Thursday, September 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday--The Bad Guys

Today is the 7th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I know that not all of you who read are in the U.S., but still, it’s vital that none of us who are decent people forget the scope of disaster that a few, evil people can cause–anywhere in the world. It’s not about religion, it’s not about politics, it’s about the acknowledgment that humans should try to work together, not tear each other apart, even when they disagree.

So, feeling my way to a question here … Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read? Personally, I used to enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but haven’t been able to stomach his fight-terrorist kinds of books since.

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?

The bad guys have never been just movie villains to me. My grandfather fought in World War II and came home profoundly affected by what he had had to do and by what he had seen. I was four years old when that was brought home to me in a very chilling way. I loved my grandfather more than anyone else in the world, and I knew he wasn't a bad man; the "bad men" had done this to him. Fortunately my grandfather was able to overcome his war experience. I was eight years old when the bad guys struck again. I didn't want to watch John Fitzgerald Kennedy's funeral cortege, but Mom insisted. And it just kept happening over and over and over again. Robert Francis Kennedy in the hotel. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Vietnam War where American soldiers seemed to be every bit as bad as the bad guys they were fighting. The bad guys even reached out and touched me in the forms of a stalker and a rapist. Over and over and over again, but mainly everywhere else in the world--not America. Not my home. I remember the eerily quiet skies here in Phoenix during the days following 9/11-- the day America got a small taste of what so much of the rest of the world has been experiencing for years... decades... centuries.

Has always knowing that the bad guys are real changed my reading? No. I've always had an inquiring mind. I read about the natural world because it's so much a part of what makes me tick. I read history and see that, when it comes to the human race, there seems to be little new under the sun. We humans have such a capacity for either forgetting what's unpleasant or never forgetting it--to our detriment in years to come. I read biographies and see that extraordinary people from all centuries, from all walks of life and levels of society, have the power to reach out and touch my spirit, the power to teach me. I read fiction and non-fiction about my own culture and about the peoples and cultures of the rest of the world. We are so very similar and still can't seem to live together in peace! I read true crime and mysteries in an attempt to learn what makes the bad guys tick, to learn what it takes to bring them to justice, to learn how not to create them.

In all my reading, I read primarily to escape and to learn, and I do both in great measure. Through all the words, through all the pages, through all the ideas, I've also learned that I have a capacity for being a bad guy. We all do. It's what we choose to do that makes all the difference.


  1. I read primarily to escape so I don't usually read books on 0/11.

  2. I read to learn, to know. Not to escape.

    Villainy is not the right word

  3. Great post. Like Sal, I read to escape, and I usually end up somewhere completely different from where I live (different time, country, galaxy, etc). I don't think it's changed what I read, or how I see book villains, but I know it's changed how I react to images of violence -- in movies, on the news, in photos. They affect me much more personally now, and I try harder to avoid them. Perhaps if I had read about the 9/11 attacks instead of watching them, I would feel differently.


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