EVERYTHING I LEARNED (I LEARNED FROM BOOKS)

In light of author Tommy Wallach's rather unfortunate approach to the topic of suicide in YA literature (and broader), in the past couple of weeks the community has turned to discussing the resilience of the YA readership base, and the (in)correct way to approach a controversial subject in a book aimed at teens as well as adults.

As far as the act itself, Victoria Schwab addressed it better than I ever could in a guest-post over on YA Book Central, and more still on her Twitter page. Many others have likewise chimed in with incredibly intelligent insights. The consensus stands thus: YA readers are flexible, inflexible, resilient, fragile, tough, and delicate. As all large communities, we are our very own bell curve. And as such, trigger warnings apply. And never is it appropriate to joke about teen suicide to a crowd of teens one neither knows nor sees, nor has an insight into their state of mind.

Quite apart from our resilience, however, another topic bears mentioning - and it's one that we all thought so commonplace that it didn't need a mention. But now, having found ourselves knee-deep in censorship debates and mental health mockery, it apparently doesn't seem so?


Hyperbole aside, the story goes thus: back in the day when I was a fledgling sixteen year-old, I wrote this truly awful story. (Someone, relate? Please?) I didn't know it was awful at the time, of course. In fact, over the next three years I continued to write and rewrite it, until the whole opus reached a whopping 500,000 words amid all its drafts and revisions. And said story would become important to me partially due to a staggering learning curve when it comes to the writing itself (sixteen year old me's writing isn't nineteen year old me's writing, let's just say). But it would become still more important as a retrograde sensitivity check in its own right.

Save your first forays into writing, friends. Not only will they stand to show how far you've come when you look back on them, they will also stand to show how incredibly much your worldview has developed and changed over the years.

Because my approach to sensitive topics in said books is nothing short of unacceptable. How certain characters treat certain other characters is awful, not because of the treatment itself (one ought, in my opinion, to discuss awful treatments, too), but because at the time I didn't see it as a problem. And it is therefore never fixed or reflected on in any way. The way characters throw triggerless triggers around was, in fact, very much akin to the way Tommy Wallach himself went about it - flippantly, jokingly, repeatedly, and devoid of reflection.

It was appalling.

Having since attended college, I wish I were able to say that it was maturity and academics and the higher education that has shaped and informed my mind. And maybe in part it has.

But if it has, it's a very small part. I wasn't thrilled with my chosen college, for reasons which have nothing to do with this topic.

By and large, every single lesson in morality, in the lack of morality, in structure and chaos and empathy and sympathy and cynicism and nihilism and loss and pain has been acquired through books. And, sometimes even more so, it has been acquired through book reviews - the kind that break down the book's philosophy and comment on them intelligently. The kind that, even when they hate a book, they do their best to explain exactly why.

We all have that one book we didn't think to find problematic until someone else was deeply hurt by it and attempted to explain why. And we all have opinions which have changed and evolved in the process. Most of us have that one cringeworthy moment we'd rather forget, not because we were laughed at or mocked, but because we hurt someone with our words, or expressed an opinion we now condemn - and we wish we could take it back.

To have reached a point that I can look back on my writing and my thought-processes and see all their fundamental flaws (and afford to be appalled by them) is a testament to all the books I've read, all the authors I've met, and all the reviews I've taken part in.

And it is so that I don't wholly condemn a person who is only at the start of that journey now. I fully believe they can change. (I am officially a psychology student, after all.) But I dearly wish, as do many, that those who seek to publish and impact those like me would be wary of the sort of impact they produce. It's not a question of censorship or policing or political correctness - it's the question of targeting an audience whose outlook on life is yet being shaped, and who not only devour books mindlessly for a light read, but condense them into messages and lessons and compasses which point the way.

This isn't all of us. But it is a large enough number of us that it warrants a say.

And it is a large enough number that when addressing difficult subjects, one should address them purposely.




This was more of an editorial piece than it is a discussion, I'm aware. But I very, very much want to hear from you guys. Do you feel books and book reviews have informed and shaped the way you think about the world? Is there an author or a book that you feel completely differently about now than you did when you first read it? And how do you feel controversial issues should be addressed in books? Leave us a comment below and let us know.

Also, sorry for the utter lack of lighthearted moments throughout this post. I promise to make an utter fool of myself in the following week and look back on it with regret for many years to come. Trusty patterns are trusty.

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EVERYTHING I LEARNED (I LEARNED FROM BOOKS)
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