As much as we live for happily ever after, folks who read romance books are no strangers to pain. Often, we turn to romance fiction to struggle or work through unimaginable emotional challenges – or those inevitable ones life throws into our paths simply because we own human bodies and souls.
So it’s only natural we’re moved by the havoc wrecked this week when Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake. The Red Cross reports as many as 50,000 people died, and survivors face grave odds of remaining alive because Haiti’s already-compromised fresh water and health-care systems were fairly obliterated in the quake.
Kettly Mars survived the earthquake, and the member of PEN, the international group that works to unite writers from all cultures and defend freedom of expression, wants us to know how things stand. “Our situation is serious,” she writes in a message to PEN International, her parent organization. “We urgently need aid. Medicine, water, food. International aid is starting to come but there will never be enough. Thank you for relaying this."
The founder of PEN Haiti and his wife also died in the earthquake, news of which rocked the organization and, perhaps, brings Haiti’s story even closer to those of us who don’t have loved ones or colleagues living, working or providing aid there. For as readers and writers, we tend to find commonality through our avocation and vocation. And I’ve wondered whether to a Haitian, the loss of a manuscript or collection of novels or children’s primers means anything next to the loss of one’s home, kids, lover or parents.
Yet when I saw a photo this morning of a young Haitian girl reading amidst the rubble that was her house, it occurred to me that I’m probably naïve in assuming a reader wouldn’t think about escaping into a book during the most dramatic, horrific experience of her life. Maybe it’s disingenuous of me to think she’d have bigger fish to fry, when I know I use books to block stresses insignificant when compared to hers.
Often world events we have no control over affect us deeply. Many readers turned to genre fiction after 9/11. Now, after we’ve made donations to groups who are hoping to eke away at the seemingly insurmountable aftermath in Haiti, I’m thinking about how we might turn to – or turn away from – reading because of Haiti's nightmare, and why.
How does crisis affect your reading? How do you use reading to respond to crisis? Does reading genre fiction to escape seem frivolous in light of what's going on in Haiti, or does it make even more sense?
The photo mentioned above appeared on the index page of NYTimes.com w/in a rights-protected photo gallery.