The book for the freshstartwrite
book club this month is Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues
, and just from how much I've heard it around, I was afraid that it was going to be an example of the sort of book that the intellectual elite avoids. theferrett
wrote a recent essay on the fallacy of intellectual elitism, the fallacy of saying "If it appeals to a large number of people, it is crud." I suppose the time to write about how I formed my intellectual elitist stance now.
When I was quite, quite small, still in elementary school, I came to the justified conclusion that at least 90% of my classmates were dumber than I was. There were those of my classmates who were better than I was at certain things, especially social interaction, but overall, I had gotten the good end of the genetic and developmental stick, and I knew it.
I was reading well ahead of my grade level, and by age ten, had decided that I had more in common with the adults than I did with my school-assigned "peer group". I shared very little common culture with them, and found that the vast majority of the popular books that my agemates sought out were not only well below my reading level, but not particularly well-written, and definitely did not stand the test of time. Based on Sweet Valley Twins
, The Baby-Sitters Club
, and Goosebumps
, I decided that if something was designed to be accessable to those-idiots-my-peers, it was by design also flawed for a more mature intellect. The masses wanted glitz and guts. I was developing an affinity for excellent writing. (In junior high, my rebellious guilty secret was checking out forbidden Sweet Valley High
books from the library, since my parents said they were trash and would not abide them.)
As my taste in books matured, so did my estimation of who was likely to be able to recommend a good book to me. I learned that the stronger and more flexible someone's mind was, the more likely that I would be able to agree with them if they passed me a book saying, "That totally blew my mind!" The less intellectually savvy they were, the higher the likelihood of me saying, "Meh" to a selection that had completely warped their thinking ever after. My most common thought on those books was, "Yes, very nice, I learned this about five years ago, and ... that was the point of the book? Ooo....kay."
That's nearly what happened with The Red Tent
this past Thursday. I read it, it was a nice piece of literature, and it certainly looked historically decent (but then, I'm not a historian, so anomalies wouldn't leap out and scream at me) but since I've already read enough history/historical fiction/science fiction to be conversant with tribes in tents, people in developmentally low-end cities, village life, and the fact that people are people still, no matter the time and place, that the only new thing that the book brought me was some details on womens' ritual of the time, and the fact that it was based off a Biblical story. But when I expressed my "Meh" to the group, the general look
that got handed in my direction made me do a double-take and check to see that yes, I still only had the one head. It was good, solid, tight writing, and apparently-decent research (though I'm not qualified to comment on that), but it did not break any new ground with me. Since the group is made up of smart and interesting women, I must conclude that either my experiences are more varied, or I'm an alien, or both.
It's getting more and more difficult for me to be recommended and track down books that will break my brain correctly. I guess the problem is motivating me to find them and read them, as well as pitching them to me in such a way that I know I will want to read them. Good ol' Fuzzy Modem gives me the consistently best book recommendations for my psychset.
While the books that are overwhelmingly loved by the public are often well-written, solid things, when I hear a loud percentage of the public claiming, "This book will change your life!" I am understandably skeptical, because I know that I'm still smarter than 90% of my peers, and through my reading, have a nicely varied experience in many of the intellectual and philosophical fields that your average student who wasn't reading Feynman at nine was never exposed to. The books that do wind up actually tweaking my mind while holding my interest are often too dry, too thickly-written, or require too much previous experience to have the same effect on the average reader. The Vagina Monologues
were in that 10% of highly-acclaimed books that actually do bend my mind some. I am in that lucky percentage of women who have not only never been actively sexually abused (there were some touchy sex-related situations, but they were not bad taken in themselves, and were part of a greater context of social and psychological manipulation/ickiness) but also had a body-aware, sexually satisfactory childhood and young adulthood. I knew "vagina" before I knew "pussy" and "cunt", and I only learned "coochie" and so forth within the last few years. These together puts me in a distinct minority. I did not know that people feared their bodies that much. I did not know how vast and evil the disrespect for the bodies and lives of women is. There was really no way for me to know.
Like Eve Ensler, I hope for the day when 90% or more of women can read The Vagina Monologues
and say, "Meh," because they know their bodies, their sexual responses, their reproductive capability, their own beauty, and women aren't getting raped, battered, shamed, abused. Someday, someday soon, the bad parts should be history, and the good parts should be common knowledge.