Two years back, I stumbled upon a book named “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.” And I am sure had someone kept a close eye on my eye, they could’ve seen my pupils dilate, because I was stocked! Well, I might have exaggerated that part a bit, but I don’t know how to express what I felt without quite exaggerating the premise (If you are a bookworm, you would know what I am talking about).
Anyway, so I went ahead and searched for the book on the internet. It turned out the book has won a bunch of accolades and awards – Stonewall Book Award, Michael L. Printz Award, Pura Belpre Award for writing. Blimey! I guess the best thing I could do was to order the book. And I kid you not; I clicked on the ‘buy now’ button faster than the creepy stalkers slide into DMs.
And that’s how I was introduced to the writing of my favorite author, who also happens to be the most wonderful human being alive on this planet (No exaggeration). Benjamin Alire Saenz, an American poet and novelist, play the role of an angel in his readers’ lives. I have read around four books by him ever since then and I can easily say, he deserves to be read by every single human being alive in this world because people need to learn the art of becoming a kind human being. His books have taught me to love, care and be kind. He has inspired so many people out there to live their lives with love because honestly, there is no other way to do life. That’s just how it is supposed to be.
Benjamin Alire Saenz and Masculinity.
A few days back, I was having a conversation with a fellow ‘Benjamin lover’ about how wonderfully the author is redefining masculinity and male friendship, one novel at a time. Masculinity and male friendships are often misrepresented through books, movies and various forms of art for that matter. It’s a space where toxicity creeps in very easily and dwells for a long period of time. There are some messed up social standards with regards to masculinity that affect young boys all around the world. Especially, when boys hit puberty, they go through a sudden outburst of hormones and emotions. That’s a critical time in their lives because that’s when they are exposed to so many unexplored emotions, concepts, and possibilities. Young boys often tend to be malleable. Benjamin gives a lot of attention and care to his young characters. In fact, his protagonists are mainly young people. He writes about their agony, angst, trauma, coping mechanisms, and whatnot. Moreover, he makes sure never to trivialize what a young human feels just because they are young. Our society often disregards the range of emotions a teenager goes through. It’s like an undeclared norm that for an emotion to be deemed valid, one has to be an adult, which is both strange and downright unfair.
Teenage is the peak of our emotional graph. There are so many feelings and very little understanding. And in most cases, people end up stifling those feelings to cope with them. No one actually deals with how they feel and, therefore, end up with very little understanding of themselves. And this is why reading Benjamin’s books are so important. He makes you understand who you are in the process of understanding the characters. Most importantly, he manages to validify your emotions. Coming back to the topic of masculinity in his books. Benjamin gives specific importance to his male characters without ignoring his lady characters, which is so appreciable. I have observed that his female characters are mostly in supportive roles, and yet they are never left behind. Instead, they pull the male characters up and bring them closer to become better human beings."When boys hit puberty, they go through a sudden outburst of hormones and emotions. That's a critical time in their lives because that's when they are exposed to so many unexplored emotions, concepts, and possibilities." Spread this!
Benjamin tries to normalize gentleness and softness in his male characters. He makes it a point to smoothen out the rough edges of masculinity. He works hard on his male characters. He discovers their idea of masculinity, and through his storyline, he improves it. To some extent, it feels like he schools his male characters to become better men. This is one of the many reasons why I feel it’s so important for young boys to read his books. Vicente, from his book ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,’ is one of his most beautiful characters. Benjamin completely transformed the idea of masculinity by his portrayal of Vicente. Through his portrayal of Vicente, he normalized affection, care, softness, amongst men.
Benjamin shattered so many stereotypes by showing a close, affectionate relationship between a father and his son. We do not get to read or watch such closeness between a father and son. It’s a relationship that has so many hurdles and barriers. We do not expect two men to be affectionate towards each other in a much more vocal and physical fashion, even if they are father and son. It’s always something that they stifle – the urge to embrace one another, and love unabashedly. We see so much distance – and unless and until we burn down the bridge of toxic masculinity, we will never see them come closer. And the best way we can contribute to this revolution is by reading books by authors like Benjamin. Well, I hope I convinced you enough to pick his books next. Yikes!