Thursday, December 15, 2011

Quick Thoughts on You Deserve Nothing

A while ago, I read the Times's review of You Deserve Nothing, thought it sounded interesting, and got it from the library. After I had it home, but before I started reading it, I read this Jezebel piece about how the book is allegedly based on the author's own experiences having an affair with a young student. And then I had to decide whether I still wanted to read the book. Because yes, the alleged behavior is icky. But lots of authors do icky things. Where do you draw the line? Does it only matter if the bad behavior is directly related to the work, as it is here? What about killers who write murder mysteries that are not based on their crimes? Is buying different from reading from the library? I don't think reading an author implies an endorsement of the author's beliefs or actions. (Much of the time, I don't know anything about the author, anyway.) I don't think texts should be off-limits for any reasons. To take this to the extreme, I don't think it's intrinsically wrong to read Mein Kampf as an important historical document, or even just out of curiosity. Reading != agreeing.

So, last night I started You Deserve Nothing, and . . . I just didn't like it much. I read the first few chapters, and then some later bits that were told in different characters' voices, and none of them grabbed me. Would I have given it more of a chance if I didn't have negative associations with the author? Maybe. If I knew nothing about the author, would I have done what I did, which was look at my huge stack of other library books and think "I'd rather be reading them"? Probably. The reasons why we do or don't read any given book at any given time are always, always more complicated than a simple assessment of the text itself, and this happened to be one circumstance in which the other factors were more obvious than they sometimes are. I certainly wouldn't fault anyone for choosing not to read this because of the author's alleged behavior, but I don't think that's necessarily the only acceptable course of action, either. Like so many decisions related to reading, it's complex, and personal, and not really anyone else's business.

What I AM reading today: Alias Dragonfly.

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