Some books are timeless, some not so much. On the suggestion of my friend, Chuck Palahniuk, I read Heartburn by Nora Ephron this week. Published in 1983, the prose is as sparkling as ever, but there are elements of the story that now stink to high heaven. Off like a prawn in the sun as we Aussies like to say.
(My friend, Chuck Palahniuk, I hear you say? I’ve been a fan for years but have recently become a mentee along with a few million others, who follow his Substack.)
Some of those others apparently got a bit pissy about Heartburn. I didn’t read the comments because ain’t nobody got time for that, but I’ve read enough pissy comments to know. Yes, there are books from the olden days that have some questionable content but what’s cool about being a grown up is you can just put the book down and not read it. No one is going to quiz you on it. The other option is you can read a passage where someone is using language we wouldn’t use now and remember, “that was the 80s, we didn’t know any better…”
To be honest the thing that annoyed me most about the book (Do spoiler alerts count for 40 year old books? I don’t think so…) was at the end where the main character, Rachel, moved into her adoring male agent’s apartment (who had already told her he was in love with her) instead of going to her dad’s empty apartment where she had help with her kids. By her own account, Rachel started out life as a #strongfemalecharacter but turned into a helpless kitten who did what all the men around her told her to do!
She seemed to have fraught relationships with every woman around her and had had sex with most of the men in her circle. The book may have technically passed the Bechdel-Wallace test but the entire story was about her husband having an affair while she was 7 months pregnant so the ‘taste’ of that was all through it.
Personally, I wanted to see Rachel tell all the men to go to hell, move into her dad’s empty apartment, and grow the hell up.
The more fiction I read, the more I don’t believe adult readers need trigger warnings. I feel like I’ve already written about this but I’m going in again.
Romance writer, Eloisa James is writing on Kindle’s new Vella platform (offered only in the USA at present.) I’m not a romance writer/reader but I’ve been following this remarkable author since the days of MySpace! She’s funny, clever and an astute business woman.
Last week she posted an update on her Vella story and accompanied it with a trigger warning. I only know this because she posted about it on Instagram. Her readers were super grateful for the warning, almost across the board.
There were comments like, ‘I was bullied at high school so I’m glad you put in the warning or I wouldn’t have coped.‘
I’ve written about it before and I’ve given it a lot of thought but as always it seems I am in the minority.
When did we become a society of people who can’t read something challenging, painful or heartbreaking? Most of us should be able to distinguish between what’s on the page and what’s happening in our actual life.
If something in a story causes you that much anguish a professional counsellor would be a good idea.
There’s no shame in getting help! I’ve seen both psychologists and counsellors to help me sort through the thoughts in my head. I started with an adoption-informed counsellor when I was at university, (although I did feel shame over that and didn’t tell my family. I was young.)
Since then I’ve seen two grief counsellors, a hypnotherapist, a psychologist who specialises in exposure therapy, and coupled that with a counsellor who taught me tapping.
Getting help isn’t embarrassing. And it’s okay to admit there are elements, storylines, or themes you don’t want to read about. We all have our predilections (You’ve heard of the Id List?) but reading something outside your interests or comfort zone should result in one of two outcomes. Either you read it and think, “Okay, that wasn’t for me,” or you stop reading it and put the book aside. Then you can go read something else. There are literally millions of books out there to choose from.