You're Not a "Special Snowflake" If You Avoid Books You Know Will Piss You Off
I've only faked it at a book club once, thank goodness.
Recently, at an all-women's book club I'm in, it was suggested we read Stranger In a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. It's one of those science fiction classics from the 1950s that sounds really good on paper and people today still like it, though it's a product of its time and is problematic in terms of today's standards of human decency. The book's synopsis sounded good and it got plenty of good reviews, so our group agreed to read it.
Honestly, it was my fault for not looking more closely at the book and reading more into the reviews because the author is incredibly demeaning to women. At one point, the book even says that it's a woman's fault if she gets raped. Not only is that victim-blaming, a logical fallacy, and just plain fucked up, it seems stupid for an all women's book club to read something clearly misogynistic. And considering that statistics say 1 in 6 women are raped, it's insensitive and thoughtless to put something potentially harmful in front of a women's book club. Especially when there may be survivors in the book club.
As the facilitator, I take full responsibility and I'm not surprised that only 3 other people showed up to that meeting. Once I realized what the book was about, I decided not to read it myself.
To be clear: I think, to a degree, that reading books that make you uncomfortable is a good thing. (I even did a whole series about this awhile back.) After all, growth comes from the friction of discomfort.
HOWEVER, it has to be the right kind of discomfort. The good kind of books that make you feel uncomfortable are those that push you to open your mind and be a better person, not make you feel like shit over a personal attribute that's not wrong and that you can't do anything about. There's nothing wrong with being a woman and, barring a change in identity that may or may not include surgery, there's not much you can do about it. Meaning: a book that makes you feel like shit for being a woman, especially a woman who's a survivor of rape, is just a bad book.
Hearing victim-blaming trash doesn't inspire intellectual debate or encourage you to be a smarter, more well-rounded, more empathetic human being. All it does is piss you off and make you feel like shit, which I daresay is its intention. Or, if one is unbothered by it, I imagine it's because the statement either doesn't affect them, in which case the person lacks empathy for those it does affect, or because they agree with it themselves, which is a whole other level of problematic.
You may be wondering how I knew the book would piss me off if I didn't read it. Fair question, and the answer is simple: I read reviews that included a number of quotes and my library had the ebook available, so I could search the text. Yes, all the woman-hating comments are there.
You may also be wondering how I handled facilitating a book club meeting for a book I didn't read. First, I did my research. I printed off several lists of discussion questions and book summaries, so I felt like I had enough of an understanding of the major themes and talking points to discuss it semi-intelligently without having read it. I majored in English Lit and it felt a little like going back to high school English and skimming the Cliff's Notes before a test about a book I didn't have time to read. But, like the tests I passed in high school for the books I had no interest in, the discussion went really well.
I was also honest with the group and told them upfront that I hadn't read the book and cited my reasons why. They all shared my concerns and were glad that we put the sexist shit all on the table at the beginning of the discussion so it wasn't like the pink elephant looming over the group. Since I didn't read the book, I passed the mic to others in the group even more than usual because I felt that was the right (and smart) thing to do.
In the end, no one was upset or disappointed that I hadn't read the book and I didn't have to spend several hours of my life hating a book and wishing I was reading something else. Win-win for everyone. (Except Robert Heinlein, but who cares. He should've thought about that before he started saying hateful things about women.)