Obviously, the question could be about any kind of book that deals with a distressing or difficult topic, it's not a question focused solely on books to do with rape, but as that's one of the topics covered in this part of the event, that's what I will discuss, though I'm sure my answers can be tweaked for any topic.
I was sexually assaulted when I was 12, and for a very long time, I wouldn't touch a book if I knew it had anything to do with sexual assault or rape. I didn't want to go there, I didn't want to remember, I didn't want to have to face all I experienced and felt again. I'd done that enough in the days and weeks and months following. But when Easy by Tammara Webber came out, people were shouting about it from the rooftops, saying how well it dealt with the subject of acquaintance rape, how it wasn't used as a plot device but was dealt with so sensitively and was such an empowering novel. I was hugely wary and so scared of picking it up, but I couldn't ignore all the buzz. Was it possible to read this book and come out of it feeling good, feeling better, feeling stronger? Yes. I took a chance, and yes it was. To this day, Easy is one of the most powerful books I've ever read, one that has affected me so deeply. I am so full of gratitude to Tammara Webber for helping me turn a corner, and so much warmth for this novel and it's characters. And since then, I have continued to read books that deal with such a terrible subject. And not just because of what Easy did for me.
I read books that deal with rape because:
- I want to try and understand what a victim goes through (I wasn't raped, but at the same time, not all victims suffer the same experience or deal with them in the same way.) I find with books, I am able to somewhat put myself in the position of the character, and so I can understand the pain, the fear, the anger, whatever the difficult topic the book is covering. I believe the more I understand, the more I can sympathise for actual rape survivors. We all know rape is wrong, that it's a terrible, unfathomable thing to have to get through, but by reading a book, I can learn exactly what it can be like for survivors, especially, for example, if it's a book like Asking For It by Louise O'Neill, where I get to see what it's like when everyone seems to turn against you and call you a liar. Of course I always knew that would be awful, but I don't think I fulled grasped just how relentless it can be until I read Asking For It. If I can sympathise, I can judge better how to discuss such things.
- The authors are shining a light on the realities of rape, of exactly what the victims suffer, and I feel it's important to not hide from that. I don't want to have an "It doesn't affect me, so I'm going to steer clear from it as it makes me uncomfortable" attitude. Real people have been violated, have had their dignity stripped from them as their bodies are forced to comply, and I cannot turn away from that. Yes, reading books about rape is uncomfortable, it's upsetting, it's completely heartbreaking and it makes me so angry. But I feel reading a fictional representation of what these survivors go through is the least I can do. It's my way of saying, "I see you. I know you're there. I know of your pain. And I stand beside you."
- I truly believe books are a tool for change, and books on rape and rape culture are not just showing us how terrible the crime is, but also how low conviction rates are, and how terrible we, the general public, treat survivors. The abuse - and yes, it is abuse - survivors have to suffer from people who barely new them, if at all; discussing their clothes, their alcohol intake, their sexual history, their behaviour, dehumanising them, stripping them down to details that do not make the whole, and judging them for it... it's disgusting. The more authors who write these books, the more people who read these books, the more noise we all make together, people have to stand up and listen. People will have to look at themselves and how they judge others; are you one of these people? Can you see yourself in this book, calling the victim a "slut", saying, "Well, if you're going to wear short skirts and low cut tops..."? Are you blaming the victim? These books are powerful. I will read them, I will add my voice to those of others, and I will say enough!
- As a book blogger, I try to imagine that I could have readers who are just waiting for a certain book to fall into their hands to make them feel seen, heard, represented. A book that could help them, give them comfort, or the strength to speak up. What if by reading a book and by reviewing it, someone discovers the book they need that be so meaningful to them, that could make all the difference? What if there's a victim of rape who just needs that one book to make them realise what they went through is not their fault, that they're not to blame, and that there is help out there? Book blogging is my hobby, but I also feel like I have a responsibility to highlight such hugely important books on the off chance there's someone or some people reading who need them.
- Also, although these books might be covering a difficult, uncomfortable topic, I can still enjoy the the author's writing style, the execution of the novel, the twists, the revelations, the character development, the conclusion. I don't have to enjoy the subject matter to enjoy the book. And if I'm enjoying a book, I'm being entertained by it.
How about you? What are your reasons for reading books that deal with rape, or any other difficult, uncomfortable topic? I'd love to see if your reasons differ from mine.