Confronting Bias

Back in the ’90s, Bob at work was telling me how he had discovered the writing of Walter Mosley when then President Bill Clinton had answered a reporter’s question on what books he was currently reading. The President had responded with the name of one of Mosley’s books and after that incident, the sales of the author’s works had supposedly increased something-fold (I’m being vague because I don’t know the precise numbers). Anyway, on Bob’s recommendations I began reading Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries and I was hooked. The stories were your basic detective stories except the gumshoe in question was a black man from the mean streets of Houston’s fifth ward who was living in Los Angeles. The stories were set in previous eras giving them a nostalgic feel but my favorite part was that, since I was brought up in a racially diverse blue collar community, the places and characters of the novels were familiar to me in a way that the predominantly white settings of other detective stories were not.

The same decade was also a breakthrough time for some prominent black female authors so I decided to give one of Toni Morrison’s novels a try. I got about three pages in and I had to put the book down. Not only had three pages gone by without a single car chase, the story (I think it was “The Bluest Eye”) began with a girl named Pecola being pregnant by her father. I couldn’t see the story getting any better from there so that was the end of that.

Early in the next millenium, this smokin’ hot half Mexican half Japanese chick named Jenna from work was resigning. She was a highly intelligent psych major who was politically wrong about nearly anything you could think about but in our many conversations we had learned to debate in an orderly fashion and I like to think we both had a somewhat of a grudging respect for each other. I think Jenna decided I needed to broaden my worldview because, before she left, she gave me a novel that was written by a woman from India. The book is entitled “The God of Small Things” and although I tried, I couldn’t get more than about eight pages into to it. I will give you the first few paragraphs so you can see what I mean (my comments in red):

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. (Yeah, dustgreen just underlined in red by Word because they don’t think it’s a word either) Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. (Earth to Arundhaty Roy: it’s not imagery if I CAN’T PICTURE IT) Then they sun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.(WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT???)

The nights are clear but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation (alliteration much? Plus how can a night be “suffused with sloth”? I see your lips movin’ but I don’t hear a god@#$% thing!)

Sad to say that’s not a purposely selected worst part of the writing, it’s the opening of the book and it doesn’t get any better after that. The writing is so terrible, I wouldn’t read this book even if I put it in the bathroom. I think I would rather reread the fine print on a stick of deodorant or the American Dental Association gushing like schoolgirls on the back of a box of Crest.

Anyway, it was experiences like these that led me to believe that I had a bias against books written by female authors. In fact this belief was one of the main reasons that for a long time I resisted reading the works of Ayn Rand which was constantly being recommended to me. When I did finally read it, devoured it, reading the whole thing at least twice in the first month. It turns out that I don’t actually have a bias against female writers, I just have a bias against bad writing. I think the moral of this story is don’t read “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and don’t read “The God of Small Things” no matter how good looking Jenna is. These books will make you regret literacy.

In conclusion, this movable type thing is going to destroy society. When will we even have time to farm?

10 Responses to “Confronting Bias”

  1. Kristin says:

    Oooooo you are so wrong about the Bluest eye. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Morrison was able to write a novel that illustrated how the main character overly inundated with
    the dominate society’s ideals of beauty, which in her case is not attainable (i.e. blue eyes), drove her to madness. I have no doubt that it was Morrison’s goal to show how silly colorism, yet still pervasive, is in the black community.

    The reason you probably like Ayn Rand’s writing so much is because she speaks to your political leanings.

  2. mexi says:

    Well that sounds like an interesting book then but what did Pecola getting pregnant by her father have to do with that??? It was all I could do at the beginning of the book to keep from shouting JE-REE! JE-REE!

  3. Kristin says:

    I don’t remember if it had anything to do with it or not or if that was another theme within the book.

  4. mexi says:

    Ayn Rand’s writing isn’t terribly great in and of itself. The political and economic ideas are what make it a great book. Stephen King is another whose writing ability isn’t particularly awesome, in his case he’s just really good at scaring us. I switched from contemporary authors to reading classics because it occurred to me why the work of good writers when I can read great ones?

  5. mexi says:

    And speaking of colorism, the only reason I had “The Bluest Eye” anyway was because the book belonged to my (then) wife who is ostensibly black but who happens to be lighter than me, which I consider to be a form of false advertising. Anyhoo if I still had that book I could give it another try (on your recommendation) but the book seems to have vanished under mysterious circumstances.

  6. Phelps says:

    Neal Stephenson is another author whose prose isn’t that great (but has improved a lot as he continued writing, so Anathem, which I haven’t read, might be great) and his plots are pretty hokey and contrived, but he has a storyteller’s knack so I can’t stop reading him.

  7. Kristin says:

    Hey since Phelps listed an author he likes imma put mine out there. I read each of these books at least once a year A Wrinkle in Time (yeah I know it’s a kids book, but it’s really good), The Great Gatsby, and Lilith’s Brood. Lilith’s Brood is awesome and it was written by Octavia Bulter who IS (or sadly was) Black sci-fi.

  8. Kristin says:

    Mexi, read the link especially the comments. Colorism which Morrison wrote about is still crippling to some. Whenever this topic comes up I don’t understand how Black people expect to be taken seriously when we still allow this issue to rule/ruin many a lives.

    http://siditty.blogspot.com/2009/08/shes-pretty-for-dark-skinned-girl.html

  9. Kristin says:

    After rereading my last comment it is more personal than I would perfer to have on the web. Will you please remove it?

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