Welcome to Smugglivus 2010!
Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors, bloggers and publishers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2010, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2011.
Our second guest today, on our first official day of Smugglivus 2010, is fellow blogger, Jessica of Read React Review.
Who: Jessica is a professor of philosophy and clinical ethicist by trade, specializing in ethical theory, bioethics and feminist theory. In her (most) excellent blog, Read React Review, she reviews Romance and other genres in depth as well as posting about topics such as discussions of genre, philosophy of fiction, ethical criticism and more. Her Monday Morning Stepback is a great way to start the week.
Please, a warm welcome to Jessica and her post on Hanukkah and popular fiction!
What do Hanukkah and Popular Fiction Have in Common?
How Hanukkah is like Reading Popular Fiction, or
A Miracle Happened There: Thinking about Reading on Hanukkah
Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown. It’s not a holy event (Jews still work and go to school), and it’s not biblical (it happened years after the last lines of the Hebrew bible were written), but it’s still a pretty important holiday, and not just because American Jews want their own Christmas-type midwinter festival with lights and gifts and yummy food.
Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the oppressive Greek/Syrian forces of King Antiochus in 165 B.C.E. The Maccabees (a group of brothers who I have always assumed were extremely hot, in the manner of Gerard Butler in 300) basically got sick of accommodating the dominant Greek culture, and decided to take their temple — and customs — back, by force if necessary. When the battle ended, the Jews threw out all the black velvet posters of Zeus* and purified and rededicated the temple, a process that took eight days. Hanukkah means “rededication” (*my own creative rendering of the Greek redecoration of the temple).
In every Jewish temple, there is an eternal flame (actually, a lightbulb. Shhhh.) that signifies the presence of God. When they rededicated the temple, the Jews had enough oil for only one day, and knew it would take eight days to go out and get more oil, but they lit the flame anyway. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days, and Hanukkah has been referred to as the Festival of Lights ever since.
Okay, so what does this have to do with books? Well, if you like The Book Smugglers, you probably read speculative fiction, fantasy, young adult, or romance, and all of those genres have in common that they are not “literary” fiction. Some refer to popular fiction as “commercial”, or “formulaic”, often using these as disparaging terms. In numbers of books and readers, I am in the dominant group in fiction, but sometimes I feel like I have to defend my choices and assert their value against negative opinions. Hanukkah is about asserting the right to practice one’s subculture freely, and when we brandish our eye-catching covers and proclaim our love of these books to everyone on the internet, in the bookstores, and on the subway, we are doing a bit of the same.
Then there’s the rededication. In Jewish terms, it’s about purifying one’s heart and living by God’s commandments. But as readers, we dedicate ourselves to the written word, to creativity, to free speech, and to sustained attention, every time we pick up a book. When we blog, email, or tweet about books, we dedicate ourselves to literacy, to public engagement, to building community, and to fostering companionship. Those values are important, not just to our genre fiction subcultures, but to literate societies everywhere. Stop and look at your book list for 2010. Look at your tweets, your number of blog posts, your number of comments. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.
The lesson of Hanukkah is in part that we don’t have to blindly accept the values of the dominant culture. When the literati proclaim that our reading choices are lesser, we don’t believe it. When they say that our books don’t deserve long, detailed reviews or thoughtful discussion, we ignore them. In a more challenging vein, when our own publishers and authors tell us that we prefer whitewashed covers, or “sexy rapes”, or doormat heroines, we question them. Challenging the status quo can expose the fissures in our own communities, but we are stronger for our honest disagreements. If we trust in ourselves and each other, surprising things can sometimes happen.
Stephen King wrote that “fiction is the truth inside the lie”. Every time we open a new book, we are looking for that truth. Sure, we get burned by lousy reads, but we remain hopeful — sometimes too hopeful, if our dwindling bank accounts and growing TBR piles are any indication — that the new author, the next book, the debut series, will rock our worlds. Every time we open a book, we are trusting the author to take us on a wonderful journey. We are lighting a candle in the darkness, counting on the miracle of reading — an experience we share with our children, our parents, our friends, and our virtual pals — to delight us, nurture us, and sustain us once again.
Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Reading!
Happy Hanukkah and a Merry Smugglivus to you, Jessica!