Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Meaning of Reading

This week’s Booking Through Thursday is:

Another question raised by YA author A.S. King‘s blog post last week which touched on censorship—especially as it pertains to young adult books.
She writes:

If there really is [an ideal] town like this in America, I am happy about that. Really truly happy. But are your teenagers going to stay in that town forever? Don’t you want them to go to college? Or go out in the world and do stuff? And don’t you want them to be prepared for all of these real things that happen all the time in real life? Don’t you want them to know that they will make mistakes? Don’t you want them to learn how to make smarter mistakes? 

Fiction can help. I write my books for one reason, whether they are for adults or teens. I write to make readers think. I write to widen perspective. I write to make readers ask questions and then answer the questions or start conversations. And I write sometimes to give voice to the throwaways, of which our society has many, but we usually hide them because we are still uncomfortable with what we see as our own mistakes. Make sure you say that in a whisper. Throwaways.

And so … this, right here, pretty much explains exactly WHY I like reading so much. Yes, it’s fun and entertaining and diverting, and all that, but ultimately, it TEACHES me things. It broadens my horizons and makes me look at ideas and people and life in general in new and interesting ways. Isn’t that what reading and art in general is SUPPOSED to do? How do you feel about this? Do you agree? Disagree? Discuss!

I completely agree with the idea that reading should teach you something. That’s what stories were originally intended to do – to provide life experience without the need to go out there and make lots of dangerous mistakes yourself.

While a lot of modern (and, admittedly, some not-so-modern) novels and films are simply pleasant to look at without much depth, for me the sign of a good story is that, by the end, the protagonist has changed and grown. If you could drop the finished character right back at the beginning and they’d make exactly the same choices, it wasn’t a worthwhile story. So many plots nowadays focus on the superficial (rags-to-riches is a popular theme, in which the main character is usually showered with popularity, wealth, etc for reasons beyond their control that have nothing to do with their own personal merit), whereas the majority of novels written 100 or 200 years ago focus on the development and the learning curve of the protagonist.

I think fiction is a great place to learn about the more challenging aspects of life and to experience them in a safe and vicarious manner. For me, reading a book I’m really into is like living another life, in another world – it’s a truly wonderful feeling.

The above question is also addressed with fantastic insight by the aptly named Christopher Booker in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, which I whole-heartedly recommend to anyone interested in the reading and writing process, its history and its development.

No comments: