Monday, January 11, 2016

What's Weighing on You, Holmes?

Lately I've been reading a lot from people who want me to only read people of color, or to only have books with people of color as the leads, or that focus on minority groups / issues / what have you; and it's gotten me to thinking that a lot of these people must have terrible imaginations and nothing going on in their lives for this to be the thing they've latched onto as the solution to the world's problems. I've read authors who are gay, female, of races different from my own, from cultures I've never encountered and many of them have been fun to read - but none of those factors were what lead me to read them. I've got books that I've deeply enjoyed with lead protagonists that fit just about every possible spectrum and not once have I picked up a book and read it because the lead fit one of those categories. Why?

Because I'm not a moron. You see the only reason why you should ever pick up a book to read is because the story appeals to you.

Like I love post-apocalyptic fiction so I read a lot of stuff like Spider Robinson's Telempath (thanks to +Jeffro Johnson  for peaking my interest in Spider to begin with), Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, and Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz. These books are filled with all kinds of protagonists that range across the political / cultural / racial / sexual landscape; but you know what? I didn't pick any of these books up because of who the protagonist was and what category they could be placed into. I picked those books up and read them because they sounded fucking amazing. Check out this blurb for Dhalgren:

The world has gone mad, society has perished, savagery rules over all. All that was known is over. All that was familiar is strange and terrible. Today and yesterday colide with tomorrow. In these dying days of earth, a young drifter enters the city . . . Dhalgren. 

Jesus! That hooked me and then I read the first page and knew I had to read Delany. His writing is so, just, breathtaking. I'm 23 pages into the book (second time trying to read it since the first time was interrupted by my son being sick and me forgetting everything else) and I have already gone through a weird sex thing with a tree-ish lady, picked up a hand-held death glove, and jumped through broken glass. This book is fucking amazing!

Did I know ahead of time that Delany was gay or that he was black? Fuck no! And even after finding it out I still don't care. Those things don't matter to me because what matters is Delany's work. He has produced a thing of beauty that stands outside of himself, pressing back against the world and reshaping our expectation of what should come next. Dhalgren is strange, and terrible, and wonderful all at the same time and to cloud that up with bleating on about the author's skin color, or his sexual preference, does a disservice to it by distracting from this beautiful thing he's accomplished. And that's what you miss when you get wrapped up in the "Message First" crowd.

They don't care that Dhalgren is a work of brilliance. I mean, it's nice and all, but what really matters to them is that Delany is black and gay. SO WE MUST READ HIM! And you absolutely should read him because Dhalgren is amazing but you're going to miss out on it as you try to warp everything into you message about his race and sexual orientation shaping his world. You're going to miss out on the fantastic weirdness that permeates every page and the beautiful turns he does with such little effort. Let me put this another way, focusing on Delany's race and sexual orientation over his writing would be like focusing on the way that Philip K. Dick died instead of his writing. You're not doing either author any favors and you're only taking away from what they've done.

Stop it. Just read books that sound good to you and worry about the rest of that noise later. 


  1. I've tried to read Dhalgren twice and I can never finish it. It's one of those mythic books that many people try to read but can never finish and I guess I'm one of those people. It's fucking brilliant though!
    And I had no idea he was black or gay until you mentioned it here. I remember reading once that he stated every human is inherently bisexual and should embrace that, but many people just translate statements like that into "gay."

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  3. Well said, and there is a flip side. When I read Ender's Game, it was years before I became aware of the author's beliefs. Honestly? I'm content to keep my beliefs private and don't ever read anyone because of their beliefs. And Ender's Game is till one of my favorite books.


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