Good books – the nature of a reader’s heart

Last week I introduced you to my topic – a meandering journey into the forest of my thoughts on The Four Loves, Mind of the Maker,  and An Experiment in Criticism.   This Friday, I’d like to continue by talking about my thoughts on the on the nature of the read.  Lewis does this in An Experiment in Criticism.  He postulates not what makes a good piece of literature but what makes a good critic, who will be able to deduce what is good literature. In the Four Loves, he makes a comment about the nature of a man based on the friends or companions he keeps.  I made a connection between these two concepts.(I’m a reader first and a writer second.  Characters have always been like friends to me whether good or bad).

And so I meander…

I have always been a firm believer in the notion that books, stories, and characters reveal more of ourselves – who we are, our faults, virtues, and passions – than everyday life will.

This is a strongly reader response sort of view of reading and I know that different books will have a different effect on a person.  There are most decidedly certain books that do this better than others –  some call them literature books verses pop-culture books.  But I’d argue that such a distinction is a discredit to the pop-culture books that in fact do enlighten the reader to his/her true nature.

  • First of all there are the type of books that a reader gravitates towards – fiction, fantasy, classical literature, science fiction, poetry, romance, and everything in between. More or less this is genre. But the type of book says a lot about the person, how they coop with reality.  Do they like stories that deal with reality? Do they like to escape to far off imaginary places?  
  • Second, there is the kind of books. (You may say kind and type are the same – well in this case I am making a distinction). Within the types are different kinds.  These kinds are a little hard to distinguish, but as a reader of a particular genre you’ll know what I mean when I say you don’t read every kind of book within the type of books you like.  If I say “I like romance,” I need to be careful that I clarify on the kind of romance novels I like.  I avoid the tawdry kind – I prefer the more Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer sort of romance, which focuses on character, virtue, whit, and just a bit of social commentary.
  • Third, there is the character that you identify with. Every book as a character that you either love or hate or you don’t connect with any of the characters and that is just as telling as is the characters that you do connect with. We all are influenced by the characters in the book just like the people we associate on a daily bases.  It is important to take into account the sort of characters we allow ourselves to be influenced by. 

This is not a criticism as much as an observation.  I think of the books that I have read in the past.  There are several books that I can think of off the top of my head that though they were “good” reads, I now find that I do not want to read them again. I find myself struggling to recommend them to friends. I suppose  you could say that I have developed more distinguished tastes but I’d like to think that I am becoming more discerning in where I place my affections and what I fill my mind with. It is not that those books aren’t “good” or “fun” reads but the characters and the stories are not ones that I want to identify with.  Character that once I identified with have lost their appeal.

However, there are many books that I read in the past that I still cling to.  These books I’d argue, even if they are pop-culture books, have in fact crossed over into  the realm of literature. These books, like David Eddings’s Elenium series or Lloyd Alexander’s  Chronicles of Prydian or even J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series,  have something redeeming and timeless about them. Their influence is edifying.

I don’t know how else to put it.  I struggle with defining good literature or good books.  I am better at defining what it isn’t, than what it is. I know I want my books, my characters to share with me something more than just a good story.  I want moral development – not to say that all my stories must be about Puritans and Amish, not in the least.  I want growth in character and a story that promotes the value of virtuous behavior.  I want to experience the process of facing fears, overcoming giants, and the hope of bright futures.

My goodness the post has been a ramble, if I do say so myself.  But I hope that I haven’t been too random.  The thought that I keep coming back to is the importance of filling my mind and heart with the right things, the right characters, and the right themes.  All types of books are permissible but not all kinds of books are beneficial.    And the kinds of books and characters that I/we read will undoubtedly reflect in the kind of things I/we think, say, and eventually do.

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About LizzyBeth

There is a Story inside of me that I must give a voice. I write so that imagination can take me to Faerie and I can catch a glimpse of the Otherworld and hopefully so will you.

Posted on March 8, 2013, in C. S. Lewis, David Eddings, Dorothy Sayers, J. K. Rowling, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Literary Criticism, Rachel Burkholder and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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