The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Book Club: Is there value in reading controversial and outdated books?

A look into contemporary books with problematic plots
Photo by Delia Brandel

In the world of postmodern literature, there are a few classic examples of genuine controversy. These books can be controversial for a slew of reasons and are still quite popular. For me, the titles that come to mind are “Lolita,” “American Psycho” and, of course, “The Virgin Suicides.”

As someone who has dabbled in all three, I wanted to take a gander as to why these titles are still worth reading in our more educated world. I wanted to explore the controversial yet useful nature of these books through the lens of “The Virgin Suicides.”

“The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides follows the Lisbon sisters through the eyes of their male classmates and neighbors who watch in wonder as the girls grow up. 

The book takes rather dark twists and turns as the Lisbon girls continue their pilgrimage towards a shocking and expertly planned death at the end of the book, hence the name. 

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This might shock many of the people who know me, but I really enjoyed this read. As someone who normally pushes against such antiquated and tokenized views of women in the media, I think this book can be extremely meaningful and a learning experience if read in a satirical context. 

I knew this book was going to be gauzy and oversexualized. I knew it was going to romanticize the horrors and tribulations of being teenage girls to satisfy a male audience. But I really, truly love it. 

The boys mentioned or cited in the book are so cartoonish, so flat and obviously created as a vehicle to gawk and drool at the Lisbon girls. It’s so interesting to me that these flat, lifeless characters are supposed to be our reliable narrative of the tragedy. 

Serena Smith wrote an article in Dazed about the meaning behind the consistent popularity of this book and brought up the perspective of young girls feeling seen after being overlooked or minimized in their mental illness. 

This is a really good point, as the romanticization of mental illness is something that I think most people these days have come across in some form or another, whether it’s through media representation or a social media microtrend

Especially as a woman, it seems that mental illness is supposed to be mysterious or quirky, something that gives you an edge but doesn’t make you gross or hard to love. This is very obviously untrue, but the book does a good job of showing the harm of making these struggles seem attractive or coveted. 

The Lisbon girls should never have been seen as more valuable because of the tragedy or mental illness that they were plagued with, and it’s a good example of what happens when we watch people online or otherwise struggle without reaching out. 

I think this might be the special quality that these books have. They allow the reader to find specific nuances in which to relate with, especially in regard to the treatment of minorities. Even if not to the same extent, those affected in the present can relate to those affected in the past. 

Beyond this, they can be a good example of how far our society has come, or even as a mirror to look into to see how much farther we have to go. Regardless, my opinion is this — there is a reason these books are so popular, even now.

It’s obvious they still have a significance in our modern life and can continue to be a platform that we can build on as we grow and learn more about ourselves. 

Brandel can be reached at [email protected]


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About the Contributor
Delia Brandel
Delia Brandel, OP/ED Editor
Delia is a second-year illustration student, pursuing a career in children's book illustration and animation. This is her third semester on The Spectator. Delia is particularly fond of books, art, her cat Applesauce, music, tea, baby clothes, the 2019 version of “Little Women” and animated movies.

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