I must have been about thirteen and we must have been in California. My family was on vacation, which meant I was functionally dead to the world, trying to make myself small enough that I could continue reading and forget how brutally and physically homesick I was. We were eating in a restaurant, outside; all that clear, strong California sun shining down on us. Had I noticed, I probably would have hated the heat for being too dry (and not tangibly and thickly humid), but I was wrapped up in a copy of Lit Riffs.
Like most children, I knew exactly what I could get away with each parent: if I wanted something, I had to ask Dad, not Mom. A few days earlier in a dark, almost perfectly square bookstore, I had silently presented the yellow tome to my father, who purchased it for me. As my parents and my brother ate, I steadfastly read, until my bladder summoned me to my feet. I placed Lit Riffs pages down on the wooden table and excused myself, wriggling out of the booth like an awkward fish.
When I came back, my brother had Lit Riffs accusingly in hand, and my parents were looking at me. I inwardly grimaced. I had attracted attention. The first story in the book in my brother’s hands was based on “Maggie May”, a song about a young, possible teenage, man having a sexual relationship with an older woman. It was sexually explicit, but not as much as some of the other stories. It was the first book I’d ever read that proposed anything resembling Roland Barthes’ concept of the death of the author.
“You can’t read this,” my mother said, plucking the book from my brother’s unbelieving hands and making it vanish. She made it vanish so thoroughly that I’ve never found it in the sprawling monster that is my parents’ library, with its tentacles in the basement, the garage, my mother’s office, and the master bedroom. Perhaps she made my father return it before we left town. I hope she didn’t throw it away.
I remember this incident more clearly than most of my childhood vacations because it was the first time I was told that I could not read something because I was too young for it.
Of course, this didn’t stop me one whit. As soon as we returned home and I could stand upright, I silently slipped a copy of American Gods into my mother’s hands at our local Books-a-Million.
As a kid, I may not have known that people could wear different shoes everyday, but I did know that, as a reader, I was entitled to read anything I could get my hands on. Who was going to stop me? The book I read and reread the most as a kid wasn’t Little Women, but the alarmingly misogynistic and homophobic 1961 self-help manual Understanding Other People, scavenged from my parents’ library. I may have been limited by my age, gender, and extraordinarily poor social skills, but, in books, the world was my oyster.
So whenever I hear discussion over what books are appropriate for what age, my eyes sort of glaze over and I can only think of banned books. Obviously, every parent is different, and their choices as parents should be respected. But, in the same vein, every child is different. I can’t speak to any individual situation save my own and, for me, running rampant through bookstores and libraries gave me an agency and a freedom I lacked in the rest of my young life. Appropriate, inappropriate… what did it matter what labels people assigned my reading material? I had chosen it. It was mine. I just want every kid to feel that kind of ownership over something.
How is it already June? I have so much reading to do! I have the best workload ever at the moment, between book blogging and the advance homework for my publishing program. I got through How to Suppress Women’s Writing, The Elements of Style, The Whole Fromage, Top of the Rock, and several Bond films. I’ve only two to go, although I do plan on watching Skyfall again. But the Bondathon won’t be completed here on the blog until the end of the year. Bless those scheduled posts.
This week’s links:
- “Queering Food Justice” talks about food access for low-income households, and how to take it into your own hands.
- Kendra James at Racialicious discusses when to racebend and when not to.
- David Wong’s “The Five Ugly Lessons Hiding in Every Superhero Movie” is pretty standard Cracked fare, but I’m linking the last page because it includes a glorious rebuttal when people tell you “It’s just a movie!“
- With the release of After Earth, Shadow and Act examines Will Smith’s suspiciously noncontroversial film career.
- Zainab Khan, at The Feminist Wire, asks “Why Do White Guys Hate My Hijab?“
- Fit, Feminist, and (Almost) Fifty tackles “Fitness as a Feminist Issue“, touching on a lot of good arguments for when people say, “Oh, if feminism is worried about X, then feminism is over, since it obviously doesn’t have any bigger fish to fry.” (Another choice: “Good thing I am not feminism itself but one person making her way in the world!”)
- Julie E. Czerneda discusses her journey from science fiction to fantasy, and how her understanding of both genres evolved.
- OUT has an interesting article on the man who may have been the real-life model for Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited.
- This LEGO Nazgul is pretty cool.
- A comic about feminist media consumption has been making the rounds on tumblr; here it is with good commentary on how the answer is tons of diverse women, not demonizing femme women.
- Queers Dig Time Lords sounds so awesome! I don’t read excerpts, but, if you are so inclined, here’s Rachel Swirsky’s piece from the collection at io9.
- The awesome wedding of two Southern geek women in love is, of course, comic-book themed, and the wedding toppers are Xena and Wonder Woman. It’s so beautiful I can only writhe in jealousy in response. Best of luck to the happy couple!
- Zen Pencils illustrates inspirational quotes from famous people. Recently, it covered one of Roger Ebert’s. I miss him.
- Lara Elrich opens up her teenage diary on the Awl to show us entries about Leonardo DiCaprio.
- This is the proper way to respond to making a mistake.
- Emily Finke experiences “Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture” when she “dares” to wear a screen-accurate Star Trek: The Original Series costume to a small con. The response? Call it out. Call it out. Call it out.
- And, finally, a reminder from a small white terrier, much like my own Charlemagne, to be magnificent.
What do you make of the concept of age appropriate books?