Recently, my mother found a Books-a-Million gift card lying around the house, and handed it off to me. There were ten dollars left on it, or, in reader terms, one mass-market paperback. I started picking through the sci-fi/fantasy section. I must have looked lost, as a very nice employee came to my aid with plenty of recommendations. (I ended up buying The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.) During our conversation, I asked him where to start with Mercedes Lackey. He suggested The Shadow of the Lion over Magic’s Pawn, where he started. I asked him why, and he said to me, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial level, that the main character was gay.
I really didn’t have to the heart to tell him that not only was he talking to a queer girl, but an ace one at that. (It’s just so awkward when this happens.) As I regaled my mother with the story, she suggested that perhaps it was difficult for him, a straight male, to identify with a gay male. I think that’s no excuse, but it did get me to thinking about how I identify and empathize with characters.
I identify and empathize with plenty of straight and gay characters, as well as plenty of characters of color and plenty of male characters. Given how Hollywood appears to think that it’s hard for a predominantly white audience to identify with heroes of color, I find the idea that people can’t truly identify with someone not like them downright insulting to everyone’s intelligence. At the heart of things, we are all human–we all experience the same highs and lows of life, no matter what different forms they take. Disregarding a book or any other form of media solely because the lead is queer, black, or not your gender speaks to me of internalized discrimination. Now, I’m not saying my helpful employee doesn’t have a right to not enjoy Magic’s Pawn, but the reason he objected rubs me the wrong way.
But it’s not like there aren’t certain kinds of characters I find difficult to empathize with. For instance, in The Midnight Guardian, one half of the lead couple concludes that love makes life worth living. I quite agree. He then goes to clarify that it is sexual love makes life worth living. Obviously, the entire book and especially that character lost huge brownie points with me. I’m trying to think of other traits that immediately turn me off, but they are almost always given to characters we’re meant not to identify or empathize with. And there are characters I find it easier to empathize with. For instance, nearly all queer folk go through a fairly terrifying period in their teenage years that cisgendered and straight folk don’t, so it’s a bit easier for me, as an ace woman, to understand the trials of a teenage character trying to come to terms with their sexuality and coming out to their family. And so on and so forth with my ethnicity, my nationality, my heritage, and my gender. But that doesn’t keep me from identifying with and empathizing with characters who aren’t like me. That’s the magic of reading; it allows you to experience things far removed from your experience, letting us see the whole, beautiful spectrum of the human experience.
In short; no excuse, BAM! employee, no excuse.
This week, I read The Paladin by C. J. Cherryh, which… well, let me put it this way, it’s going to be a first for this blog. That review is next week, as I’d like to increase my buffer to make up for the inevitable lack of reading during my first two weeks of school; I have a wedding to attend and then there’s Dragon*Con. (I will try and go to a book panel for y’all, but let’s be honest–most of the Heroes and Firefly cast will be there, as will Sean Astin. It’s going to be tight.) I started The Irresistible Henry House yesterday and made great headway, so I ought to finish that tonight.
I totally dropped the ball on giveaways, didn’t I? My most humble apologies, dear reader. Trisha is giving away a copy of Dracula, My Love at eclectic/eccentric, which closes on Friday. And I’m giving away Shadow of the Swords, The Burning City, and an advanced review copy of The Transformation of Bartolomew Fortuno.
I mentioned on Twitter last night that I’m thinking of hosting a Narnia Week, per the advice of a good friend. My idea is this–Monday through Friday, we would read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle. The Horse and His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew would be optional reads for the weekend. Ideally, I’d like to host this the week of November 29, Lewis’ birthday, but over Thanksgiving might be a better idea. (Although, I’m probably going to go see Tangled twice and that’s NaNoWriMo.) Any thoughts?
Are there some characters you find it harder or easier to identify or empathize with?