Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Christopher Morley, not the actor or rugby player but an American journalist who lived from 1890-1957, is known to have said: "The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking."
I agree with this quote, and I believe that one of the side effects is that, despite every intention by the author, good novels intrinsically have a purpose beyond entertaining the reader.
There are the obvious examples. I met a woman today who is doing a Phd on the role of women in peace keeping. She is a lawyer who was influenced by a book called "Half the Sky" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, about the oppression of women and girls worldwide. It is clear that the writers intended to spur their readers into action.
In other cases, writers have a purpose, however, the books may have other unexpected consequences. Enid Blyton's books have a clear message to children - school is fun, play fair, there is no reward in being a bully, and so on. When I had to read them to my children, the effect was for me to consider writing books of my own.
Finally, there are the books written simply for entertainment. But I believe that it is impossible to read a good book and walk away unchanged. Well-written action scenes may be stored away in your subconscious and cause you to react if you are threatened. A romance may change the way that you behave in your relationships, even for a short while. We learn life lessons when bad guys end up in jail and also when the good guys end up with the short end of the stick.
So, a challenge: Show me a book - with a well-developed story line and at least one multi-dimensional character - which you have read, purely for entertainment, closed it and never gave a second thought to it beyond, "that was a fun read".