Sady Doyle reviewed No Regrets for In These Times. In No Regrets, women authors describe what they had read or avoided during their youth, and Doyle points to her favorite suggestion from Carla Blumenkranz and notes, "Maybe every woman writer has to create her own 'secret canon,' her own list of essential books, in order to survive the male-dominated cultural definition of 'great literature.'"
Of course, this could apply to others who feel marginalized for any reason. Every person should create his or her own canon of great works, the books that influenced a life.
In Fear of Beauty, an Afghan woman, a new reader, quickly discovers that she does not agree with her husband's interpretation of the Koran. Desperate to figure out why her son died on the night he was supposed to attend school, she must first learn to read. She studies in secret and keeps her observations a secret, but her life is more thoughtful and less routine.
As Doyle points out, any reader is qualified to decide what they need from literature and what literature should be, what influences that individual and what should influence society as a whole.
Interpretations vary. Most of us, like Doyle, can remember hearing an interpretation of a passage that did not mesh with our own. They may speak out or choose to remain quiet.
The finest literature is open to interpretation. One interpretation does not mean another's interpretation is necessarily wrong.
If readers are candid and thorough, public reading lists, like Goodreads - simply admitting what we like and don't like and why - can expose our personalities, levels of socialization, character traits, fears, choices, and more. Of course, many readers do not list every book they read, and others tame their criticism. A book that provokes strong, negative reactions can be as influential and powerful as one that invites our praise.
Characters should be imperfect, and to paraphrase Joan Didion, rigid politics and rigid rules have no place in the literary realm.
"The Novel Reader," a painting by Vincent van Gogh, 1888, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.