Friday, May 28, 2010

Novels Need Warnings

Men don't have the same issues women have when reading novels for pleasure.

This thought broadsided me last night as, here I am, super pregnant, hormonal, and trying to read for relaxation. My guard is down. I'm emotional. There are only so many things you can do to stay entertained while propping your swollen pregnant feet up on the couch after a long day. I've also got knitting, watching movies, and the occasional good TV show but most shows just had their season finales or I've given up on them. Surely those with cable can only handle so many episodes of Jersey Shore before wanting something to stimulate them intellectually. (That's funny if you know how brain dead of a show Jersey Shore is --so I've heard since I don't have cable and haven't ever seen it.)

For the majority of my entertainment, I've chosen to read novels. I read for pleasure, relaxation, and bookclub. Most of the books I read are recommended by friends or picked off the cart by the checkout desk at the library because I like the title and the cover. Superficial, I know. But there is no way of knowing, from the cover or even reading the blurb on the back or the reviews, that anything tragic will happen to the female characters in the book. I know the book has to have a climax and some sort of conflict to be successful as part of the whole plot. But can't we come up with a rating system like we have for the movies and explicit lyrics on music? Not that I need books to be censored or regulated, I just want a little prior notice and warning before I get into something that I'm not expecting and can't handle. It could be as simple as a small red or green checkmark on the cover to let me know it might do more than just pull on my heartstrings.

The reason I say this is a bigger issue for women is that many authors seem to use sexual abuse, rape, loss of a child, miscarriage, and loss of a lover as their conflict that makes the book interesting. That's great and fine and dandy, but I'd like to be forewarned as these are not issues taken lightly by a pregnant woman.

For instance, last night, I'm reading on the couch as Rick is putting Ada to bed. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner and an International Best Seller. It's got to be good, right? There is no blurb on the back, just rave reviews. So I'm reading. Relaxing. Got my feet kicked up and a blanket tucked around me. Life is good. And then I get to the end of chapter one and am in tears. Spoiler Alert. Turns out, chapter one is about a couple who lose their baby three weeks before the wife's due date and it causes them to fall apart. Hello! I don't need to read that right now. NOT relaxing! I'm four weeks from my due date. Are you kidding me?

The book I read before this one was for bookclub. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Again, the blurb says these two sisters go through some tough times and this book is all about the bond between them. Sounds good. Spoiler Alert. It doesn't say anything about a rape scene during a violent war and one of the women having a baby in a shower room and the other having a stillborn and then being sterile after aforementioned rape scene. Hello! Not what I needed. I'm trying to relax here. My job is to think warm, fuzzy, happy thoughts as I incubate my delicate little bundle of joy as he grows and is nourished in the belly.

Men don't seem to be effected by this as much since they aren't the target reader for most of these novels, and sci-fi or war novels --which I'm making a gender biased statement here, I know-- are more typically male and, while I'm not an expert on them, I just don't see the characters in their standard novel choices being sexually assaulted and losing their wives at home to freak accidents that cause them inner turmoil. It just doesn't seem to work the same way when you play to men's emotional heartstrings. I'm not even sure how their heartstrings work or if they even have any.

Until I can find time to create some magical checkmark approval system to save emotional women from a few tears and unnecessary distress, I'll settle for being a bit more diligent in my choice of books when I know I'm more sensitive. Maybe I should stick to the Dan Brown and Janet Evanovich novels that tend toward mystery, action, comedy and more lighthearted fun.

Moral of the story: Consider having a friend pre-screen your reading selections while you are pregnant to avoid those that might send you into emotional areas you are better off avoiding.

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