When studying literature, the context in which the book was written and in which the book is set, is generally considered to have at least some importance. I think, to an extent, that this needs to be brought into my own reading.
More often that not, when I read a book which tackles a difficult topic such as sexism, racism, homophobia a difficult one read and often, to rate. I can enjoy the plot and the discussions the book raises but some moral standing in my brain doesn’t let me give it a four or five-star rating, but I’m equally unhappy with giving it a low rating. This usually results in the book being unrated and leaves me feeling confused because I don’t know how to feel about the book.
Obviously subjects such as those listed above fill me to the brim with anger, but I’m still a firm believer in facing these things head on. This is where I believe context has its place – no matter what you’re reading.
I think the best way for me to explain it is to present my case in point. At the end of 2017, I watched the film adaptation and then read the book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. This is a story set in inter-war years in America and, as you may expect the topic of racism does come up. When I watched the film especially, I felt angry and uncomfortable when these scenes came up. Obviously (and without getting into spoilers), this actions which occur in these scenes are just not acceptable in today’s society.
This is when I turn the context. With regards to this book in particular, I allowed myself to be angry, of course I did, but I remembered that this was in context of the 1920s and 30s. I think I would have found it odd without this discussion in the book. I think, personally, it’s important to reflect on the history of humanity – the good and the bad. However, I understand why some readers would rather not read about these aspects of humanity.
So, what I’m essentially saying is that issues raised in novels and film can be difficult and for me, looking at the context of the book can reveal more about the book than I had initially thought. I do, however, think this shouldn’t be an excuse for people to hide behind. Obviously, these things do have to be dealt with and discussed delicately – no excuses.
I’m sure into the future, I’m still going to find it difficult rating books which raise issues like this and I’m going to have to begin to try to think as objectively as possible but these are my brief thoughts on the matter.