The Wonderful Preface to Henry Sugar (One More)
I wrote a brief intro to my Jezebel essay on The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More about boys and Shelf Discovery that I meant to go on for three sentences and of course went on for 65. (That’s what happens when you drink three coffees and get on the Acela w/computer.) It is mainly an excercise in un-peeving myself so I can turn to one of my FAVORITE BOOKS in the world without feeling like I’m handing over the Sudetenlands. I’ve posted all 19 paragraphs here. To get back to the far less militant Jezebel essay, click on link at bottom.
A brief – in true Dahlian fashion – note on the text:
Since the publication of Shelf Discovery, I have been cheered and amazed by the lovely and wide-ranging response to the book. Slightly surprising, however, has been the mild rebuke I have received from various quarters for not including books quote unquote for boys. (If I do not mistake myself, I lost a whole actual star for it here!) When I started Fine Lines, I did not conceive of it as a column quote unquote for girls, though it a) appears on a women’s web site and b) does, in fact, involve books mostly read by girls.
But, excuse me – so what if I had? While I am not inordinately bothered when I am asked if I also have book recommendations for boys – that is, after all, a natural enough question, though does ANYONE ask Chuck Klosterman if he has music recommendations for women? – I am quietly outraged at how apparently it is against the law to not talk specifically about boys and what they might need/enjoy/prosper from for five seconds.
Because I would like to point out – pointing! Pointing! — that the YA and midlist markets are dominated by women because that is, in the main, where the publishing industry has slotted women. In the corner of worthy literature, you found what I was made to read grade school to high school: Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, The Red Pony, The Old Man and the Sea, The Pearl, A Light in the Forest, Black Boy, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ethan Frome, Native Son, Moby Dick, and Hamlet. Worthy books all – but, you know, most of the women in them wind up dead.
Shelf Discovery is a memoir of my particular history but it is also a memoir of an actual history, one in which when I read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Bluest Eye, Jacob Have I Loved, or Me Me Me Me Me, I found them on my own, whether from my mother’s shelves or the teeny bookstore that thank God stocked most of the works found in SD. As I know from your letters, many of you also read all the books we can, if we must, consider books for boys as well as the summer reading list canon you find above, but no one has forgotten about I, Robot or Dandelion Wine or The Outsiders, and that’s why you don’t find them in SD. My general mission is to write about books no one (allegedly) remembers, or that never receive (in my view) enough credit. Any perceived discrimination is not a reflection of my bias, but a bias visited on me.
Or you could just put it like Nomie did.