On Cancelled Books, Troubled Blood, and JK Rowling

At a fundamental level, the goal of a society is to convince you or force you to behave in a certain way. Using our best knowledge, the attempts oftentimes arise out of the best intentions to keep people safe, well-informed, and productive. At the worst of times, the gestures become coercions or, farther down, forceful corrections.

In ancient history, such books as the Hebrew Torah were just such a gesture by the tribe of Israel. Some of these problems are ones we are still facing today: the act of eating kosher was in keeping us away from wild animals or insects that could give us contagious diseases. The spread of coronavirus and the inclusion of wet markets into the mix clearly shows that we are not out of the woods yet for the conflicts given over to interactions between wild animals and human beings.

On the other hand, some of the laws in ancient times were absurdly constricting, as my fellow youth group members and I often joked about in old testament versus like Deuteronomy 25:11-12…

“If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

The characteristic humor involving sexual parts, the ridiculous nature of fighting for your partner by means of grabbing something that is decidedly off-limits in the 21st century (unless there is consent), and the lack of any empathy in the matter with such a heinous punishment, means that this law was ripe for criticism.

And it should be criticized. One of the benefits of living in a progressive age is the ability to laugh off some of the worst decisions of our history.

But people stop laughing when society’s decisions are brought to home. The great benefit to cultural evolution over biological evolution is that human beings have been able to leverage our social cohesion in order to make grand decisions that have propelled our laws, technology, and our codes of conduct into a much more sustainable and flourishing level of existence. The payoff to this system is that because we have transcended much of our natural selection, we nevertheless are still inside bodies evolved for very rustic means (having sex and propagating our species, as well as eating high-fattening foods). We must instead come to a consensus on what actions are okay and dismissible, and what actions endanger the well-being of the society.

In a world where in-group bias and other intuitions actively fight this calling on a daily basis, this very fundamental aspect of deciding society is fraught with complications, ones that we will always suffer through. But it is my belief that our Western methods of using discourse, representational government, and a third-party judicial system, have done wonders to assist us in the best ways for getting us to decide peacefully.

It is in this context that I would like to speak about a trend in the literate world of human beings, where some of the best linguistic inventions of our time, books, routinely come under attack for the knowledge they contain. These books, cancelled or banned, speak to us of our wariness to form a society in which the freedom of speech clashes with our desires to keep society “safe” physically and socially.

And as the harrowing year of 2020 lingers on, we have suddenly found ourselves turning to JK Rowling, an author who has served us rather well in the past. Writing the Harry Potter series, she is the first US-known billionaire for writing books. Her themes of family, friends, and the power over larger evils, have served well not just for her success, but for continuing research done on their power in the well-being of our lives. More and more longitudinal studies point to the benefit of closeness to parents, closeness to friends and social engagements, and how it really does take a village to raise a child. Rowling’s Harry Potter series works because of how fundamental it is to our existence, regardless of its accoutrements of magic and wizardry. It works because, for lack of a better term, it is human.

After writing the greatest series to date, JK Rowling could have relished in her wealth, but she has decided to move on. The Casual Vacancy was a tepid attempt at literature that suffered because of her talents, which is to write action and plot with a simultaneity of detail that is better suited for genre fiction, a critique she took to heart by investing in crime fiction. Her Cormoran Strike series is five books in, with the main character, a private investigator and military veteran solving cases ranging from celebrity “suicide” to the cold case of a disappearance of a young feminist over forty years ago.

While her books continue to do well, the recent book, Troubled Blood, came into some trouble of it’s own with its release in September because of the combined thoughts and opinions of the author herself with the content of the latest addition.

Since June of 2020, JK Rowling has stood her ground on a number of subjects relating to the transgendered and transsexual movement. These tweets (and eventually a lengthy blog post) point to what some believe is a very “transphobic” line of reasoning: that men who dress in women’s clothing are not women biologically, as far as I can gather from her blog post.

This changeover in a fanbase is unprecedented. From her main actors in the film adaptations to parents and concerned citizens now rejecting the progress she had made on the original series that made her famous, the fact remains that JK Rowling has gone from cancelled by an incredibly conservative community, who considered witchcraft an occult practice and part of some work of the devil, to being cancelled by the opposite end of the spectrum! The far left is now taking their turn in attacking JK Rowling for writing what they believe to be a “transphobic” novel.

All tweets and blog posts aside: is Troubled Blood a transphobic novel?

The criticism, which was lobbed just before the novel’s release, sent the internet into a tailspin. What I had realized in much of the criticism of the book was that, at 927 pages, the novel would have been hefty to be propaganda. Oftentimes images, audio, and video work better to commit to a cause, while literature has been in the healthy habit (thank God) of fragmenting certitude, and making the issues far more complex. Not only that, but it seemed as though much of the frustration was in response to headlines alone, and many people felt they had neither the time nor the mental energy to read through the book.

My wife and I, being big fans of the series, were going to read the book no matter what. But as I read, the backlash toward JK Rowling kept nagging at me. What does it mean to “cancel” a book? How does it differ from a “banned” book? Is society ever in the right for such an attempt, and if so, what should be the disqualifying factors?

Hopefully the words I write here can help us understand Troubled Blood from a place of ideas, and not from ideology or identity.

Banned Books vs. Cancelled Books

It may be difficult at first glance to answer this question, but what is the difference?

As far as I can tell, banned books come from the “top-down” and are removed from public access because a government seeks to have it removed based on either the words written in the book, or the thoughts engendered after the fact.

A cancelled book is a “bottom-up” rebuttal, where citizens who live in a society are outraged that this book is accessible. This is mostly to do with parents interested in keeping their children safe from the dangers of the ideas of the world that they believe to be either transgressive or suggestive of activities that could harm their upbringing.

Luckily Wikipedia is on it with two databases on just this delineation. We have “List of Banned Books,” and then we have “List of commonly challenged books in the United States.”

Half length portrait of William Pynchon

There is obviously the chance for overlap. Famous author Thomas Pynchon’s ancestor, William Pynchon, was lucky enough to be the first author in the New World to suffer from his book being burned both by society, but also by a governing body. The Massachusetts General Court found the book guilty of heresy after its publication in 1650, barely forty years after the founding of the first colony in America with Jamestown in 1607.

I’m going to borrow a post from November 2015 here by Daniel Crown which I think deserves full reading, but it is interesting to see the context under which the book was banned. Here is Crown going into further detail of the moment of the ban:

The letter states that the Court first received the book during its quarterly meeting in October 1650. “At the same time,” they write, “a Ship in the Harbor was ready to set sail for England.” The Court, they continue:

perceiving by the Title Page that the Contents of the Book were unsound, and Derogatory, both to the Justice and the Grace of Christ, [worried that] this Book being published under the name of a New English Gentleman, might occasion many to think that New England also concurred in the allowance of such Exorbitant Aberrations.11

It is likely, then, the Court did not read the entirety of Pynchon’s book before having it burned. In their eyes, its opening pages were rife enough with heresy to merit immediate action.

This dismissal of a book without its reading and interpretation in the brain seems to have been a recurring theme in the 1600s just as it is today, and the parallel structure of both of them leads us into bouts of depression and wine drinking.

Just what exactly it is about the tendency for people who abstain from reading a particular work, or those who are agnostic over the prospect of reading at all, to make claims on the reading paths of others, continues to astound me to this day.

The list of banned books by the United States government is thankfully short. That is, it is short in comparison to the list of controversial books. Clicking on the opposite link is a hellscape of everyone’s harsh opinions on almost any book to ever suffer for being on an English teacher’s canon. Here are some books that might sound familiar that were challenged for anything from alcohol use to “supernatural and occult themes, anti-family, and encouraging disobedience.”

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Black Boy, Animal Farm, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, As I Lay Dying, Beloved (Toni Morrison!?), Brave New World, Fight Club, The Giver, For Whom the Bell Tolls (“Pro-Communist views” indeed), The Great Gatsby, Gone with the Wind…

And then of course there is the Harry Potter series, which has been affronted with all sorts of accusations, ones that layer over or contradict one another. From 2000 to 2009, it was the book series that was challenged, according to the American Library Association.

Here are the points given for why it should be banned on the Wikipedia page.

Unsuited to age group, witchcraft, religious viewpoint, anti-family, darkness/scariness/violence, and for “setting bad examples”

What group would be suited to read a story about the magical adventures of students aged eleven to eighteen? If burning witches in Salem did little to quell the fascination with the occult, what makes us think burning Harry Potter will? Did Potter’s mother, Lily, have nothing to say about family through her sacrificial barrier made to defend Harry, give him his scar, and send him on his journey to destroy the remainder of the fragmented Voldemort? When exactly does darkness become scary for a child and when does it stop? And what…one Earth…does it mean to “set a bad example?”

The worst Harry gets is most likely in Order of the Phoenix, in which he finds himself publicly debating Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts, who is (along with the Ministry of Magic) in denial that Voldemort has returned. Should Harry have simply followed orders for orders’ sake?

Dear reader, I wish I could tell you that these jibes at the books were harmless, but there were many occasions when my family prevented me from reading books with magic in them in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. One such novel was The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, a book given to me by my grandmother about the story of Merlin. At least I think it is. I’m reading the Wikipedia page after all.

But another series of books on the chopping block was Harry Potter. I eventually downloaded them on audiobook and listened to them in secret while doing chores around the house. My parents were content thinking they had raised a good son, and I was content as a high schooler knowing that I had rebelled in my own way.

The truth of the matter was that banning and cancelling books was not all bad. Many books simply got through because I read too much and my parents were not interested in doing the intellectual labor to determine what I could and could not read. One such series I was allowed to read was the Thomas Covenant series, which is odd considering that in the first book the main character (an anti-hero with leprosy) rapes a young woman on his journey…

The main incentive as far as I can tell with challenged books resides in keeping young people from experiencing an alternative version of the world from what their parents have presented.

In 2020 this is a laughable proposition. Besides the fact that at a very basic level, even genetically, we can conclude that children are…uh…different from their parents, we can also say that between the 15 to 35 years that have transpired in between generations, that the culture has changed dramatically too. To assume because of these differences that a parent would have any idea what literature will be called upon to be helpful and which is deemed “derogatory” is a game no parent can win in the end.

It did not work for me. Here I am an English major, reading the Unabomber’s manifesto because Sam Harris mentioned it in a Tweet.

The assumption that a person will become the thing they read has much less to do with the words of the book and much more to do with the person who brings themselves to the book. That is a careful distinction but it is everything. Millions of people read Catcher in the Rye, but it is only in a few who use it as an excuse to shoot famous British musicians. And even then we can conclude that Mark David Chapman’s reading was incorrect.

The most notably suggestive book as far as I can tell is that of Mein Kampf, a book that is encased in a rich black at most bookstores. Like buying condoms, walking out with a copy of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography is an emotional gauntlet in and of itself. And one of the benefits of online shopping and e-readers is in the rise of the ability to not be judged for reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover on the train…

This nervousness over books is strange because we as a society are so snugly associated with thoughts and ideas that we tend to identify with them. And that is incorrect.

This line of thinking is no different than the New Testament conviction of thought crime that our good Lord and Savior Jesus Christ adopted when he stated in Matthew 5:27 – 28:

Ye have heard that it was said by them ofold time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

This identification with our thoughts has caused the strained mental health of millions around the world several times over. The truth of the matter is that people can read books for all sorts of reasons. Some people absolutely want to become identified with the ideas therein, as Mark David Chapman literally wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield. But then there are professors who read for the purposes of research, and their perspective could not be more sterile.

As long as there continue to be a variance in the thoughts and actions of human beings everywhere, there will continue to be a complication with attempting to ban or cancel books of any sort, regardless of the best intentions of parents and educators.

The last counterargument one could give could be the exaggerated gesture. What if there was a book that promoted violence? What if it was unadulterated in its attempt to rile up an audience, or attack a certain race. Surely that would be grounds for a ban?

In Defense of Looting by Vicky Osterweil | Bold Type Books

Funnily enough, in recent history we have had such books. Vicky Osterweil’s book endorsing theft has been brought to attention by NPR and then criticized heavily by most everyone else. The hypocrisy of a book that defends looting only to feature a copyright on the publication page is one of those ironies that many have not failed to mention.

Friedrich Nietzsche - Wikipedia

But many also view such famous philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche as little more than a racist writer.

Rather than have the views of racism, oppression, violence and coercion limited, what we should do is allow people to see it. It is easy to refute such claims when their ideas are brought out in the forum alongside everyone else’s. To limit their perspective is to invite curiosity, as it did with me when I began reading not less but more when my parents prevented me from doing so.

With those preliminaries out of the way, and with a general understanding of what banning and cancelling books in history leads to, we should take a look now at the subject of this piece: Troubled Blood, and the author who wrote it.

Troubled Blood

Irksome Killers

Spoilers Throughout

Is the book transphobic?

Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott have come out of several cases that have tested their mettle and resolve. In the beginning, their investigation into Lula Landry in The Cuckoo’s Calling involves whether or not the beautiful model committed suicide. In The Silkworm, the question is on the disappearance of an author named Owen Quine near the publication of his latest book Bombyx Mori. Career of Evil is the harrowing rush to catch a serial killer from Strike’s past before he pounces on them both. Lethal White goes “straight to the top” investigating Jasper Chiswell, the Minister of Culture, as he is being blackmailed for shady dealings in his past.

Now Troubled Blood is the comforting ride of a cold case. Margorot Bamborough, clinician and mother to Anna and wife to Roy Phipps, leaves work on a rainy night in 1974 to meet a longtime friend and fellow “ex-bunny girl” Oonagh Kennedy for a drink at a local pub. She is never seen again.

The 1974 investigation is botched from the start. Bill Talbot, the lead investigator at the time, is so keen on linking her disappearance to the serial killer Dennis Creed, that he either ignores or fabricates evidence to keep the story on his side. Combined with a medical mishap and Talbot goes insane, leading new investigators to pick up the pieces, but by then it is too late and the damage is done.

Dennis Rader 'had picked out his 11th victim who he planned to hang upside  down' | Daily Mail Online

Much of the controversy surrounding JK Rowling’s book, which features a man wearing dresses in order to lure women to their death, perpetuates what people believe to be a harsh stereotype. Many of the critics of JK Rowling’s book say that the story is old-fashioned in this way, an atavistic throwback that we should steer clear of in 2020. Clearly these people did not read the book and do not have a sense of history. Dennis Creed is most obviously a spin off from Dennis Rader, similarly named and pictured above, was known as the BTK Killer for “bind, torture, and kill.”

Dennis Rader would often wear women’s clothing as sexual kink, much like Creed, and operated in the 1970s, around the same time.

And with the rise in popularity of the work of the Behavioral Science Unit with Mindhunter on Netflix in 2017, only a year before Lethal White was released, it should not be too surprising that Rowling, in looking for a new avenue for the detective pair to trace, coupled this with the rise in popularity as well of cold cases.

With all that said, it is rather surprising to find just how little of Dennis Creed is actually in Troubled Blood. If anything the character exploration of Margot Bamborough has much more to do with a different theme entirely, one of motherhood and feminism.

But while we’re on the subject of the exaggerated in serial killing, we should console ourselves in the fact that serial killers like Dennis Rader are not trans. A person who dresses up likes this in women’s clothing cannot really be equated with what we’ve learned in the 21st century with a growing awareness of transgendered and transsexual lives. What Dennis Rader does is totally different in content and outlook than Natalie Wynn. A profound cultural YouTube critic has more differences than similarities to a serial killer, yet conflating the two seems easy when the topic at hand involves burgeoning identities. The differences in personality between a thoroughly messed up person like a serial killer, who represents an exception rather than the rule of society, compared to the ongoing discovery of identity, is a wide margin indeed. Those who make up LGBT (according to the UCLA William Institute School of Law) stands at around 4.5%. And we have theoretical reasons for believing that this is an understated amount, due to the stilted cultural norms that exist about LGBT today.

And let us for the sake of argument assume the worst. Let us assume that JK Rowling specifically wanted to have a trans serial killer in the book for the purpose of making a point. It would be very difficult to follow that up with the line of thinking that Medium writer Nicole Froio makes in the follow up piece concerning criminals in crime fiction:

The stereotyping of minorities as predators — whether it’s a Black man, a Black trans woman or a queer White man — disrupts our ability to struggle against sexual violence as a structure of domination, and the people who are scapegoated are usually the ones who suffer most.

This seems at first glance to be a righteous claim, but it is one that is unsustainable. Should all crime fiction writers attempt to write in this way, we would be hard pressed to find any other villains than white, heterosexual men (preferrably baby boomers).

Mindhunter' Season 2 Finale Recap: Meeting the Monster | Decider

This is a trap that Mindhunter’s second season explores when Wayne Williams is tried for the murders of two boys in 1980 and 1981. The Behavioral Science Unit makes the correct conclusion that serial killing rarely crosses racial lines. But in a racially charged context, in a city where new money and old money are interacting with a growing multicultural city like Atlanta, it was a difficult pill to swallow. So much so that HBO featured a documentary entitled Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children (2020), where in it there are votes taken at town hall meetings where many are either unsure of Wayne Williams’s guilt, or do not believe it at all.

Suspects being irksome candidates seems to be a difficult thing for us to admit, and that is a problem, because truth should not stand in the way of making pleasant our identity politics with violent criminals. But on the list of things that Dennis Rader did that came across as serial killer-worthy, is dressing up really on the high end of this list? Is it so much a priority in the same way that people want Dennis Creed to be as a serial killer who dresses up?

Or is the dressing up something else? Many predators in the wild have been known to feign death in order to lure prey in, or they pretend to be weaker. Ted Bundy was known to wear a cast, in order to signal to someone a certain weakness that made the victim comfortable, and this is no different than a distraction or deception much like other species of animals in order to make a kill. Dressing up for murder and dressing up to establish an identity in public have two very different intentions.

It is the intent involved by Dennis Rader and Dennis Creed, similar to Ted Bundy, in that it is specifically used to lure, and this is not a functional use of “dressing up” in society.

Motherhood

The major theme of the book is in motherhood. Strike is the son of a groupie, Leda for the band The Deadbeats. Lead singer Johnny Rokeby does not believe Leda when she claims that the son is his until the paternity test, but upon confirmation Rokeby agrees to lend Leda child support. Rather than use the royalty money from the huge album sales to give Strike a good, full life, Leda moves Strike and his sister Lucy from place to place, going from adventure to adventure, leading Strike to eventually conclude that though she might be his biological mother, she does a poor job at the maternal requirements for a flourishing child.

Strike’s surrogate parents are Joan and Ted, who provide the stability needed, to the point where Strike, enamored by Ted’s military service, enlists after dropping out at Oxford.

In Troubled Blood, Joan suffers from cancer and chemotherapy, and over time it becomes clear that she does not have much time left.

Strike, though he admits that Joan is “the better mother” is unwilling to take sides like his sister Lucy is so willing to do, claiming that Leda did have rare moments that he looked back on with occasional delights, and as we see throughout the book, he is not too quick to dismiss biology and genes as factors in the design of a person.

Strike’s ex-fiance, the beautiful Charlotte Campbell, is going through her own painful realizations. After the birth of her twins, Charlotte comes to the conclusion that she despises the children and motherhood, and sends several inappropriate texts to Strike in the hopes of winning him back. Charlotte’s mental frailty and propensity for the melodramatic are not lost on Strike, and he keeps a fair distance, but the rejection of her children is not as unnerving as we think it ought to be to Strike, given his own past. “I’ve seen shitheads come from good parents,” Strike tells Robin far later in the book, “and vice versa.”

Of course, motherhood also factors centrally in the cold case. Margot Bamborough was striding between two worlds in the heat of second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s. Bamborough was progressively-minded on both sides of the coin: “bunny girl” by night (night club hostess in coquettish garb), smart young woman by day, doing what she can to move her career as a medical doctor. But she had also been given a life of hard luck. Her father falls off the ladder and breaks his back, paralyzing him for life. Making up for his inability to work, her goals for life seem stymied until she meets her soon-to-be husband Roy Phipps. He represents the cosmopolitan and educated aristocrat (at least in appearance) that she is interested in becoming. But while she marries Phipps and has a child, the husband wants what he wants, and sets new standards for what he believes she should work. Phipps would rather Margot stay at home with the newborn rather than use Cynthia, a cousin, to come in and care for the baby instead. Margot reconnects with an old flame just before disappearing, a charismatic artist by the name of Paul Satchwell, and she gets a glimpse of what life could have been like if she had taken the road less traveled. Mere days later, in 1974, she disappears without a trace.

Robin too is debating the road less traveled. It seemed as though, married to Matthew, her life was on a conveyor belt to middle class happiness. But she believes that her increasing dedication to her detective work alongside Strike drove Matthew away. What is most surprising to Robin is that it wasn’t until joining the detective agency that she discovered that she wanted something more than marriage, and that was to be a private investigator.

Her cousin Katie gives Robin a message that she keeps in the back of her mind all throughout the novel. “It seems as though you’re traveling in a different direction than the rest of us.” Robin, who personalizes the statement, equates “different” with “backward,” but her line of thinking is no different than the choices that Bamborough had to make in the 1970s. Is it possible for a woman to have everything, and so much of it? Or does something have to give? Does Robin want children? Would that be possible in this line of work, in which Robin already suffers a scar across her forearm fighting off a serial killer who, had Strike not intervened, would likely have killed her?

Meanwhile the rest of the world is moving on. Robin’s family is glowing when it turns out they have a newborn to celebrate. Robin becomes an aunt, while Strike’s “aunt” in Aunt Joan is fading away.

These decisions were no different than for JK Rowling, who clearly did not take the standard road of landing a normal job, marrying a nice man, and having 2.5 children in a suburban house in the country. She certainly never got the chance to be anonymous with her family, taking trips to Brighton, but there you have it.

And all the while Anna Bamborough, the daughter of Margot all grown up, hires Strike because she wants closure. She is less interested in finding out who, if anyone, committed a murder, as she is wondering what happened to her mother? It remains a possibility throughout the novel that Margot snapped and left her husband and child to become a different person. Though many of the characters deny this possibility as adamantly as possible, it is unclear of whether they are denying it for her sake, or theirs.

JK Rowling’s book is not transphobic because it is far more intimate about herself, as most fiction is. When authors write, it is not as if they simply create stories out of the ether. Rowling’s fiction in the Harry Potter series may center around fathers and men, particularly in the later novels after the passing of Rowling’s own father, but Troubled Blood is much more focused on mothers.

Conclusion

I have spent plenty of time here talking about the book, and JK Rowling’s relation to it. That being said, I have done little to remark upon her blog post concerning the recent subject of trans and gender reassignment. The reason for this is my lack of understanding on the subject of trans, and the more I seem to read, the less I know.

This is because even in the feminist community, the determination of sex and gender is fraught with its own delineations, most notably whether we believe that biology matters. This interview with Judith Butler should assist with that confusion.

I agree with Douglass Murray in his most recent book The Madness of Crowds that the questions surrounding sex and gender are far from answered. Though I am also a third of the way into Gina Rippon’s book exploring the subject of gender in the context of our brains, I expect by the end I will be none the wiser.

But Rippon’s conclusions help us to understand the power of fiction, as she suggests that we should be investigating what it is about our individual differences that are so fascinating.

Say all we want about groups: the feminists, LGBT, serial killers, bigots and conspiracy theorists. The conclusion that we could draw on all this is that we have forgotten that people are individuals and are worthy of respect and introspection. At the end of the day, most of us interact with people in close-knit communities, and we speak to each other in the workplace, in the store, at church, the library, and in other places that are intimate and so miniscule that Twitter has no hold on it. Unless of course we belittle the person by taking our phones out and record them, thinking that a five second video holds all context, states all cases, and leaves open the possibility for dozens of interpretations. That is not Twitter’s job, that is fiction’s job.

Regardless of JK Rowling’s opinions and stances, could a person read her book, not have a Twitter account, a proper internet connection, not understand a single component of what the rising storm is in the sex and gender debate, and still walk away without a jaded opinion? I would say after reading the book that the answer is a most definitive yes. The book is, like many great books, about a great many things, but never so much one thing that it slips into propaganda or bigotry. Not even a little bit.

Troubled Blood, a fifth novel in a series that weighs in at over 900 pages, sold over 65,000 copies in the first five days. The debates that JK Rowling have taken upon herself may have bled only slightly into the reception of the book, but the truth is that her writing is as indelible as ever. In fact, I would go so far as to say that she is at the top of her game. All her powers of simultaneity, of her style rendered invisible behind a layered page-turner of plot, place, and people, are so strong that I continue to inhale her work. She is one of the best writers alive.

I am at the stage of my life now where I have determined to be a Reader, someone who thinks deeply upon the subjects brought out by literature, essays, and books, however uncomfortable they might make me. It seems to me a deep failure of social media to only present a pathetic facsimile of what the longer forms actually do, to such a degree that we no longer have an awareness of the fullness of a person. Because of our itemized boxes in our descriptions, resumes, skills, and feeds, we seem to think that the self is immutable, a permanent record, and that like gadgets, we can be tweaked to serve a user’s needs. If the user happens to not like a book, simply hit the cancel button.

No one is going to tell me what not to read, because what they are effectively asking me to renounce is understanding, to renounce education. What an absurd request! No illiterate person is going to tell me what to read.

We seem to think that cancelling is the most powerful maneuver we can make, when in fact it is the opposite: it is leaning in and reading deeply that we come to understand one another.

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