Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"It's just a story"

"It's propaganda", someone is complaining. "Come on, it's just a story, it's fiction!" is the reply.

I'm as guilty as anyone, I have done this many times. Still, it's a lame way to defend a story.

Also, I don't think there is such a thing as "just a story". I think stories are how we understand the world. Fiction is storytelling, giving the reader a picture of how the author is thinking about the world -- and that is very true also for science fiction and fantasy. You get inside someone else's head, get someone else's interpretation of what words and actions and phenomena really mean.

This might be dangerous, or comforting, or just confusing. I also think it's very healthy.

The risk in reading fiction by an author with a worldview different from your own is the same as the risk involved in meeting the author in person. We all have different ways of seeing the world. We have to live together in it, and therefore it's good to know how other people are thinking about things. The stories that many people tell together and agree on will spawn ideologies or policies or projects, and the ones very few like end up on the periphery.

In this way we are making sense of things, building meaning from experiences. This is the essence of storytelling, I think.

Of course, there are people (and books) we don't like, and those we cannot stand because it's almost impossible to find some common ground to start a conversation of any kind. It's annoying, it's frustrating, it can be completely maddening. It can also be like a riddle, an intricate puzzle to solve.

I find it very interesting to try to understand what people like in books, when they see something I don't. It really says a lot about them, and about me, especially when we don't agree.

And still: I refuse to finish a book I cannot find interesting, and I will not read a book just because "everyone" likes it. If it's badly written or full of stereotypes and clichés it will take some really strong ideas to make me finish it. I'm sorry, it's not about agreeing or disagreeing with the message, it's about enjoying the actual reading.


This is a response to reading bad customer reviews on Amazon. (One day, the internet is going to make me a misanthrope.) By coincidence, Mike Brotherton also had related thoughts.

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