adrian_turtle: (Default)
I was at Readercon for something less than 3 hours. I contributed essentially nothing--no sparkling conversation or deep insight, no organizational help, no money. I talked with a handful of friends, greeted a larger handful of people, and went home Thursday night to sleep for a day and a half.

This morning, a stranger in Somerville asked if I'd been at that book convention in Burlington last weekend? Yes, but only for a little while... And he lit up like people do when talking about a new love. Wasn't it amazing? Yes. Yes it was. No qualifier at all. This afternoon, a different stranger came up to me in Cambridge, and said, "Weren't you at Readercon? Wasn't it great?"

I don't know if everything connected with Readercon, even a tiny bit, is still glowing a little because this year's con was so amazing. Or if people are just overflowing with good will towards the con, and they remember seeing my hat Thursday night. But I want to spread the word that there ARE people so overflowing with good will toward Readercon that they go up to strangers on the street and tell them it was wonderful.
adrian_turtle: (books)
Part of the reason I had such a disappointing experience at Readercon was that I did not arrive until late Friday afternoon (after work), so I missed a lot of the best discussions. Based on the descriptions in the program, I expected a couple of the Friday evening panels to be so interesting as to make it worthwhile for me to come to the con Friday, even though I couldn't stay for the late-night events. (The "Meet the Pros(e) Party" started just after the last bus left. And I'd been up since before 5am, so it seemed unwise to stick around and try to juggle other transport possibilities.)

"If All Men Were Tolerant, How Would You Shock Your Sister?" looked like it had the potential to be provocative in several interesting directions, but there was a very brief nod to Sturgeon before the panel went off into codslap territory. I was hoping "What is the future of transgression and the shocking in a society that prides itself on its ever-increasing tolerance?" would mean some discussion of new taboos (if not analyzing the transition from unpopular to taboo, maybe just talking about a few examples), but all the panelists seemed to believe there weren't any new taboos. *rolls eyes* Once upon a time, human beings were subject to taboos and social pressures, and it was part of the work of fiction to challenge those taboos. Modern literature has grown beyond such things, as modern enlightened liberals cannot be shocked. I kept hoping to hear a punchline. Maybe I missed it, from where I was sitting at the back of the room.

A panelist whose name I didn't catch (but who went to some trouble to affirm his credentials as a modern enlightened liberal who could not be shocked), asked CTan about the transgressive nature of her own work, which she denied. She's not trying to shock anybody, but rather to seduce them, therefore there's no social taboo. And her characters aren't doing anything particularly transgressive within their world.

One panelist did raise the question that some kinds of violence might be dangerous to write about, because readers would copy it, but nobody tried to answer it. The main effect it seemed to have on the conversation was constrain the general concept of "dangerous ideas" to "writing about dramatic acts of violence." Towards the end of the panel, another panelist was talking about not being dangerous or transgressive, and this panelist who was trying to limit the question to violence asked if there was anything she'd consider too dangerous to recommend to a young person. There was some dithering about violence, while I thought about my elementary school library in the 1970s -- lots of traditional children's books were clearly in favor of violence. The dangerous counterculture books were more likely to be *pacifist*.

Somehow, of all the times I've read or re-read a book and wondered if it would be appropriate for me to recommend to one of the little girls I love, there has only been one occasion when I thought it might be inappropriately violent. (It was _White Fang_, and I thought it would give her nightmares despite her great admiration for wolves.) Much more often, I'm concerned when authors use female characters as standard decorations and prize tokens, without agency. It seems more problematic for a young person to find an idea like "Girls are to be passive, decorative, rewards for male heroes," in a book I gave her than in something she found at the library by herself.

The day before Readercon, I re-read _The Hot Rock_, mostly for my own amusement. The thought crossed my mind that the older of my little monster cousins might be almost ready for it, as she is not really a little monster any more. It startled me to realize that I did not want to recommend it to a 10-year-old without explaining some context to her. The language is not really aggressively racist, but it's insensitive. Somehow or other, in the 25+ years since I read _The Hot Rock_, in the 38 years since Westlake wrote it, the social boundary around racism shifted (I think it's a good thing, even if the coded dog-whistle attacks are harder to recognize than the straightforward "sure, doesn't everybody hate these people?" I can remember hearing as part of the mainstream public discourse.) As I said, _The Hot Rock_ is not aggressively racist. No character attacks another for racial reasons. I just flinched a little at how some of the people were described, because I'm no longer accustomed to looking at human beings as so very alien, no matter where they're from or what they look like. (This is Dortmunder. I'm sure he could find sufficiently exotic aliens in Schenectady. [Without even going to the post office box.]) So, I found a book that touches very lightly, in passing, on something shocking and transgressive. When I read it in my early teens, it was not shocking or transgressive, because the taboo wasn't there.


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March 2016



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