About This Blog

This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.

Popular Posts

Where we fit in our books

Posted by gck Wednesday, January 9, 2013

We were at book club, trying to get a discussion going about our December book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette. One of the discussion questions was, “Do you sympathize with Bernadette?” Immediately, one of the book club members responded flatly, “No.” “Really? Not at all?” I thought. End of discussion.

Earlier, I was discussing Chekhov’s play, The Seagull, with someone who loved the play. From the description, it was one of the things I looked forward to seeing the most in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season. But when it came to the actual performance, I was disappointed. The characters weren’t likeable. I didn’t connect to them. And one of them even had my name. His response was that the characters weren’t supposed to be likeable, they were supposed to be realistic. And that he fell in love with the play when he read it in high school, right after breaking up with his girlfriend, and the characters in the play spoke perfectly to his situation.

Thinking back on conversations, I realized how often this comes up in conversations with friends about books, films, and plays and how much of our enjoyment of the media is based on how we personally relate to the characters. Going a step further than that, some of the most beloved stories are things that we can project ourselves on. What woman loves Pride and Prejudice without pretending, at least while reading, that she is Elizabeth Bennet? Though I am one of those people who blindly judges Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, maybe they aren’t as stupid as I’d like to believe once taking into account the fact that the story is more than what is written on the page – it’s a combination of that and the interaction of the words with the reader. With such ideal blank slate characters, it’s quite easy for the reader to interact with and project onto the story and such an experience is an enjoyable one.

Orson Scott Card addressed this when discussing the various reader responses in his introduction to his book, Ender’s Game:

I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not "true" because we're hungry for another kind of truth: the mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about someone who lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about oneself.

As a reader, this is a powerful thing to realize. With romance novels or other “blank slate” type fiction, it is an “escape” when the reader knowingly submits to it, but it becomes a “guilty pleasure,” a sort of manipulation, if he or she unknowingly and perhaps unwillingly submits. But more interesting are the complex projections – seeing ourselves in defined and perhaps unlikeable characters. How much could we realize about ourselves if we spent time in specific reflection after discovering a character like this?

In reading book reviews, I find that there is almost always a discrepancy of opinion about whether to like or not like a character. Sometimes this is to the fault or credit of the writer, but more often it speaks to the differences in the readers, perhaps differences that are not unlike the ones that start conflicts in the real world. Imagine a system where people could confront their stereotypes privately with a novel instead of acting against a real person! I’d like to make it a goal – not to like every character I encounter – but to fully understand why I dislike the ones I do and to learn more about why others might disagree.

Reading has already opened my eyes to facts and history I was previously unaware of, but I hope that in the future, I can learn even more about human nature, different worldviews, and myself.


Post a Comment