Magazine | February 25, 2019, Issue

Please Read This Column All the Way to the End

(Image via Amazon.com, Delacorte Press)

One of my favorite parts of 2019 — so far, at least, as the year is still dewy and young — has involved watching an alarmingly sizable segment of the population seemingly attempt to convince the world that they have gone stark raving mad. Much to my chagrin, however, this particular cultural circus is short on good-natured hijinks or madcap fun.

Many Democrats, for instance, have dedicated the new year to running around hollering to anyone who will listen about a laundry list of wild-eyed, “oh, yikes” proposals. Seventy percent tax rates? Check. Economy-obliterating “Green New Deals,” which we are told we need to stop the world from ending in precisely twelve years? Check. “Scientific” new bills about how Americans should be able to legally access abortion until the 246th trimester? Cringe, and check.

Is this all part of some grand cosmic farce? Is there a secret wacky high-stakes reality-show competition I somehow don’t know about? Seriously, it’s astounding to watch! In any case, left-leaning politicians aren’t the only people losing their marbles. As January drew to a close, a fevered controversy erupted in the turgid world of young-adult literature — or YA, as it is often called — accompanied by a public-shaming ritual that by now has become as predictable as an episode of Knight Rider, the 1980s television phenomenon starring David Hasselhoff and a talking car, both of whom always win.

This is not to knock Knight Rider, by the way. I happen to own an autographed photo of David Hasselhoff from the Knight Rider era — the car, KITT, is in the photo too! — and it is easily one of the most complimented items on display in my house, right up there with the taxidermied wolverine that scares delivery people every time.

Anyway, let’s get back to our story, which is long, confusing, painful, and dumb. I’ll keep it short: Over the course of just a few days, as if launched by some powerful, secret social-justice bat signal, a thriving Twitter colony of rather intense YA critics rolled up their sleeves, asked someone near them to hold their proverbial beer, and dove into an impressively intersectional group fatwa against an eagerly awaited and widely praised book called “Blood Heir.”

I would try to explain why everyone got so mad about Blood Heir, but at press time, like many things that happen on the Internet or at an indoor trampoline park or in the crafting of the federal budget, it doesn’t really make much sense. I can offer no personal critique of Blood Heir, as I have not read the book. Certain circles, sadly, are not as prudent: Not reading Blood Heir did nothing to stop some impressively vocal people from telling the world that it is a wildly offensive scourge against everything they held dear.

The author — an enthusiastic first-time writer born in Beijing — folded almost immediately, pulling her book from its scheduled publication in June.

Holy smokes! If I am ever tempted to write a book for young adults, please pull me back from the precipice. As an aside, I worry I may never be able to write a book of fiction of any kind, given my crippling fear that each and every character in my theoretical work of fiction would suddenly be seized upon by friends and acquaintances insisting that those characters were thinly veiled versions of themselves.

“Aha!” I imagine one saying. “That beautiful heiress with a flawless sense of style? You know, the one with rapier wit and excellent driving skills? The one who can mesmerize any man in the room with her sultry Lauren Bacall voice? The one who secretly gained immortality by striking a dark bargain with the fortuneteller at Canyon Ranch, and who also has three dead Navy midshipmen stuffed in her mansion’s seldom-used pool-room closet? Don’t even try to pretend that’s not me!”  

The Blood Heir debacle raises many interesting questions, most of which I will ignore. But here are at least two worth noodling over, at least in the space of this column: In the future, will anyone be able to write anything about anything anymore? More important, what fuels our current national shortage of individuals who can actually read things all the way to the end?  

Some clarity: I am not one of those people who insist upon clawing through the entirety of a terrible book just because I started it. (I am also not one of those people who occasionally peek at the end of a book just to see how things turn out. Friends, family: You know who you are.) If a piece of writing is awful, by all means, America, cut and run! But here’s the key: After cutting and running, one should not publicly complain about what one knows nothing about.

This seems like common sense, but, as you likely know, our culture often has a tough time with common sense. What to do? We could all work a little on our patience. We could all work on our attention spans and fact retention. Perhaps, above all, we should all dedicate a little time to reading more books, articles, and even columns all the way to the end.

After all, the end of a column can deliver some pretty exciting things. What if I told you that I saw a ghost in a Manhattan hotel in 1999? What if I told you about the scarily realistic new viral video that implants Steve Buscemi’s face onto Jennifer Lawrence’s body? What if I told you about my groundbreaking photographic evidence that Bigfoot is — oh, darn. It looks like we’re out of room.

Next time, folks! Next time. In the meantime, I thank you — sincerely, truly, and from the bottom of my heart — for reading all the way to the end. I think America might thank you too.

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