Shut Up and Listen; Or, Having Bookish Guts

There are books that I describe as “deserve to be widely read.” I hate to do this. It just reminds me that these books will most likely be read by the people who are already kind on board with their message and ignored or denigrated by people who need to shut up and listen. That last bit of wisdom comes from a faculty member I was talking books with earlier today. This professor was talking about reading I Can’t Breathe, by Matt Taibbi, with her reading group, who focus on books about social issues.

(c) South Ayrshire Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A.C.W. Duncan

I wish that my university would pick something like I Can’t Breathe as its freshman read. I think up until now, they’ve chosen books that cover important issues but that are about something that it’s possible for American readers to distance themselves from. These books, like Three Cups of Tea, end up reminding students that they’re lucky to be born in American. I would like to read gutsy books along with these students. I know it won’t be fun. It will be downright uncomfortable. We’ll get angry. We’ll get upset. But that’s what a great book about injustice should do. (And there’s a lot of injustice out there.)

I’m generally against required reading of books that aren’t enjoyable. And I understand why schools don’t pick uncomfortable. Three years ago, Duke University got in hot water when they picked Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. But I think the occasional uncomfortable, angering book is good for us. It’s even better when we have people to talk about it with. Reading books like I Can’t Breathe alone can make us feel helpless as well as angry. If we read it with a bunch of other angry people, after we all shut up and listen to people who aren’t being heard, we can make some changes. We can vote and make a difference.

And it can all start with an uncomfortable book we have to read. Someone just has to be brave enough to assign the book. After all, these books deserve it.

One thought on “Shut Up and Listen; Or, Having Bookish Guts

  1. Over here society and hierarchy are more valued that the individual I guess. I didn’t know about the Duke incident and I had a massive eyeroll reading about it. People here may grumble (French are professional grumblers, some say) but they won’t be able to do much about assigned readings. We still hold the general belief that professors know something that students don’t, so that if they assign something to read it may be boring / difficult / challenging but it’s in the idea of teaching something. I don’t know how long we will still hold on to it as we tend to absorb American ideas in the long term. I do believe in the value of confronting oneself to something difficult and challenging (but not threatening to your health – Alison Bechdel does not qualify). The general opinion here would be “well, if you don’t want to read it choose another class / another school / or get over it”.


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