Thursday, September 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Villainy

This week's BTT topic is a serious one, indeed:
Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read?

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?
Of course, I abhor the sort of wanton violence and mindless cruelty represented in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon back in 2001. I feel fortunate that I didn’t personally know anyone who was killed in those assaults, and I feel great sorrow and sympathy for those who did lose friends and loved ones. It’s a sad fact that all our lives have been changed since that day, and the world will never seem quite as safe or as comfortable as it did before that brutality exploded in our midst.

But having lived through several political assassinations and the Vietnam war, wanton violence and mindless cruelty are, unfortunately, not completely unfamiliar to me. And if I’m honest, I’d have to say that I don’t really believe the events of 9/11/2001 have had any lasting effects on my reading habits or choices. Well, maybe only in that I’ve mostly stayed away from books that are directly inspired by the terrorist attacks, or deal with them specifically.

And I don’t think the knowledge that villainy actually happens in the real world affects my reaction to it in books. Extreme violence or cruelty in books does bother me. But I still love a good scary horror story, or a hard-boiled police procedural, or a fast-paced thriller just as much as I did before 9/11. I don’t intentionally seek out books with violent content or themes, but I don’t really avoid them either. That hasn’t changed.

And I don’t think it will change. As much as possible, I try to divorce myself from the real world when I’m immersed in reading. I try to enter the world the author has created, and leave my day-to-day existence behind for a while. That offer of an escape to a new and different reality is one of the reasons I read in the first place.


  1. Your last paragraph really resonated with me...agreed!

  2. Interesting answer. I don't remember some of the events you describe, but now that I've lived through 9/11 I'll probably never be quite as shocked again.

  3. I agree, I read to get out of this world most of the time. Sometimes books can help us understand current events, but most of the time I stick to escapism.

  4. I completely agree - I'm totally an escapist reader.

    Here are my thoughts.

  5. I certainly don't feel as safe and composed as before. There's always that ominous silence, that dread right before take-off in the plane. But I do appreciate the added security measures that ensure our safety.

  6. Re: "I’ve mostly stayed away from books that are directly inspired by the terrorist attacks, or deal with them specifically."

    I don't actively seek out such books, but I seem to stumble upon books that use those events in some way. Recently, for example, I picked up Ian McEwan's Saturday at a used book sale. Really I'd only wanted any McEwan book because I hadn't read him before, but it begins with a sighting of a plane in flames and the main character reflecting on 9/11. I suspect there'll be almost as much literature (and other art) to come out of that event as there's been about either of the World Wars.

  7. So many people have said they read to escape from life. I can't imagine life without reading, so it's never been an escape for. Reading is part of being alive.

    Television is for escape.

    That said, the 9-11 attacks have not really affected what I watch on television. I still don't watch that much of it. Maybe they have, I don't watch any "news" program that involves "experts" shouting at each other anymore. I used to like that sort of program, too.

  8. On one hand, I'm with Jill here too but on the other, I also feel a strong need to read books that keep our feet grounded on the earth we're living in.

    Psst...I think it's really cool that you've lived through so many events in history.

    Please continue to blog esp about your experiences! Those of us who are not from those times need to hear about them from those who are.



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