Here’s some food for thought for your weekend: the NY Times takes a look at readers, writers, and fans of the “urban lit” genre, and the article swerves like a train of thought out of control from moms who enforce reading for at least an hour a day to librarians who visit the tables on 125th street where street vendors sell self-published and small press offerings of urban-set novels featuring drugs, sex, and violence. Libraries take heat for stocking them on the shelves, while readers who escaped the projects or who still live there grab hold and read as part of a “collective memory” of the way life often is for those stuck in urban centers of poverty and violence, and for those who want desperately to get the hell out of there.
Some of the comments are causing a head-shaped dent in the table, as once again people appoint themselves arbiters of what others ought to be reading. I’m not falling on the sword of “Oh, at leeeast people are reeeeading” (sing along with me?) but it bugs the ever living fuck out of me when people decide that their way is best, and a librarian trying to offer on the shelves what her patrons are looking for clearly isn’t doing her job correctly. But I get a kick out of the number of people calling the Times to task for their outdated stereotypical image of librarians, and the subtext of the article: “OMG, Black people are reeeeeading??!!” Commenter “Pierce” kicked the Times report to task by saying:
Instead of perpetuating stereotypes about black urban culture, perhaps this will shatter the particularly pernicious one that urban blacks don’t read.
And if people have a problem with the writing and its the possibility “reflecting your own face back in the mirror,” it’s better for another writer to take the genre and write something more artistic than to criticize the whole form.
I hear you, Pierce. And as always, I remain ever surprised when individuals think that fiction is scary, that reading will harm someone’s thinking, that experiencing terror, harm, pain, and joy in the fictional confines of a novel will somehow irreparably damage the reader.
[Thanks to Robin for the link.]