The book club went successfully last night, despite a misunderstanding on what room was reserved. Then I sat across from a young PhD student who argued about the merits of the book, Light From Uncommon Stars.

We went back and forth until I zeroed in on what I thought bothered me about their analysis: it wasn’t the book for them, for where they were in life, which is fine, but the language they were using made it sound like a critical analysis of faults in the book. It was a valid opinion couched in the wrong schema, akin saying “Ice cream isn’t my thing these days,” in terms of the agricultural food complex and its systemic problems.

But they didn’t agree, or rather, they said they agreed, then doubled down and insisted their take wasn’t just valid, it had to be couched in their schema because it was important. They’d learned this in college from a very convincing humanities teacher. Stories had themes, and characters and plot lines had to be referenced to create a coherent and compelling narrative, and ideas like that. I argued the book had those qualities, but they didn’t back down, and I was grateful for the waiter delivering food for the table at that moment.

I couldn’t pinpoint why their take bothered me, until this morning. I’d had my worldview on literature changed by theory and the arguments of those who studied literature too. Same with philosophy, with programming, with movies, with blogging, with cooking. And I don’t like how I acted when I let my changed worldviews lead me to act like a self-important ass, so sure that these truths meant something that I ignored the simpler and more present perspectives that were just as important. I used to be like my interlocutor, and I cringe at how I came across back then.

To be fair, they weren’t nearly as cringe last night as I was in my youth! I just wish I’d realized this last night, and had a way to explain that to them. At the very least, I could have avoided minutes of inadvertently treating them like a mirror of my past, and steered the conversation to more pleasant topics.

And for the record, Light From Uncommon Stars is a wonderful dancing hug of a book, and even if it doesn’t fit some humanities scholar’s checklist of good literature, you should still read it if you’re into sci-fi, trans stories, Asian-American diaspora experience, and found families.