Thursday, July 26, 2012

I'm a Man, and I Read "Girl" Books

Reading Lauren Oliver’s novels Delirium and Pandemonium made me self-conscious. Last Saturday, I went to a concert at Cerulean, a local restaurant, featuring the excellent band The Vespers, and I brought a book along with to read during the lulls. This is standard operating procedure for my life—I’ve brought books to read when I waited for doctor’s appointments, job interviews, and while eating at fast food restaurants. I also read when I’m watching sports on TV. The ones with a lot of downtime work best—like football and baseball—but I have also figured out how to sneak in a sentence or two when the point guard dribbles the basketball court. 

Normally, I don’t give a second thought to who might see me reading in public, or to which book I take with me. I brought Pandemonium with me to the Vespers concert, and I was very aware of how it might look for me—a 27-year-old single guy—to be reading a novel whose target audience is teen girls. And as you can tell from the cover, Pandemonium is clearly a "girl" book.

Oliver’s trilogy—the third book, Reqiuem, will be published next year—is set in a world where love has been classified as a disease (Amor Deliria Nervosa) and is “cured” by a government-mandated procedure. The plot follows Lena, a normal girl who—you guessed it—meets a boy and “gets the disease” the summer before she is due to be cured. That summary turned me off initially, but I kept seeing Oliver’s name on “best YA sci-fi books” lists, so I finally decided to give Delirium a try.

(By the way, I’m writing a YA sci-fi novel, so reading authors like Oliver, Julianna Baggott, Neal Shusterman, and Scott Westerfield counts as research. And I just like reading them.)


The further I got into Oliver’s fictional world, I was impressed by the detail and thought she put into all the ways a cure for love would reshape the world. Religion, education, literature, and family all get woven into the story. As for the love story, I could take it or leave it. And aside from all the world-building, Oliver is just a good sentence-level writer. The quality of her prose is quite a bit higher than most YA novels I read.

So…there were plenty of perfectly defensible reasons for me to be reading Pandemonium, but as I walked across the parking lot to the concert, I held it so that the back cover was facing outward and the front cover hidden against my leg. I probably could have found a chair to sit in, but that might have attracted attention, so I sat in the grass to the far right of the stage. And just in case someone recognized me, I kept the book flat in my lap, so he wouldn’t see what I was reading.

Of course, someone did. A friend parked his bike at the nearby rack, waved, and came over to say “hi.” He mentioned how absorbed I seemed to be in my book and that it must be good, and I nodded and agreed. I’m usually eager to talk about whatever it is I’m reading, but on that evening I didn’t mention the author or title, and I certainly did not lift my book up so he could see the cover.

It’s like I was a character in Oliver’s world, scared an undercover Regulator would see my inappropriate reading material and arrest me on the spot. No one did, of course, because I don’t live in a totalitarian police state, but I still think I would have gotten some weird looks if I had been caught.

There are no laws against reading, but certain kinds of books do carry a stigma with them, and as a *sci-fi* *Young Adult* *girl* book, Pandemonium is a literary ghetto hat trick. Even though it’s a good book, and I enjoyed reading it, and it gave me helpful instruction on world-building and plot structure, I didn’t want you to know I was reading it. 

1 comment:

Kit said...

Sometimes I'm pretty sure Madonna had it right.

"Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
'Cause it's OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading"

This is not to say that I have never held a book to my chest when it was the best or worst sort of chick lit (esp. after getting mocked in high school after bringing one to school). Which is basically the same thing I guess. We're all too embarrassed to be seen reading something. Hence why ebooks have been such a boon for the erotica and Christian fiction genres I suppose.

and so it goes.