Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much any more. Resist!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Dirty Old Readers

I almost entitled this post, "What is this obsession with youth?" Then I realized, it's not the obsession with youth, it's the dirty old readers who are obsessed with youth.

As I've been surfing lit blogs lately, I've come across a number of references to "best books of the last 25 years." Someone asked Miss Snark what her favorite books of the last 25 years were, and I was incredibly depressed to see her list comprised entirely of books by men.

I can't help it. I'm a feminist. I was becoming aware of the world from 1970 to 1974, a time during which feminism was a hotly debated topic. Mama was not a bra-burning feminist, but she was a straight-party-line Democrat, which meant she instilled in me a burning desire to find equality for everyone. Everyone. Regardless of race, religion, sex, IQ, wealth, or whatever other division you can think of, everyone should be treated equally. Equal pay. Equal voting rights. Equal education. Equal opportunity. Dang it. You don't have to set a match to your undergarments to know that women should be treated equally.

So if a tasteful and erudite woman like Miss Snark can completely ignore all the books written by women in the last 25 years, why can someone like me -- a total nobody -- get upset about that?

Then I realized, dang, all my favorite books are written by women. OK, actually, I realized that, like, ages ago. Look at my profile. To Kill A Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind, The Bluest Eye, The Awakening. Go back to my childhood -- Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women. I prefer women writers. Poets -- Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Sylvia Plath. Sure, I loved The Catcher in the Rye, but it never touches Kate Chopin's hems in the "best books of all time" race.*

Am I not guilty of some sexism myself?

And then -- and then -- I realized that none of my favorite books were written in the last 25 years. Oh, it's much harder to come up with a list of the best books of the last 25 years. If I were to dig down deep to find really great, timeless books written in the last 25 years, I can really only cough up two that I just loved. And I'm not sure that my loving them means they're great. I loved Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Yes, that's a Stephen King novella. But did you read it? It's so delicate and beautiful. The ending is ... well, let's just say that I didn't like the part where the girl meets the monster. But the rest of the book is sublime.

Then there's The Love Letter by Cathleen Schine. I was the only person I know who didn't find it completely hilarious. Yes, there was humor in it, very gentle humor, I thought. It mostly struck me as a sweet, slightly sad story with a great deal of hope at the end. Hollywood tried to turn it into a romantic comedy. I'm pretty sure the movie flopped.

But neither of those books can compare with my top four. So what is this recent obsession with "the last 25 years"? Is it just dirty old readers looking for a shiny, new lovers? What's wrong with the old lovers?

Oh, I can't answer these questions. I'm just asking them. I mean, I'm just sayin'. Is all.

*Authors in order of the books I mentioned: Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, Toni Morrison, Kate Chopin, Laura Ingalls Wilder, LM Montgomery, Louisa Mae Alcott. Catcher was, of course, penned by JD Salinger, lamentably not a woman.


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