Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Hissy Fit

with 8 comments

Most of the time, when I get angry or upset with things that happen on this blog, I just go away for a while until I calm down, and then start in on another topic.

This time, I’m disinclined to do that.

Yesterday, I wrote about a book that I truly love, and that was once enormously important in my life.

Without it, there would have been no Gregor Demarkian, and no Patience Campbell McKenna, and no blog.

What I got in response was a cascade of sneering contempt from people who have not read the book and know nothing about it, confidently assuring me that the reason there are no “conservative” books like it is that conservatives are too busy actually doing things, they don’t indulge in “angst,” and they’re not interested in “whining.”

I also got told that maybe it’s just that they’re not involved in “theorizing.”

I want to defend this book for a moment, because it deserves defending.  It’s a good one.

There is no angst.

There is no whining.

There is no theorizing about “women’s issues.”

It’s the story of a young woman who works up the courage to leave home and move to New York, and then of her adventures there until she has established a place for herself.

I know the narrator is coming from a left wing perspective only because the women she admires (except for Joan of Arc), are largely left wing women, although she seems to admire them more for their rebelliousness than for their left wing ideas.  Emma Goldman.  La Passionara.  Rosa Luxembourg.

If you know nothing about the content of left wing politics, you will not learn it from this book.

It is not a tract, and it is not an exercise in sociology.

It is about real people, doing real things.  And that’s always what I want in fiction.

Robert, assuming he knows all about this book in spite of never having read it, compares it to stories he was forced to read where the heroine decided to stay in a math class or leave it.

I know the kind of story he is referring to. I can’t stand them, either.  This book is nothing like that.

I admit I don’t understand the fascination of reading about places that don’t exist and things that could not possibly be real–but I have never sneered at any of you for reading it.

I mentioned entertainment and escape because several people commenting on this blog have said that that is what they read for, and explained their interest in fantasy and science fiction as being those particular things.

This is not a sneer, nor does it in any way indicate that I think that is the ONLY reason anybody reads it. 

It’s just what people here have in fact said.

But there is one thing I do know.

I have been sneered at, derided and treated with contempt all my life for liking the things I like to read, and I have seen those things dismissed and stereotyped by people who have not read them.

I don’t need to write a blog to get more of that.

Written by janeh

July 24th, 2012 at 9:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'Hissy Fit'

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  1. Then I don’t get what’s especially left-wing about this book, if the only hint of such a thing is the choice of role models – and the heroine seems to admire their rebelliousness more than their politics. If you want stories about girls who make their way in the world, there must be hundreds of thousands of them. Some of the protagonists find their place in conventional lives, some don’t, to a greater or lesser degree. This particular one spoke to you, but that wasn’t what you asked about. You asked where the books from another political perspective are. I suspect that they’re somewhere among the ones that didn’t appeal to you – but now I’m wondering what you think makes a book of a particular perspective, when you say this one – one you admire and so probably consider an exemplar – only shows its perspective in its choice of heroines.


    24 Jul 12 at 10:14 am

  2. It’s a left wing book in the sense that what mentions are made of heroines, heroes, and events current and historical are from the left wing perspective–but they’re not discussed and they’re not plot points, they’re just mentioned.

    They’re mentioned the way you’d mention things you read, or things you know, when other things remind you of them.

    So, when Sacco and Vanzetti come up, they’re assumed to be unjustly executed, as are the Rosenbergs. When someone is quoted as advocating rebellion instead of conformity, it’s Rosa Luxemburg and not Ayn Rand.

    It’s a context, not a debating point.

    And if there really were other books like that out there, I didn’t find them, and I was actively looking.

    The issue is not that the girl leaves her conservative small town for the liberal big city.

    It’s that the girls leaves her CONFORMIST small town for a place where there’s room and space for all kinds of difference, including people like herself, among whom she can finally belong.

    And, like I said, there is nothing about that story that is inherently left wing or liberal. I just never found any books like that that weren’t.

    And the realness was absolutely necessary.

    I’m a coward.

    I’d want to move to New York and the entire idea would scare me to death.

    Books about women like me who did that and actually ended up having it turn out well–not necessarily spectacularly well, but well–made the entire project seem less threatening and dangerous.

    And it got me off my rear end, and I went.


    24 Jul 12 at 11:29 am

  3. Clearly it was my comment that upset you. You read far too much into it. I was talking about my experience with strong, independent non-Leftist women: the kind of women I, and now Cheryl at least, believed that you seemed to think did not write the sort of book that inspired you. In my experience, albeit limited by my background and lifestyle, such women have other priorities in life.

    I intended no sneer whatsoever.


    24 Jul 12 at 11:53 am

  4. I found a free excerpt on Amazon. I see what you mean. She clearly – at least according to the initial excerpt – grows up in a family – if not a milieu – in which the heros of the left are unquestioned heros. So far, I see what you mean.

    In between running around taking care of things, I’ve been puzzling over what a right-wing book of this type would look like. Another variation of a coming-of-age story (not, actually, a type of story I like very much). You can’t really just reverse things – have a young girl in a boring but left-wing town thinking of McCarthy as a hero in the battle against Communism because (1) he was male, and there weren’t that many suitably prominent women to fill in the spot (2) Although Communism has been widely discredited, so have some of the anti-Communist tactics.

    It’s easier, actually, if the milieu is Christian, of a superficial kind. There are lots of books in which girls in a confined and boring home life turned to religion inspired by the saints. Especially Catholic girls – for every family which automatically dedicated a son to the priesthood and a daughter to the convent, there were others who thought ‘All very admirable, no doubt, but MY daughter is going to marry, settle down in her home town, and bear grandchildren.”

    I wonder if the stories told from a more right-wing point of view, lacking exciting inspiration like that of revolutions, use personal aspirations instead – and those aren’t always easily classified along political lines. So you have the young would-be saints, the authors and the travellers and the first doctors and lawyers.

    Something in the turns of phrase, the uncritical adoration of revolution in that little excerpt reminds me of these emails I’m getting once or twice a week from an acquaintance, urging me to turn out for ‘Casseroles Night’. I haven’t got the faintest idea why she thinks I agree with either the tactics or the cause(s). Anyway, following Occupy Wall Street (and including some of the same people) there were riots in Quebec over tuition increases, and then to the legislative response in Quebec and an unrelated change to the local Freedom of Information law. Everyone is supposed to bang on pots and pans like a South American matron whose child was disappeared in a totally spontaneous demonstration against the terrible evils of our society.


    24 Jul 12 at 5:09 pm

  5. I’ll plead semi-innocent. I can only deal with the sketchy description of the book I’m given at the time, not the more detailed description I’m given after I’ve replied. And if I’d known up front it was a beloved book and the source of youthful inspiration, I’d have low-balled the criticism anyway.

    As for the stock of left-wing heroes and interpretations, It’s the one taught in all the schools you promote. I bet Obama has the same list, and it was Dukakis who proclaimed “Saco and Vanzetti Day.” You have to go a long way to escape it–Barsoom, say, or Middle-Earth. In that sense my reading IS an escape–but I will repeat (again!) Tolkien’s observation that there is a difference between the escape of the prisoner and the flight of the deserter–and that the people most upset over escape are jailers.


    24 Jul 12 at 7:02 pm

  6. As a brief aside to this post, here is a small defense/explanation of Science Fiction/Fantasy. I also grew up in those repressive times and read voraciously, including science fiction. My watershed book was The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Publisher quote: “A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.”
    As a kid and a young woman, I read pretty mindlessly, but came to believe that the best of any genre still had something to show me, to make me think. Even aliens, in the hands of a good writer, say something about being human. Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut – great writers.
    As to the 70’s – I read Gloria Steinem and anyone else who could help me find the words to describe what I was feeling and thinking.


    24 Jul 12 at 10:12 pm

  7. I think I read Steinem et al more or less out of curiousity. There were some feminist writers that roused me to a certain amount of indignation about the suffering of women or awareness (not that I can remember specifics all this time later) but I never had the feeling that the ‘problem that had no name’ had anything much to do with me personally. Probably I had the wrong background and personality and was slightly too young – that is, I didn’t grow up in a suburb, read them when marriage and most especially the suburban dream life with stay-at-home mother wasn’t even on my radar, and came from a family in which education – especially practical stuff, so you could become self-supporting, ‘just in case’ was highly valued for girls as well as boys.

    Still, I read Ms magasine religiously for quite a while, long after I became disillusioned with ideas like consciousness-raising and the political ideas associated with the movement.


    25 Jul 12 at 3:09 pm

  8. You know how when you say something to a dog he doesn’t understand, but he wants you to know he’s listening, he cocks his head to the side?

    That’s kind of how I felt when I read the bit Jane wrote about ” I was looking for

    1) stories of ordinary young women who pulled up stakes and moved away to New York or Paris or someplace else I was actually interested in living and made a go of it.


    2) an analysis of the actualities of being female that would help show me where the kinks were. I knew there was something wrong, I just couldn’t put my finger on.

    …. I wanted to work up the courage to actually get up and go in my real life.”

    The reason I felt that puzzlement is because I don’t get why a tale set in a fantasy or future cannot be an instrument of teaching about here, now and how to be female, or independent, or autonomous. I couldn’t figure out why such a specific story, of a girl who was nearly YOU, accomplishing what YOU dreamed of, was necessary to open the world of the possible to you.

    In the same way learning other languages (or about the structure of other languages) teaches you much more about your own language, learning about other ways to be human (or alien, even more so) teaches you about your own way, and what might be possible.

    And that’s what good SF & fantasy does. It explores the ways we are human, sometimes in contrast to aliens, sometimes in contrast to other human cultures, sometimes just in thinly disguised variations of Here and Now.

    I didn’t need to read about Young Suburban Girl growing up and going to Paris to know I could do that. I read about Podkayne and wanted to go live on the Moon, and dammit, I would be except the commute turns out to be 50 years longer than anticipated. I was even inspired by the male protagonists, because reading about them made me observe the women (and men) around me, see what was going on in their lives, and figure out how not to end up like them, if I didn’t want to.

    To me, reading about said Young Suburban Girl back when I was a Young Suburban Girl would have been dreadfully boring, unless she got swept up by a passing starship. Just getting out and going to Paris or NYC, eh. I guess in my head I was always Out. I needed more to read about than what somebody else Just Like Me *might* do, if she stepped out the door.

    Of course, perhaps my end purpose was not too far from Jane’s…I wanted to end up just like the people I read about. She wanted to be in another city, living the life of the mind. I wanted to be on another planet. :/


    25 Jul 12 at 4:13 pm

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