A case for reading things that make you want to rip pages
Recently, Vini and I visited our local library to each pick out a book for our 2017 reading challenges. After a few years’ hiatus, I picked up a fat novel from one of my go-to genres–“historical romances” set in young America. These were books I used to indulge in, reading passively ignoring historical inaccuracies or errors and simply enjoying it. It was kind of like my version of reality TV.
I chose a thick worn paperback that had five short stories revolving around mail-ordered marriages in the Old West. You know the plot already. Circumstances (death of a spouse) leaves widow(er) to care for land and x number of children all alone driving him/her to put an ad in the paper for a spouse. Circumstances (evil family/lack of family) drives protagonist to leave home and into the unknown. The same pattern for all five stories, but I chose the genre, right?
I settled in, cracked open the book relishing in the hope and promise of exciting adventures within the plentiful number of pages in my right hand.
Cinda stopped just short of running into David Swan in his own front yard. In her worry, her gaze had been focused on the ground and not on where she was going. Now, she looked up at her best friend’s new husband with an apologetic smile.
‘Oh, hi, David. Is Allison inside?’
‘I won’t tell you until you smile. You’ll never get a husband with that scowl.'”
What. a. sleaze! She’s going to hit him, isn’t she? She should. For the briefest second, I hope that the genre will surprise me. It’ll be about Cinda who eye rolls at David, goes West and forges an amazing life full of adventure all on her own. She’ll defy expectations and gender roles, surprise the ranchers struggling beside her and create an empire where they all work for her. Then, when nobody in the area suits her fancy, and because she’s not about to settle, her friends jokingly dare her to put an ad in the paper. And she does.
That will be the story, right? Please?
“Cinda gave him a quick, forced smile. The last thing she felt like doing today was smiling.
‘You’re a pretty girl, Cinda. If you smiled more often and looked up once in awhile, you’d catch a husband in no time.'”
And now, we’ve reached it. The point where I have become angry. What even is this book? I’m angry at David, yes. Angry at Cinda for complying. And angry at myself for going backward to reading these silly things.
But have I really gone backward? Perhaps. Yet, I was moved to notice my interaction with the text. I was affected, active instead of passive. *gasp* oh. my. word. I was responding to a text! Post-grad! Without an assignment to hand in!
In their defense, my teachers and professors made it quite clear that this was exactly what they were desperately trying to do–make my education yield results out of the classroom.
I was outraged, so I stopped reading, right? Nah. By this point, I had committed. I read the book. Cinda tries to convince David (and herself) she doesn’t need a husband but in the end, she caves to her friends’ plot to save her from becoming an old maid. The book wasn’t all bad. DiAnn Mills’ “Mail-Order Husband” was sort of refreshing. “Changes of the Heart” made me angry too, but if you forgive its underdevelopment, the story had potential to be different. Yet, at least two of the stories allude to or include verbal abuse or physical punishments, while calling the men guilty of such things “good Christian men”. Oh, it burned me! Just. so. wrong!
While reading these stories, three main reasons kept coming to me to justify reading things that made me uncomfortable and more than a little bit angry. So, here are some points to consider the next time you’re tempted to give up on a book that makes you peeved:
Read things that make you angry if only for the sake of recognizing growth in yourself. Not to feel superior, but for feeling good about personal progress, because that’s ok. Alternatively, read things that make you angry now but that can push you to grow and learn, because that’s important too.
Read things that make you angry but that force you to look at subjects from the perspective of others, through a lens of history or culture. The world is consistently shifting its perspectives and our time period, culture, and perspectives are not the only ones.
Plus, *gasp* our perspective might not even be the right one! Can you imagine?!
Lastly, read things that make you angry in order to be fueled. Anger, while often perceived as a negative emotion, can be incredibly powerful. It is uncomfortable and demands a reaction. Anger spurs us to action. To bring about change. Changes in the way we think, which lead to changes in the way we act. Allow the things you read to affect you. Reading can help mold you into the person you want to be; just sometimes that means reading things that go against the grain.
Book that made me angry: Mail-Order Marriage: 5 Historical Stories of Marriage Arranged by Letters Between Strangers
Edited to add:
A few days after I published this post, The New York Times published a much more eloquent article on the same topic. Give it a read: http://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-joy-of-hate-reading.html