Disturbing the Comfortable

I am a fan of Bookbub. I have tried a lot of books of which I wouldn’t have otherwise known, and found some gems in the process. One of my main criteria for purchasing a book–free or otherwise–is reading the reviews. While reviews are arbitrary and usually subjective (I used to review books for a living, so I know), I can still get a sense of whether a book is worth me taking the time to get it from the reviews. I especially pay attention to reviews about editorial errors; too many of those and I will pass the book by, even if it sounds interesting.

I recently skimmed the reviews for a fantasy/paranormal book and saw that quite a few reviewers said something on the order of the book plot making them uncomfortable; one reviewer even titled his/her review as “Disturbing”. These comments stemmed from the plot premise of the protagonist–and her ilk–boosting their powers via sexual intercourse. The comments thus ranged from comparisons to human trafficking, to parental perspective (e.g., would I want my daughter doing this?).

This got me to thinking of a character in the Bible (hey–years of Southern Baptist upbringing die hard). Paul, formerly known as Saul before getting a clue on the road to Damascus, was charged by Jesus to “comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable”. Much as Paul did for the Word of God, we as writers–indeed, all creative folks–should have the same charge. Our mission in life is not just to do what we love and get paid (well) for it–though that’s a good start. We need to roll like Paul and shift the paradigm of literature. We shouldn’t be afraid to write/paint/record/dance/design/sew what we like because it’s different, or not being done/trendy, or so far out the box that the concept can’t be seen by the Hubble telescope.

There is a reason that Gillian Flynn is blowing up the New York Times Bestseller List with her latest novel, Gone Girl, even before the movie was cast with Ben Affleck. She did the same with her previous novel, Dark Places. There is a reason, beyond his excellent writing style, why Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There is a reason why Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun, is a literary force, in the vein of Wole Soyinka, Buchi Emecheta, and Chinua Achebe–long before she was introduced to the masses by a sampling  of her TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists” .

Each of the aforementioned authors discussed social and political issues that were preferably not discussed at all: domestic violence; fratricide and matricide; dictatorships; civil wars; new nation creation and dismantling; political corruption; feminism; the politics of skin color; immigration (both documented and undocumented) and the lengths to which it will be obtained, including paid marriages. They dared to shine a light on the underbelly of the human condition and show the maggots thriving beneath…and we, as a society, are better for it.

To that end, we as creatives should all strive to provide more than just entertainment. Nor should we try to shock, for shock’s sake. Instead, we should try to create platforms that further foster discussion, since discussion leads to understanding, and understanding leads to change. Sounds very Yoda-like, but was Yoda ever wrong? 🙂

Thanks for stopping by.