Literary Observations From An Old Woman

I enjoy reading. I enjoy all sorts of reading: books, magazines, blogs, newspapers, labels in clothing, fast food wrappers, etc. I am chronically afflicted with the desire to read. I have always read, and remember sitting with my brothers and either or both of my parents who would read to us patiently and endlessly. I remember Mom reading Treasure island, Curious George, Five Little Peppers and how They Grew, Henry Huggins (and all the accompanying books), Dr. Seuss, Karen, Safari, Annapurna… and a lot more. Almost anything was game. So it’s not a surprise that this is one of my favorite ways to spend time.

But I have become a disillusioned reader. I remember the first time I read a book by Koontz. I was going along and suddenly, what I thought was a good old mystery became some supernatural epic tale of unbelievable events. I was surprised by my gut rejection of this genre but quickly and completely crossed Koontz off my list of prospective reading material. As a young mother, I’d frequent the public library grazing through the stacks. I’d grab a pile of books and finish them up like the confirmed bibliophile I am still. I was stunned when one of the innocuous novels I brought home depicted a graphic sexual attack by a woman against a man.

In those days the books had cards in the backs of the books which were used to sign out each one. A “date due” card was then placed in the pocket in return. When I had a difficult time deciding whether to read a book or not, I’d scroll down the signatures looking for friends who’d read the same book. Now I was appalled that my name would be forever imprinted on the sign-out card. I strode to the counter and explained my dilemma to the librarian, naively believing that their quiet demeanor represented a conservative ideology. The woman at the desk stared at me as though I was insane when I explained my shock and dismay at having innocently embarked on what was obviously a filthy book AND having my name inscribed as a reader on the book’s card. I wanted my name removed. I wanted a warning on the card. I suggested a red line. Or a star. or something to denote that this was a “mature” subject. I was pretty much laughed out of the library although a kind-hearted older librarian sweetly made out a fresh card for the book; a card without MY name on it.

These days I do a lot of reading on my newly procured Kindle. I’ve re-read a few favorites and explored new books, hungrily soaking up the words. But I find that I must proceed with caution. So many tales now revolve around sex. Well, okay, I admit that most stories on some level or another include a good dose of sex (pun intended). It’s not the sex I object to, but rather the salacious manner in which it is done. Do I really need to know every detail? Do I need a description of each person’s anatomy? Do I need a blow by blow picture (pun intended again)?

I am so deeply disappointed in what seems to be so common that it is generally accepted, apparently. Really, I don’t think I’d object to the sex, salacious or not, if it didn’t seem to be the pivot point of just about every incident in some of the books I’ve taken a look at recently. Sexual encounters run amok. Boy meets girl. They have sex. “Oh, what was your name?” It’s no wonder our culture is so rampant with casual sex and dysfunctional relationships. Yes, every generation faults the ones coming on its heels, but my friends, it does seem to be the case. And not just the ones younger than I, but my own generation is rampant with its own revolution of failed free love, focusing on its own gratification rather than greater depth.

I do not mean to belittle everyone. There are many, many people who have lived extraordinary lives of giving and sacrifice; love and mercy. I also don’t mean to appear as a total prude. Sex is great. But not ALL sex is great. And not all sex is meant to be shared. There are, I’m sure, wonderful ways to do it, and I’m sure that there are quite a few authors and poets who came along after Solomon who were more than capable of doing so.

I just wish there was some way to know what I am buying or borrowing before I have to read about some detail I’d really rather not know. I’d like to know what’s safe to share with a younger reader without having to read the whole thing myself. I just finished a “young adult” piece of fiction and was appalled not only by the sexual content but also the criminal behavior, profanity, and lack of negative consequences for the protagonist and his pals. Oy vey. Feeling old. Feeling old indeed. What to do? 

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