This Post Is Not Important

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

When I talk about fiction, I talk about good books and influential books.  I do not talk about important books.
This is because I think that the idea of an important book is fundamentally stupid.
Good books are, of course, a completely subjective thing, and I think we all understand that.  There are those folks on the Intarwebz who get wrapped around the axle because for them, I LIKE IT means IT IS GOOD, but I think despite the occasional trash-talk between people, most people dig that their definition of a good book is not a universal thing.
(You may deeply suspect someone who does not love the best book you ever read, but I think that’s a personality thing; if you love this book so much and they hate it, that’s most likely pointing to a fundamental incompatibility thing between you.  Roger Ebert said, “Never marry someone who doesn’t love the movies you love. Sooner or later, that person will not love you.”  That’s not necessarily true if you’re not big on movies, but I found myself completely over an old relationship when I discovered she liked the prequels better than the original Star Wars.)
Influential books, well, you can’t really argue that point either.  You might despise Twilight, but you have to admit that a lot of books (good or bad) have been written in that style, and certainly a lot of people have tried to emulate Bella and Jacob and Poochface and whoever else is in this book I’ve never actually read.  There are a lot of books I don’t actually like that I see echoes of elsewhere (paging Mr. Tolkien).  In an ideal world, good equals influential, but it often doesn’t.
Important books, though…. Well, in my experience, “important” books are compiled by people who are trying to appear very smart.   And what you wind up is a combination of books they consider “good” where they’re trying to imply that you’re a cultureless oaf if you don’t like it, and “influential” books (which, in some cases, the people actually haven’t read) that people want to say they’ve read because these are books that other classy people have enjoyed and hence you should, too.
In other words, “important” books are usually a short-hand for “This set of books is the encapsulation of the culture I am trying to create, and I’ll do this by implying heavily that if you haven’t read them, you’re both clueless and ignorant of the way the world works.” Such cultures are almost inexorably twisted towards “This is the stuff I like – but it’s not me who likes it, it’s all the important people.  You want to be important, don’t you?”
The reason I say this is because Cat Valente mentioned that some clueless git said, that he couldn’t “think of anything important written by a woman in any time period.”  And my reaction was not a spluttering “whuh?” at such en enormously stupid statement, but rather, “Of course.  Because important is your short-hand for, ‘relevant to my interests,’ and I’m willing to bet your interests don’t include actually paying attention to women.”
It gets hard when compiling lists of older books, because back when you had the endless circle-jerk of guys publishing guys, well, all that was influential was mostly men.  (I say this with the perhaps overpleasant assumption that we’re slowly crawling our way out of that mire.)  And a lot of what was good was male, because again, when 95% of what gets published is guys, most of the good work is going to be by default by guys.
Still, to say that no woman has written anything influential is clearly stinking horseshit.  And to say that no woman has written anything good is an admission that really, you haven’t read that much.  Sexists can take refuge in that last bastion, though, by saying that women aren’t “important” – which, again, is a nebulous term meaning “Me and my friends all think these books are rad, but it’s not us, it’s THE WORLD who thinks that.”  And fuck that.  Every list of important books boils down to a bunch of the same book-nerds sitting in a circle, calling out their favorites.
Have your list of books you love – everyone’s entitled – but don’t tell me that they’re important.  They’re good.  And/or they’re influential.  Occasionally, even groundbreaking or literarily significant as a first.  But important?  For a guy who loves books, you sure don’t understand what words mean.
 

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