Great Authors – Offensive Writers

Everyone in this writing game is aware that to write well, one must also read; a lot.  I myself, have always been a voracious reader, and I’ve mentioned this on more than one occasion here on my blog.  Now, in that same vein I must ask, why do we like books?  There are a number of reasons. They take us to far away places, increases our knowledge, and helps us escape the everyday life, just to name a few.  With that being said, many of us desire to make our way down the list of greats that have come and gone before us: William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck.  And, it doesn’t matter what nationality the reader is, we all want a peek into the mind of a celebrated author.  I have always been one in love with the mainstream novel.  I haven’t really given much thought to what separates us as readers – I mean, what makes me love conventional, while someone else likes fantasy or historical? But, then, that is a topic for another day.

My all time favorite novelists through the years have been Agatha Christie, Sidney Sheldon and Stephen King. However, this does not mean I haven’t read other works over time.  To assist in making my point, I’d like you to keep in mind those I’ve listed are later day authors.  What do I mean?  I mean they were born into a somewhat changed world.  Let me put it this way – all nationalities would read their books.  As they developed each manuscript, somewhere in the back of their minds they were even attempting to reach that wide demographic, I’m certain.  Since we’ve moved out of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and for that matter even the twentieth century, I don’t think there is one race of people living in a civilized society who does not enjoy reading.  I will even go a bit further to say, somewhere in a little village on the most remote part of the globe is someone who has learned to use a computer, and who is wishing to order a book from Amazon.

But what happens when someone like myself or any other person of color is working their way through a list of the great novels, and comes across something ugly or offensive. Now, here I’d like to remind you of the later day writers.  In attempting to broaden my horizon, do I overlook that offense, knowing it had been written in another time.  I can hear you asking what offensive thing lead me to this post.  I, as a person of integrity, cannot reveal that, and live with myself.  I must add, it took me a couple, three or four chapters before this particular piece grabbed my interest.  But, after that, I began to enjoy the story.  Until, out of nowhere – that word, the revolting, distasteful one that we all know, showed up, and let me just say I won’t dare repeat it here.  Mind you, this is the only time it’s mentioned in the entire book, which really made the old gray cells start sparking.  I mean, it hit me like I can imagine a drive-by might produce anxiety (putting it mildly).

My husband says I’m making a big deal out of nothing, because I know this came from a different time.  So, maybe this is my irascibility rearing its unattractive head again.  But, you see, I had this dilemma causing a battle in my mind.  Did I wish to continue reading, because I only had about forty pages to the end of the book?  Did I sit and stew over it or did I simply pull out my big girl attitude and finish?  But, regardless of my decision, because the word had been loosed it appeared that all the pages had been emptied, and that ungodly word covered the empty space from front to back.  I understood this had been a character developed by the author, speaking this horrendous word, but I believe it still came from somewhere.  If he/she uses such derogatory language, they may mean it for that particular character, but it came from a place within them.  And believe me when I say, it goes on from there.  If that person carried that within their vocabulary, it most assuredly got tossed around in the home.  Once it’s out in the open, it becomes handed down to the next generation.  And, no matter what that subsequent age group says – get them squeezed in a corner and “bingo,” grandpa comes out.  Now, I know from this there are many, many arguments that can form. But, believe me when I say, until you’ve put on the skin of someone of color, you will never know.  Yes, and I’m not naive – I know there are more books out there like this.  Actually, when I think of it, I can’t say why it struck me the way it did.  It could be my age – who knows, it could have been some kind of rotational pull of the earth.

But, let me ask?  Does that celebrated author – the one who could turn a phrase so poetically, deserve the time and energy I expend in the hopes of expanding my mind, when their thinking had been so obviously narrow-minded?  I don’t know yet, I’m still rolling it around in my mind.  Although, I am always seeking to increase my knowledge – we’re always searching aren’t we?  Life really is too short to waste my time on what I consider a distasteful piece of work.  To sum it all up, I had an overwhelming sense of deception that I had gotten so far in the book, had developed a rapport with the characters, and a fondness for the story to only be snatched away by this evident bigoted author.  So, irascibility or not, I cannot – I will not edify a person, simply because they have been labeled by their peers as great, when this is the work they’ve produced.  Help me out here. Let me know, if you find an author that offends you, do you continue reading?

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