Saturday, January 15, 2011

Meaty Fiction on the Plate

Below is a post I did for a wonderful book club blog called She Reads (a sister blog to Novel Matters). Each quarter, the She Reads book club will offer three current titles as featured selections. Readers have vast differences in taste and for this reason diverse genres and authors will be chosen.

Readers who join She Reads receive a number of benefits, including:

  • Connection with other readers on the She Reads blog who are passionate about great fiction and uplifting stories.
  • Information via the She Reads newsletter that will keep readers up to date on their favorite authors, and books, with a few surprises thrown in for fun.
  • Reviews of newly released titles written by a variety of readers, writers, and industry professionals.
  • Options to create a She Reads book club or bring an existing club under the She Reads umbrella.
  • Relationships developed within the intimate setting of a regular book club meeting.
  • Fun planned study guides with activities and interesting facts developed specifically for the She Reads book club.
  • Online Community for those who can’t participate in a monthly meeting (or don’t live near an existing club), via the She Reads blog and Facebook group.
  • Pre-selected novels they can trust and appreciate is an important aspect in today’s economy where every buying decision requires a second thought.
  • Access to authors they love through print interviews, meet and greets, conference calls, etc. Each selected author will participate in two conference calls with the first 100 guests (per call) who sign up. This will be a free service and a chance for readers to have their questions answered by the authors themselves!
  • Free books from time to time via contests, giveaways, and publisher promotions.

Meaty Fiction on the Plate

Is fiction an entertaining commodity meant only to be consumed? Or is that too narrow a view of the purpose and value of fiction? If the only function of fiction is to entertain – to be consumed as escape and distraction, then it barely matters what we read. Toss any ol’ story down the gullet of the eyes to fill the gnawing hole of wordy hunger.

But what if fiction has a role in shaping the nature of how we understand culture, both individually and corporately (us, and everyone around us)?

There are novels designed to function solely as entertainment, of course. I have no quibble with these fluffy novels. Sometimes one simply wants a bit of mindless escapism as a way of taking a break. This is a healthy practice in moderation. Too many fluffy books, however, is akin to grocery shopping at the candy counter – a very bad idea indeed.

It’s about here in this discussion where I find at least one well-meaning person who plays the snob card. The snob card argument goes something like this: You (meaning me) are a literary snob. What is fluffy reading to one person is life changing to another.

I doubt this very much. Is one man’s shallow pool another man’s swimming hole? I don’t think it is difficult for anyone to recognize a fluffy novel. And I think we all understand its purpose– fun fluff. And I am no snob. Remember, I’m not against fluffy books. Rather, I am for making rich, meaty books our regular literary diet, and putting fluffy books in their rightful place in our lives: on the dessert cart.

The next time you go looking for a novel to read, ask yourself if what you’re choosing is cotton candy, or meaty stew. If it’s fluff, promise yourself to pick up a meaty novel next time – and the time after that, and the time after that.

A quick checklist of questions to ask yourself when choosing between fluff and substance novels –

Will reading this novel accomplish one or more of the following:

  • Challenge my current worldview
  • Help me understand another culture or subculture
  • Build empathy in me
  • Help me understand a critical point in history either at home or abroad
  • Explain the values of others
  • Cause me to engage in art
  • Point to a coming change or shift in my culture
  • Explore the richness of what it means to be human
  • Cause me to ponder religious and ethical dichotomies
  • Give voice to movements within cultures that I do not currently know about or understand

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point for us as readers. In 2011, challenge yourself to read meaty books. And keep a fluffy book by the bedside for a late night snack.

I bid you good reading.


Danica said...

Great post! Thanks for turning me onto She Reads. It looks like a really good site.

Bonnie Grove said...

You're welcome! I hope you enjoy She Reads. Wonderful stuff going on over there.

Jan Cline said...

this gives me a lot to think about. I am planning to re-read my WIP with a new attitude and these points will help guide me.

Bonnie Grove said...

Cheers to you as you re-read your WIP Jan. I hope it goes well and that you are encouraged!

Nikole Hahn said...

"This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point for us as readers. In 2011, challenge yourself to read meaty books. And keep a fluffy book by the bedside for a late night snack."

Love it!