Perhaps owing to my literary reputation (my second book comes out next week, for those who want to support the arts once in their life), friends and family have always believed that I keep an open mind about what I read. But lately, outspoken students and critics alike—railing against everything from acclaimed graphic novels to Terry Pratchett to the “literature of 9/11”—have given me the courage to confess my greatest secret: I don’t like the books I won’t read.
This is, in part, a matter of cause and effect. Semantically speaking, it’s not possible for me to like the books I refuse to read on the basis of what I’m afraid might be in them. That’s what we call an a priori premise, which is a term I encountered in a book by a dead white man that I did read—not that I particularly liked it. Anyway, you see the problem: To crack any book, whether it belongs to the canon or not, is to invite boredom, contempt, and a sour malaise into one’s heart.
But also, in a larger sense, I actively dislike the books I won’t read, which is not quite the same as not liking them. I dislike these books for being full of ideas I disagree with, probably, not to mention what could very well be a prose style that disgusts my rarefied aesthetic sensibilities. (Explaining them to you would be a waste of my thinkpiecing time, so don’t bother asking.) They potentially revel in concepts I choose to remain unfamiliar with, and worst of all, they may contain persuasive attacks on personal, dogmatic beliefs about which I am in no way prepared to think critically. These books, then, are no less than maybe detrimental to my character.
You’ll come back at me with all the familiar talking points about how “challenging assumptions” is the essence of education and “engagement with opposing viewpoints” drives intellectual innovation. To me, however, these sound like the hackneyed lines that, for all I know, appear in the exact books I categorically decline to consider worth my attention. Besides, it’s my right to ignore any words I’d rather didn’t exist—just as it’s my right to pretend I have any awareness of what those words actually are. When I opt out of a particular text due to an uninformed bias I’ve spontaneously developed against it, I’m exercising my freedom of thought. I have decided in advance that the risks of exposure outweigh the rewards. It’s a trigger warning I’ve given myself.
Look: I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, advocating for the suppression and destruction of books I fear will undermine my sexuality, imprison me in a middlebrow mentality, or paint an overly sympathetic portrait of terrorists. Is society better off when these theoretically controversial works are censored? Undoubtedly yes. Alas, that is not the world we live in, at least not right this moment. I like to imagine that this will change someday—that people will finally see the wisdom in denying the wisdom in anything they are not predisposed to acknowledge in the first place. It’s even conceivable that some obscure yet visionary author has already written a book about this place and its innumerable, shimmering wonders.
But if some prophet has indeed penned this utopian tale, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t read it.
Photo via altemark/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)