The Fine Line
Every book, purportedly, has one: a message. How it gets it is different. Some authors, like Stephen King, write the story first and only afterwards go through to find what themes and ideas their brain implanted while writing. Then, they highlight and emphasize. Others—architects of writing—manufacture and meticulous devise the plot around a central moral, idea, whatever. For me, I’m a little bit of both.
But what happens when this message isn’t agreeable? Or for that matter, is it the job of writers to act as a dissenting voice?
This all started for me with a post called ‘2015 ALA List of Challenged Books’ from Ramona Wray’s wonderful blog. I recommend you check it out. The funny thing about these lists is that they actually draw attention to books people would rather not have attention drawn to. It’s the oxymoron of censorship and banning books, which is every author’s secret dream. Ban your book and the world knows your name. In this way, I met one book: Drama by Raina Telgemeier.
On its Amazon page, I trolled the one-star reviews—she’s garnered many—and found parents are flabbergasted by the homosexual storyline. They feel a ‘middle school’ book should not discuss such a topic without having a warning on the cover for unassuming parents. The thing is: I read this book, and I wasn’t offended.
What did offend me? Another recent read has sat on my mind for weeks now. This is not because the message is shocking or aberrant. In it, an overbearing, know-it-all father—who actually knows nothing—tries to control his wife and daughter—who actually know everything—but ultimately gets trounced by them in the end; thus showing the triumph of the female spirit over male superiority. Truthfully, it was great read, but when it comes to the message—haven’t we heard and seen this before in a million different contexts?
This same idea as been brought against J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, saying the whole collection is merely a rehash of already well-represented views and ideas, but—what a spectacular job of rehashing it is!
Then what’s left?
Authors are pretty much damned if they do, derivative if they don’t.
In the end, we’d all like to write something others can enjoy. If it has a new, breath-taking message—all the better! If not, the most we can hope is that our rehashing gets attention for its good story. Books, like Harry Potter with their re-presented old ideas, are good reads even though they will never get banned. Then again, maybe they will.
Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear it.