girls who do not inform themselves and rely on information from the guy who’s telling them what they should be doing, who only have knowledge in cooking for their boyfriends, who never learned how to stand on their own two feet, and who only show their ability to stand up for themselves to protect their fetuses. I don’t think this is role model material and most people know this. Most.

There are those who don’t and this is a simplified example of the problems reading can bring to those who don’t read widely. What about those who only read racist stories? What about those who are only allowed to read from a strict approved book list and even though Fifty Shades would most likely not be on there, what other books are being left out?

Obviously my title was an attention grabber. I don’t think reading can be harmful because I think reading is the best thing a person can do. It’s when people read narrowly and refuse to try other books. It’s when a person disregards others comments on the book and don’t see the problems that may stem from the literature. I always try to read the reviews of books after I read them to see what people are saying. I try to make myself (and usually don’t succeed) read scholarly articles on the books I have read to see what people believe is the affect of that book on readers and society.

What book has made you question yourself? What book makes you consider censorship?

Review: A Discovery of Witches

I gave A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harness two stars. Why? I think I had different expectations going in. The title interested me, the length made me pick it up, and the beginning paragraph caused me to check it out of the library. My expectations going in was that this was Diana, who was a witch though she didn’t want to be because of traumatic past events. She had to go on a quest or something similar to find her powers as well as find her courage. Then there was Matthew Clairmont.

Look, I love romances. I look books that make me smile and squeal. I’m obsessed with a good romantic line among a more serious plot. This is what this book offered, but to me, it started feeling more like Twilight. No, Matthew did not bring the problems to her which was a nice change, but he did have this need to protect and get her to be a witch. I think I wanted her to come to that understand herself. Yes, a loved one can help bring it out, but it felt forced. When there was the romance it was cringe-worthy not squeal-inducing. And what is our obsession with sex? Look, I read Sherilyn Kenyon and love it. What I can’t stand is another plot line about two perfectly capable adults not having sex because of pathetic reasons that they don’t figure out until much later. I guess I just couldn’t get into that whole romance. It felt like once again, she was the one who needed him to survive and he needed her because he’s lived so long without love. Basically, she doesn’t support him in any way except to love him. It made me sad.

The ending did interest me though as endings typically do. There were a few points that I believe are going to be predictable and if the author does change it up, it’s going to be in the predictable way. Some plot devices are overused. Will I read the second one? I hope not, but I might just get desperate enough.

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente is a book I would recommend to a reader who is looking for something different. It’s an original story that’s not original at all; it twists your fairy tales and the stories you already know and combines them into a world that explains these stories. For me it took a while to read it. I think that the pace differs from the usual children’s story, but it did not mean that I disliked it. Typically slow books make me stop halfway, but this tale interested me enough to continue reading it. If I had to come up with a comparative author, it might by Lemony Snicket, but only because of his originality. The narrator of this book isn’t September, but a hidden one who reminds the reader what stories like this is supposed to do and I appreciated that quality.

September is a heroine like no other. She does what she thinks is best and doesn’t consider herself a hero (my favorite type of hero). She makes interesting friends and questions her surroundings. She’s a girl you want your daughters to emulate. While she does cry, she knows why she’s crying. She cares more about her friends, but also her parents and figures out which one needs her the most. A-Through-L is a clever dragon that you’ll immediately love and Saturday is such a peculiar boy (with an off-handed comment at the end that gets you excited for book #2) that you can’t help but want to hear more from. I started this book with doubts. I had picked it up before, but the artwork didn’t capture my attention to be honest and the title was so long it looked like something I wouldn’t be interested in. Despite that, my boss recommended it to me, so I read it. I’m very glad I did and think I’ll be reading the next one.

Would I recommend this to children; its declared audience? I’m not sure actually. If they loved the oddity of Lemony Snicket, maybe so. There are words that will make you look it up in the dictionary, but later on, the narrator reminds the reader that September likes long words. I think it’s a book for a Middle School age kid who loves to do nothing more than to read.

Book Review- DON’T KISS YOUR TEACHER! OH GOD….

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In Instructions for A Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson, Jessa has just walked in on her boyfriend of two years tangled up with somebody else. She now has to go to Italy with him and “The Boob Job” on a Drama Club trip. On the plane, her best friend, Tyler, gives her envelopes from her other friend Carissa and in each envelope is a reason Sean is not worth her time and an instruction on how to get over him. She goes on the journey, with the envelopes, to become whole again.

I’m going to say it as straight as I can. I didn’t like the book. And since I didn’t like the book, I’m going to give spoilers, so you don’t have to waste your time reading it, so:

      ***SPOILER ALERT***

Now, if you don’t enjoy getting spoilers even if I don’t like the book, just let me know in the comment section. If there are enough people to make it worth it, I won’t do this again. Today, I will. It’s going to be my reaction to the different parts of the book, but it will still give away most of it.

I probably would have loved this book at the age of 15 and that is the age that it’s written for. I used to love the French Kiss series by Sarah Manning at 15 and now I find the main character to be whiny and incapable of solving a problem. So, if you’re fifteen, you might enjoy it. If you read Young Adult books and are in college or late high school, you might not.

My problem with the book was in the character and some of the plot points. Jessa had some sort of depth to her. She felt everything strongly and I could relate to that. I over-think things just as much. What I didn’t like about her was how much everybody else knew about their relationship. The whole drama club and the group that had joined them knew that she caught Sean kissing Natalie and now she was upset. They noticed that Sean was now with another girl (which is understandable) and knew that Jessa couldn’t handle it (which is not). She publicly announces everything. They all know about the letters Carissa left her and all know about the feelings she has for Sean. It became one of those “stop telling everybody about your life, nobody cares!” (kind of like blogging!). It became a little unbelievable.

Now, to the plot points. The main point is Jessa going through Carissa’s letters and dealing with letting Sean go. She goes ahead and kisses her teacher. Wait…what?! She kisses her teacher?! She then thinks the teacher may have returned the kiss?! THERE HAS TO BE A BIG ISSUE NOW!

There’s not.

She apologizes and tells the other teacher on the trip about it who says that he told her about it, so it’s fine. They go back to hanging out alone and bonding over the book.

Okay, I could see that this part is supposed to show how messed up Jessa really is, but it’s not something that can be pushed under the carpet that easily, especially considering Jessa told other students about it. I think that Culbertson could have ripped that part out. It was too cringe-worthy and didn’t keep the plot moving forward enough.

The two other side plots were also awkward. The first not being necessary at all. Jessa’s group has to merge with another group and the teacher there they refer to as Cruella. She’s downright rude and completely inappropriate. To a student who has some type of Spanish heritage, she asks “comprende” after asking for the butter. She tells two boys that their acting is crap and also says that the famous paintings their looking at depicts the people as fat and they’re all ugly. I’ve had awful teachers  before, but this is just inappropriate. She would have been fired at the school if she talked like this and she definitely should have been kicked out.

At one point, Jessa sees her crying after a student teases her and then, she sees her upset in a hallway for some reason and Jessa tells her what she thinks of her. You would assume that Cruella would have some type of moment with Jessa or at least do something, but instead she leaves near the end of the trip and that’s it.

Yes, that’s it. Nothing happens. She’s there one moment, throwing stuff and screaming at her husband and leaves because the trip isn’t what she wanted. Jessa has no reflection on her turning out to be like that or anything even as simple as that. She’s there and then she’s gone. Nothing else said. I have no clue what the point of that was, but if you do, please enlighten me.

The next point had to do with Giacomo, an attractive boy who just appeared. Come to find out, after talking to Jessa over dinner, he’s the tour guide’s son. He got kicked out of school because of “narrow minds”. When Jessa talks to his mother, she finds out he left school for some reason. There’s some type of issue between the two, obviously. Jessa walks in on them fighting and Giacomo shatters the frog the tour guide carries around with her for some reason. When Jessa is cleaning up the  mess, she finds a key that she gives to Giacomo later on. The key goes to a lock box that holds his passport. He wanted the passport to meet his BOYFRIEND in San Francisco. All of this led me to ask some questions
                                  1. Is this what his mother was upset about?
                                  2. Why did she carry around a key in a plastic frog?
                                  3. Why does Giacomo’s boyfriend live in San Francisco?
                                  4. What was the point of having this in the story?

I just felt that this part of the story had no point to it and could have been pulled out. It did nothing to the plot, but instead was added there. The most it did was show that the guy Jessa was kind of hitting on was gay, but she’s not upset about this at all. She’s like “okay! Good luck!” and I don’t think there was a point.

Dylan Thomas is the next character. He’s very obviously the love interest though it becomes uncertain later on in the book. He hangs out with Jessa and asks about the letters. Also, he listens to her complain about Sean. Later on, he disappears for a bit with another girl who has a boyfriend. It becomes really weird. It seems that Culbertson doesn’t want the reader to guess who she ends up with, but instead it left me feeling that Dylan was a jerk for hanging out with her and then moving onto another girl while Jessa hardly thought about it. Of course, it’s revealed that he does like her and wants to keep in touch at the very end. I felt that he became a rebound since Jessa didn’t have much thought about him throughout the story.

She does get over Sean and shows this by reading a poem about him to THE ENTIRE CLASS, but whatever. People work on their issues the way they want.

So, everything goes as what you would expect besides the things you wouldn’t expect, but kind of sit awkwardly. Even though I spoiled the plot for you, you can always give it a read and see how you feel. Enjoying the book is not a bad thing at all and I will not think less of you. Also, would you like me to start giving reviews each day of whatever chapters I’ve read that day? Sure, it’d be like stalking how much I read a day, but it could be more in depth with actual quotes and such. Up to you! Leave a comment.

 

Along For the Ride- Sarah Dessen

 

 

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My first book review for the blog that I made for book reviews! How exciting.

Sarah Dessen is not an up-and-coming female author nor is this her earliest book, but it’s one of my favorites by her and I wanted a beach read. This is my blog, so I do what I want!

Short summary: Auden goes to visit her father before college. She’s focused on school, the daughter of an English professor and a writer, and has insomnia because of the arguments they used to have when she was still in High School. Now her father has re-married and has a newborn, but is too busy on the book he’s writing to pay much attention to either Auden or Thisbe. Enter, Eli, handsome and scarred. Auden and Eli begin getting to know each other in the late, late hours and Auden starts to figure out what she missed as a child.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but with all of the side plots, the description would take forever. Sarah Dessen has an easy map to follow for most of her books. The heroine has a problem with her family and some aspect of her social life. She meets a guy who also has some dark secret. They hang out, but something goes wrong. In the space of time during the wrongness, the heroine tries to reclaim the life she led before all of these changes. She realizes she made a huge mistake and figures out all of her family/social problems and then meets up with the guy. 

This plot line is true for most of her books, not all, but I love it anyway.

Looking at the character as a female and putting it up to whatever feminism I believe in, I must say, I think Dessen accurately describes the conclusions people jump to through Auden. I read a post called “I’m Wearing a Dress, Therefore I Must Be Stupid” and the author writes about how girly-girls are potrayed. I must say, I agree with what she was saying, but she does bring this book up. Maggie is always wearing pink and knows a lot about fashion. Auden is completely surprised when she knows so much about finances. I don’t think this is a fall out of Dessen’s. I believe it represents what many people think and showing that there can be an alternative to being a girly-girl and filled with hot air, is a good thing. 

Auden and her mom are very focused on the representation of women. Auden learns how to balance this. She still hates pink, but she learns that chatting with the girls doesn’t immediately lead you to being uneducated. All of this, I find very important. I’ve seen many girls act stupid because they think it’s funny. The characters in this book don’t act stupid. They act like real people. It’s my favorite thing about reading a Dessen book. The characters are almost real (although they do say things that nobody says in real life and react in a way I feel that wouldn’t happen, but maybe I just like to yell a lot). 

So for those who are just curious on how the book is, it’s been out for 4 years, it’s an excellent book and possibly my favorite. It reminds me the most like The Truth About Forever which had been my original favorite. There are also those parts where your stomach flips, a crazy smile appears on your face, and you clench your toes due embarassment/that-first-almost-kiss/the-actual-kiss/and of course the happy ending.