if you need permission you have my permission
I have a thing to say. Kind of a manifesto. Mostly it's something I wanted to say in reply to someone else on Twitter, only I do not have the energy or free time to pursue a Twitter feud, and also 280 characters is insufficient.
But. By way of preamble, let me recommend you a Patreon creator to follow. My colleague Jason Sanford, a prolific writer of short speculative fiction, follows the SF publishing world closely and shares his findings in a regular newsletter, the Genre Grapevine. Those posts are free to the public, but they represent a huge outlay of effort and energy on his part, so if you find them useful, it'd be keen of you to send him a few bucks each month.
The Genre Grapevine covers a wide breadth of items, from the super-serious and important to the humorous yet arguably just as important. What I'm reacting to here falls into the latter category. In the most recent newsletter, there's a link to a tweet highlighting an egregious and highly facepalm-worthy specimen of Men Writing Woman badly. In case you have any trouble reading the text in the photo, or you'd just prefer not to click through to the original tweet, I quote the relevant excerpt here. (There will be a brief pause afterward, in which I will attempt to clean the slime off my keyboard. You're welcome.)
...cuffed, strangled with a bathrobe belt. A troubled young woman walking toward the abyss of destruction. She had had beautiful breasts as well.
Aomame mourned the deaths of these two friends deeply. It saddened her to think that these women were forever gone from the world. And she mourned their lovely breasts--breasts that had vanished without a trace.
This is an excerpt from 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It is not a parody. Judging by some of the links tweeted in reply, it's also not the only book in which his female characters are totally, unrealistically, and laughably obsessed with breasts.
But I am not here to critique Murakami's novels. I have not read Murakami's novels; nor do I plan to. I am here, instead, to critique a very specific phenomenon that occurs in connection to negative critiques of novels. Let me pull a couple tweets out of the reply thread for you to give an example of what I mean...
@CodaReadsalot (10:21 AM May 27) This book is on my “to read” shelf and I am concerned now. I have not read any of his work because it struck me that he does not understand women at all. This is not helping.
@RobinCorrigan84 (12:52 PM May 27) How will you ever know, if you don't read any of his work?
My instinctive response, which I valiantly refrained from posting on Twitter, is this: I won't know. I will go on in ignorance. And somehow I will survive. Mostly by reading books I actually enjoy.
Here's the deal: There are a lot of books in this world. There are more books than you can read in your lifetime. Every book you choose to read represents a book you won't get to read. Ever.
So why should anyone other than you get to choose how you spend your finite reading time?
You get to make that decision, based on whatever the hell you want. You can decide, if you want, never to read another book by an author whose last name ends in a Y. Or even an F! (I'll be sad, but I will support your decision, because it is yours.) You can certainly decide not to read a book based on an excerpt such as the above. However out of context that excerpt might be, it exists! In that book! If you would rather take the time you would have spent reading that book, and instead read a book in which such excerpts do not exist--books by men who don't insert weirdly male-gaze-a-licious boob-fetishization into their female characters' inner narratives--you can do that! The world does not lack for such books! Nor indeed does it lack for books written by women! You could so easily spend an entire reading career never reading a single book with an "also she mourned their boobs" moment. It's easy!
It's your life. You only get so many hours on this Earth. Regarding those you spend reading for pleasure, you have the unilateral right to decide which books are worthy of those hours, and which are not. No other human being on this planet has the right to browbeat you into reading something you don't enjoy by mealy-mouthing some smarm about "what a shame to deprive yourself of such a work of genius for no better reason than petty identity politics" or other high-handed nonsense. If you need a counter argument, here's mine: What a shame to deprive yourself of books you might enjoy, because you spent that time instead reading works you didn't enjoy out of some sense of duty toward someone else's literary opinions?
I mean, this is why I'm not wasting time getting into fights with smarmy, mealy-mouthed, high-handed bullies on Twitter. Also not wasting my time reading Murakami's novels. And if by doing so I am depriving myself of an important experience, that's OK. I'll be over here having other important experiences, thanks.
(For instance, I still haven't read N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. WHY?! Talk about depriving myself! And I'm still working my way simultaneously through Martha Well's Books of the Raksura AND ALSO her Murderbot Diaries. And Ann Leckie's Provenance is still sitting on the shelf, mocking me. TOO MANY BOOKS TOO LITTLE TIME AAAAAAAGH!)