Daily Archives: March 24, 2010

Are Books Useful?

Okay, this may be a little TMI, but I have to spill.  The other day DH and I enjoyed a quiet dinner after watching Eldest perform in a jazz competition. 

Because I’m me, and DH is his delightful, humorous self, I began asking random questions.  A kind of get-to-know-you Q&A session after being well acquainted for more than 25 years.  Hey, I’m random, what can I say…

Anyway, as the quiet dinner escalated into side-splitting laughter, I asked, “Would you rather be a toupee or a jock strap?”

Without missing a beat DH answered, “A jock strap.  At least then I’d be useful.”

And so I’ve been thinking about usefulness.  Non-fiction writers are useful in passing along knowledge.  Poets are useful in that they offer desperation inspiration to their readers.  Songwriters, cook book authors, technical-writing scribes, sign makers, marketers, journalists and columnists are all useful to their target audience.

Authors of fiction–pure, simple, fiction–also serve a purpose.  We usefully send microscopic lessons to our readers.  We subliminally prod them with our messages.  Right?

Because if a book has absolutely no purpose beyond sheer entertainment–no moral, ethical or inspirational value–what is the point?

I don’t believe books can only provide a reprieve from the real world.   They must have some greater purpose than their simple existence–like a down and out toupee.  Books must join the ranks with jock straps in providing some level of service to the masses.

Underdeveloped plots with flowery prose are the toupees of the publishing industry.  They might look good on paper and bald pates. 

Well-defined characters with internal growth who overcome external conflict are the jock straps of the written word.  They support a story arc and give purpose to a manuscript.  They nudge the reader to examine his/her views on some level.  Bullies, alcoholism, love, faith, morals, hope, fear, prejudice, community, etc…

A quick review of random books on my shelf prove this is true.

  • The cartoonish Diary of a Whimpy Kid highlights self-acceptance.
  • Cane River by Lalita Tademy is a book about race, prejudice, hope and faith framed as a simple woman’s journey through life.
  • Any John Grisham novel: morality wrapped in suspense, intrigue and drama.
  • Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook portrays devotion and challenges readers to assess relationships in their lives.
  • The Gruffalo is a delightful picture book about self-preservation and problem solving for young readers anxious to see if the mouse gets eaten during his walk through the woods.
  • While posing as a  fantasy with demons and magicians, The Bartimeaus Trilogy by Jonathon Stroud depicts integrity.
  • In addition to scaring them out of their socks, Stephen King provides his readers with thought provoking plots.

While nothing should kill a manuscript faster than an overt, in-your-face message, I wonder: can a manuscript survive without some underlying purpose? 

I say no.  What’s your take? 

Can you provide titles in which the sole purpose of the novel is to act as a toupee and look good in your hands?  Or, do you believe that every book has a deeper purpose like our friend Mr. Jock Strap?