We had only just met, when you first mentioned that book to me.
I was aware of it, of course. In those days the science fiction and fantasy section of the local bookstore was like a second home to me. And that book was always on display there. I’d just never gotten around to reading it.
I hadn’t realized it was so important.
“Oh, but it changed my life,” you said.
“It’s transformative,” you went on, “it shows us the truth behind the stories.”
So I borrowed a copy from a friend, and buried myself in it for a few days.
It was okay.
But ‘just’ okay.
Yeah, I really didn’t get it. And it’s not just because I’m a guy and am somehow unable to identify with feminist themes, unless ‘The Handmaid’s Tale and ‘The Golden Notebook’, suddenly don’t rate in that category. I simply found neither the writing nor the characters to be all that compelling.
And that’s just my opinion.
I mean, some people don’t get Cubism. It’s all a matter of taste, really.
So anyway, we’ve moved on from those early “getting to know you” years. A lot of time has gone by and suddenly I find that you are talking about that book again.
Except this time, you’re not exactly singing its praises.
Now, you tell me, you’ll be taking the book down from its exalted place on your bookshelf.
Maybe you’ll store it in a box, out of sight. Or you’ll shred it and leave it for recycling.
Or you’ll burn it.
(‘cause there’s nothing like a good book burning)
Because now, and I mean JUST now, you don’t like the author.
She allowed those in her care to be hurt. She tormented and abused her own child.
I’ve read the accusations, and they are terrible, I agree.
It sounds as if she committed horrible, truly criminal deeds in her time on this earth.
But what, I wonder, did the book have to do with any of that?
How did it change?
I mean, you’ve told me so many times how it “changed your life” and “transformed” you. It showed you something you hadn’t seen before, and I guess I don’t understand how any of those things have changed with these recent revelations.
“She betrayed me,” you’ve said, “and she broke my heart!”
And now I’m feeling some of that anger and disappointment you’ve been talking about.
With you, for playing the victim in this!
Because whatever happened, it seems clear that she has left real victims behind, and a legacy of pain that has nothing whatsoever to do with you. The betrayal and heartbreak are real, but are not yours to suffer. No, she can’t have betrayed you, her most dedicated reader, because she never knew you.
And you, obviously, never really knew her.
But you knew the book.
You read it. You were moved by it.
And now, with the author long dead and beyond the easy reach of your condemnation, are you really going to punish an inanimate object?
Or is it that you are looking for a way to punish yourself? Perhaps you feel guilty for loving the book so much, or for holding its author in such high esteem when you couldn’t possibly have known what was going on behind the scenes?
Well, just stop it, already!
Knocking a hardbound book down from the top shelf of your bookcase, hardly qualifies you for martyr status, and anyway, you can’t erase the positive impact that her book had on your life. And you shouldn’t want to. It’s small, and it’s petty, and it changes nothing.
We are allowed to love things that were created by horrible people.
Our bookshelves would be sparse, our walls empty, our cinemas barren and our radios sadly quiet if we hid away all the art that was produced by people we didn’t care for.
We simply need to remember that we are all capable of horrors. There are no monsters in the mist, however much we might like to believe otherwise. It’s just us in here, some more damaged than others, but all of us trying to find something we can hold on to.
If you find a thing that you find beautiful, hold on to it. And if you discover that that beauty was born out of darkness, then hold on to it more tightly still. To do otherwise is to give in to the darkness, to let it have its way.
Honest thoughts, offered in friendship.