Nobody Speak: My Book Challenge, Free Press, and Ramifications

My book challenge

consisted (originally) of reading 50 books this year, which evens out around one book a week more or less. I upped that number to 75 books once we started out roadtrip, planning on reading two books per week for the rest of the year, and again 75 next year.

That didn’t seem like enough.

In one of my grad. classes, 19th-Century American Lit., we talked about “canonical literature,” or the classics that most people associate with the best of the best and reside as household names including Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Austen, Whitman, Thoreau, Melville, Steinbeck, Dickinson, and many, many others. During that discussion, we touched on the problem with calling these works “the best.” Were they good? Yes. Did they offer readers something valuable? Yes. Would I prefer any one of my students to pick up a canonical text over Twilight? Well… yes. Yes, of course. BUT, when we take the word of a select few elite, the professors and intellectuals of a period, and do not make our own lists and hone our own tastes for what we like, we do ourselves a disservice.

And here’s the kicker. Multicultural literature, books by women, texts by people other than the dominant culture are usually not in that “best books” list. So we all miss out on the valuable, alternate perspectives those books provide us with. This led me to add some stipulations, or goals–yeah, goals sounds better–to my 75 book list. I wanted to read books in the following categories/genres/authors to broaden my literary horizon:

2 Fantasy / 2 Sci Fi / 2 Memoirs / 2 Historical fictions / 1 Politically conservative text / Poetry / Short story collection / 3 Classics / 3 Contemporary literary fiction / and Books by the following types of authors: Asian, Contemporary Black, Historical Black, Syrian, African, LGBTQ, Native American, and Latino/Chicano.

I am an introvert,

so I use books to fill in the spaces that others fill with conversations. This may not be the most effective means of learning about others, but I think it allows me a wider world perspective than I could possibly enjoy otherwise. It also makes me more cognizant of the lives of the humans around me. Instead of seeing stereotypes, as I am so wont to do, books remind me that people with rich histories inhabit the bodies around me.

What does any of this have to do with freedom of speech?

Dave and I just watched Nobody Speak on Netflix.

The news is flawed. I don’t like sensationalist media because it tends to focus on the irrelevant rather than the important. Journalists don’t get paid much. Their jobs and life work are disappearing. The media, like anything else is complicated. I get that. I have as many complaints as hopes for the role media plays in any society.

But if you watch this documentary, you will hear another side, another perspective. One that demonstrates how media, at least a segment of it, is disappearing due to people in power shutting down/defunding/suing-into-backruptcy certain sources, even certain journalists.

When we use circular reasoning: “The news is fake, because so much of the news is already fake.” When we oversimplify reality (or people) by creating a right/wrong scenario where either the news is complete b.s. or it is always the paragon of righteousness. When we forget to ask questions and wonder, we do ourselves a disservice. 

So here’s what I believe after having read a lot of dystopias, listening to a lot of viewpoints, and thinking about this real hard. The jury is still, and will likely forever be, out because I will never have the full story. I will never be able to gather every perspective, every inflection, every motive for every situation. Because of this dearth of information:

I believe in freedom of speech.

That anyone should be able to speak their mind and realize that others will speak theirs right back. It may be nasty, ugly, or even true, but it deserves to be heard, and it deserves to be permitted. Censorship leaves the censoring to people who have money and power and leaves me without as many perspectives as I can get. Censorship makes me more uncomfortable than someone yelling at me.

Just like with books, I believe that more information is better. That in the long run, we can prevent dystopia by openness and honesty and a pure desire to learn more about each other, regardless of creed, affiliation, political boundaries, whatever. That we can do this and give space to discomfort and libel and slander, realizing that, maybe if we try really hard, we can choose to not be offended and instead see what is going on in context with the other person/issue/situation.

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