Hapax suggested that people might occasionally like to read “Shit I do at the library” posts. (My words, not hers.) I didn’t have a topic for her until today.
I’m very good at not telling my patrons what I think of their choice of reading material. After all, if they knew what I read, they would judge me equally as harshly as I judge them. They would probably have cause, because I unironically love, for example, a series of books in which the male characters have ejaculate that tastes like Nutela. So every time someone requests to read the bile churned out by Bill O’Reilly, or says without irony, “Why can’t you send me more books by good writers, like James Patterson?” I am able to suppress my snorts of derision by reminding myself that as long as I love books featuring snard, I have no room to talk at all.
Today, though, I very nearly said something.
The patron in question is an older gentleman. In cadence and tone, his voice is creepily similar to my dad’s. This is why I have a soft spot for him even though I think he’s wrong about everything when it comes to literature. His tastes are very particular, but he’s pretty adamant that he won’t read female authors, even if, in my opinion, there are several he’d enjoy if he didn’t know their gender from the outset. (He also thinks James Patterson is a good writer, which doesn’t help his case.)
Anyway, after giving me a list of the books he wanted us to mail out, he asked if we had a copy of Mandingo. Which would have been fine except he went on to say, “I read that book when I could see. It wasn’t like Roots, which was horrible.”
Let’s put this in context. Here’s a description of Mandingo from Wikipedia:
Mandingo is a novel by Kyle Onstott, published in 1957. The book is set in the 1830s in the antebellum South primarily around Falconhurst, a fictional plantation in Alabama owned by the planter Warren Maxwell. The narrative centers on Maxwell, his son Hammond, and the Mandingo (or Mandinka) slave Ganymede, or Mede. It is a tale of cruelty toward the blacks of that time, detailing vicious fights, poisoning, and violent death.
And here’s the description of Roots from the same source.
Brought up on the stories of his elderly female relatives—including his Grandmother Cynthia, whose father was emancipated from slavery in 1865—Alex Haley claimed to have traced his family history back to “the African,” Kunta Kinte, captured by members of a contentious tribe and sold to slave traders in 1767. In the novel, each of Kunta’s enslaved descendants passed down an oral history of Kunta’s experiences as a free man in Gambia, along with the African words he taught them. Haley researched African village customs, slave-trading and the history of African Americans in America—including a visit to the griot (oral historian) of his ancestor’s African village. He created a colorful history of his family from the mid-eighteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, which led him back to his heartland of Africa.
Mandingo was turned into a movie, which, according to the late Roger Ebert lingered in loving detail over the fact that the titular character is blackmailed by his white mistress into having sex with her. Of course, she gets pregnant, and the baby turns out to be black.
I have not read the book myself, but I find I have no desire to do so. “An unflinching portrayal of slavery” sounds very nice indeed, but the book’s author was white. (Had he not been, his Wikipedia page would have made mention of his ethnicity, because that’s how these things work.) My guess is that Mandingo’s unflinching portrayal of slavery is kind of like the unflinching portrayal of medieval sexism found in A Game of Thrones. (By which I mean, the kind of unflinching portrayal that is not afraid to show us the privileged exploiting the marginalized. In loving, rapturous detail without giving those marginalized people their own voices.
Roots, on the other hand, is actually written by an African American. I’m sure it’s not without its problems as well, but the important thing is that it’s the author telling his own story and that of his family. I’m sure it’s an unflinching portrayal of slavery as well, but it’s the kind of story I want to see told and think should be read. The fact that my patron would rather read the “unflinching portrayal of slavery” written by some white dude rather than an equally unflinching look at similar events from an African-American perspective says a lot about him as a person, and none of it is flattering.
Mandingo is available for download through Nls. We’re going to make a copy for my patron, because as disgusted as I am that he wants to read this, censorship of things I don’t like is not how this library gig works.
I know this guy is not only unashamedly sexist, but he’s a bigot as well. I still will send him his books, but that soft spot I had for him because he reminds me of my dad is gone. He killed it.
ETA: I left a tag unclosed. Fixed it!