Reading can hurt you

I really enjoy almost everything that Alan Jacobs writes, but I found myself in special agreement with this post about the triumphalism of some YA writers:

Laurie Halse Anderson’s comments are typical in this regard. “Books don’t turn kids into murderers, or rapists, or alcoholics. (Not even the Bible, which features all of these acts.) Books open hearts and minds, and help teenagers make sense of a dark and confusing world. YA literature saves lives. Every. Single. Day.” See? Salvific power, no danger. Even penicillin is dangerous for some people, but not YA fiction!

I was excited for a moment when Libba Bray acknowledged that “Books are dangerous.” Yes! But, oh, wait: “Yes, dangerous. Because they challenge us: our prejudices, our blind spots. They open us to new ideas, new ways of seeing. They make us hurt in all the right ways.” And, it seems, never in the wrong ones. So, not really dangerous at all. Not in any way.

(Another interesting theme in these comments is how much more trustworthy YA writers are than parents. Apparently, while books can only be good, parents are often bad.)

You’d do well to read to the end of his post, which covers most of the obvious ripostes. And really, it’s important to keep your head about this. In general I’m in favor of reading broadly and deeply rather than limiting yourself and your kids to “safe” texts. But it doesn’t follow that reading anything is automatically virtuous, or insisting that a book can never have a negative effect on a reader. In fact, if we take seriously the notion that books are powerful, we have to accept that books are a power which can be used for ill, and which can damage those who read them.

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