6.01.2014

I like it, but I don't approve

A little over a year ago, when I found the bookish corner of tumblr (my people!), Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was enjoying a wave of popular reblogging. (Those of you familiar with tumblr will recognize this. Books, TV shows, and movies will pop up all over your feed as fandoms wax and wane.) I asked one of the fans how they could be so open about showing their love of Lolita. The book has a reputation. Even people who haven't read it know about it. They know what it's about. The answers that came back were all about the masterful writing and the premise as literary transgression, meant to provoke discussion.

At the time, I didn't know of any books that I would recommend that contained anything like the incendiary Lolita. And then I read The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara. And today, I finished Katherine Grant's Sedition. I honestly enjoyed both books. They turned the tables on expectations. They asked important questions. They were beautifully written. But they both have content that I am not comfortable. In fact, I hugely disapprove of some of the things that happen in these books.

But I still recommend them, because these troublesome passages are necessary to the story. They help us understand the characters and their motivation. I recommend them because the rest of the books' content is mindblowing.

Writing this post reminds me of a post I read last fall on BookRiot by Amanda Nelson, "Let's Talk About Racism in the Classics." Nelson loves Gone With the Wind but the racism depicted is, admittedly, stomach curdling. But we still read it, because there's enough there that's worthwhile to encourage readers through the hard parts. Books like Gone With the Wind, The People in the Trees, Sedition, and Lolita put us in the dicey position of liking things we can't approve of.

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