I just finished this book, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, by Darien Gee. I really, really enjoyed it. It’s my new favorite book, at least until I read another good one. :)
I’m really bad at remembering where I read something, so you’ll just have to bear with me when I tell you I read something recently, but I can’t remember where. (If you know the source, leave it in the comments. Thanks.) It was all about how people should read quality books, books that make you think, and reading anything else was pure escapism, and therefore not to be read. I’ve been told that before, that I’m reading for escapism, and I really ought to be reading better books. Oddly, anyone who tells me that always has very precise ideas about what makes a good book, and what doesn’t. Really, I think the claim of escapism is just a way for people to say, “You ought to be reading the books I agree with and think are good, and no others.”
One of the most memorable people to tell me this was my 9th grade English teacher. Completely focused on the young adult fiction I was reading several of every day, and the science fiction books by Arthur C. Clarke I was reading a few every week or so, she told me I was reading purely for escapism and needed to read better books, real literature. The thing is, I was also reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (a page or two at a time, it took me almost the whole school year to get through), and her (the teacher’s) idea of literature was Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t know if you think Margaret Atwood writes literature or not, but Dostoyevsky is most definitely literature.
Anyway, this most recent thing I read about escapism made me think, because all the books the author cited as examples were written at least 100 years ago. And you know, some older books are literature, but just because it’s newer doesn’t mean it’s not literature. And this author was fixated on romance novels not being literature, and while that may be true for some romance novels, it isn’t true for all. And if romance makes it not literature, what are we doing teaching Shakespeare as literature? Half his oeuvre is romance.
The debate about literature versus non-literature is as old as writing fiction. Lately, though, a lot of the things I have been reading about escapism and non-literature being read seem to be aimed at women and novels by, for, and about women. I’m coming to think that this is a subtle form of sexism — if it’s by and about women, it must not be a good book — it must not be worthy of someone’s time. I’ve written about this before, but it’s really starting to annoy me.
I never used to consider myself a feminist, for a lot of complicated reasons I’m not going to go into right now. But the older I get (I’m much too young to be using that phrase, but I can’t think of a better one) the more I think I probably am one. It seems to me that women are not treated the same as men in a lot of (at this time and in the US) really subtle ways that are really hard to put your finger on. And I have a hard time seeing how The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, with its discussions of dementia, family and what makes a family, adoption, love, and more, is any less literature than an overwrought play about two teenagers who thought the world revolved around them.
You should read The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. It’s good. And I promise not to care if you read it just to read a good book, or if you analyze it deeply.
Five out of five stars.
- It’s Why We Read-Happily Ever After (rakesroguesandromance.com)