The Wrong Cave

anti_hate_signIn her New Republic article, Josephine Livingstone explores the power that words can give a writer to reveal the intended truth on the page, and points to what happens when we fail to realize the potential of that power. Build the wrong cave, she says, and you risk the voice of the villain taking on echoes of heroism. She’s referring to this article by Richard Fausset in the New York Times in which his profile of a white supremacist was thought by many to cast a light of normalcy over him. The Times had this to say:

We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable…is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.

The writer responded as well, saying that his subject “was exceedingly candid with me — often shockingly so — but it seems as though his worldview was largely formed by the same recombinant stuff that influences our mainstream politics. There were exceptions, of course: I saw, on his bookshelf, two volumes of Helena Blavatsky’s “The Secret Doctrine,” 19th-century work of esoteric spiritualism whose anti-Semitism influenced Nazi thinking.”

Recombinant. True. We may all be privy to the same cultural narratives and come to vastly different conclusions about it. Can failure to underline the connections we’re trying to make easily lead to someone else deliberately misconstruing the words we’ve used, thereby making fake news out of our intentions?

Lies, Activism, and Books for Young People

1984

In the Age of Trump, when “alternative facts” are touted as real and the highest seat in the executive branch of the United States government is occupied by a liarsales of George Orwell’s 1984 are booming, and we’re suddenly reminded that the young have to be our last best hope.

My own chapter book, Book Uncle and Me, written back in 2010 or so and originally published in India in 2012, is a story of politics, corruption, and a kid who has to take her nose out of her book and do something. It now seems surprisingly relevant, and has made it onto a few lists  in the last couple of months.

From The Horn Book,  here is a nonfiction list of books about young people making a difference. And finally, look at this year’s ALA awards list! I’d like to think that books as always can offer us a tiny ray of hope. The children’s and YA book world must keep its focus on diversity, justice, and inclusion, especially in the face of racism and isolationism. That’s the truth.

Truth, Lies, and Fiction

onlies_jacketI’ve always been interested in truth and lies, in why we choose one or the other. It’s a decision that plays out over and over again in daily life as well as over time, in large and small ways and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes people lie to help themselves. Sometimes, they reason, it is to help others or to refrain from hurting. What’s the truth about lies and the people who tell them?

This week, I’ve been reading the work of a poet and essayist who valued integrity, Adrienne Rich. Had she lived, she’d be 86 years old, my mother’s age. Even taken out of context in excerpted quotes, her words are fierce and achingly true.

Lying is done with words, and also with silence.

The liar has many friends, and leads an existence of great loneliness.

In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even within our own lives.

Truthfulness, honor, is not something which springs ablaze itself; it has to be created between people.

So what of fiction, an art form composed essentially of that which is not true? Children’s books have never shied away from the complexities of truth and lying. In Secrets, Lies and Children’s Fiction, Kerry Mallan looks at an array of texts to show how books for the young illuminate philosophical and moral dilemmas and expose the fallacies that human being perpetuate. In other words, they tell the truth. What does that mean for writers? We may lie to others daily, consciously or not, we may even lie to ourselves. When we write fiction, however, we are forced to summon up our deepest emotions and vulnerabilities. The art of storytelling gets us to face the truth within ourselves when etiquette and social niceties are tipped in favor of drawing veils over the truth.