Brave New World

By the time this Musing is published, the Goodreads website should have announced the winners of their 2022 Annual Goodreads Choice Awards. Almost six million subscribers participated in the vote, and I admit to not being one of them. I am more of a taker than a giver on Goodreads. The site, where people share what books they are reading and have the opportunity to rank books and write reviews, had 90 million members as of 2019. While I love seeing reading recommendations from friends, I almost never contribute my own suggestions and views. In theory, I’d like to; in reality it doesn’t make it onto my to-do list.

Nonetheless, I visited the site a few days ago to see what books were competing for the title of most frequently added to people’s virtual bookshelves. Would they be scientific tomes analyzing the effects of COVID-19 and its treatments? Would climate change absorb readers’ attention or perhaps growing inflation would drive traffic to economic and political issues?

Surely, desired reading in 2022 would reflect the advancement of women in the workforce and demand serious treatment of the female sex. Shockingly—and yes, I say that tongue in cheek—I discovered that love dominated the book summaries I read. Let me share some representative sentences describing these books:

“But if anyone were to discover how Ledger is slowly becoming an important part of Kenna’s life, both would risk losing the trust of everyone important to them. The two form a connection despite the pressure surrounding them, but as their romance grows, so does the risk.” (#1 – Reminders of Him)

“Nora is a heroine for her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent…Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.” (#2 – Book Lovers)

“After nearly two years separated, she is elated that for once, time is on their side, and she immediately says yes when Atlas asks her on a date.” (#3 – It Starts with Us)

“There’s a reason Knox doesn’t do complications or high-maintenance women, especially not the romantic ones. But since Naomi’s life imploded right in front of him, the least he can do is help her out of her jam.” (#4 – Things We Never Got Over)

Are you seeing a pattern? Let me add two more before summing up. Both of these feature female scientists. Finally, books worthy of the 21st century! Alas, not really.

“But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.” (#9 – Lessons in Chemistry)

“Bee Königswasser lives by a simple code: What would Marie Curie do? If NASA offered her the lead on a neuroengineering project – a literal dream come true – Marie would accept without hesitation. Duh. But the mother of modern physics never had to co-lead with Levi Ward. Sure, Levi is attractive in a tall, dark, and piercing-eyes kind of way.” (#12 – Love on the Brain)

I have read only one of the top fifteen books listed. Frankly, I had not heard of any of the others. But I did get a message. The heroine who in books of a few decades ago was a nurse or a teacher is now a business executive or scientist or some other version of a talented, intelligent and driven career woman. Her occupation and expectations have changed. Yet, she is still desperate to connect with a man whom she can respect and who will love and cherish her. Unfortunately, the expectations these books encourage often clash with finding non-fictional men who will fulfill her literary-induced dreams.

Welcome to our brave, new world. (With apologies to Aldous Huxley.)

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