Friday, February 3, 2012

And The Moral Of The Story Is...



You know how I'm slightly, just slightly picky about books? (I'll just wait for the laughter dies down before I continue, shall I?) Done? Alrighty then. Back to my point. See, when I was young, every time I read something, whether it was a article in a magazine, picture book, or full on novel, my mom would ask me what it was about and then ask me what the moral was; what was the author trying to get across. So, my whole life, no matter what I read, I was always looking for that hidden message or moral.

Fast forward to being an adult and attending a book club wherein we read A Wizard of Earthsea. I read it and saw all this deep meaning therein. Then, at book club, we watched an interview with the author, Ursula K Le Guin. And she informed a group of students that people were always asking her what message she was trying  to get across in AWOE. To my surprise she informed the students that she wasn't trying to say anything, she was just telling a story. She may have gone on to say something about the message being different for everyone but the thing that stood out to me was that she didn't write the book with a moral.



Well, that just blew me away! I'm not sure I even believe her. Whether she had some great message or not, don't you think some of her beliefs and opinions came through in the book? I certainly do but that's just me. I can't just read a book for the story. There needs to be some sort of point to it; some reason I just spent hours reading it. Even a light fluffy book usually has some little message in it. Or maybe the character just grows up a little, or learns something new about themselves or the world around them. But, again, that's just me I'm guessing. I'm also guessing that's why some books irritate me. Either they're without a moral or I don't like the moral. So sue me! ;)


So, what about you? Do you look for meaning or morals in books or read them just for the story?  And if you do read them just for the story please tell me why. Don't you want to learn something, even a tiny little something from that many pages and that much time? Because, yes, books are for escapism but aren't they better when you feel like you learned something or witnessed some growth that may or may not apply to you? Don't some of the books we love the most become favorites because we related to a character or situation so deeply?

Help me out here people. What kind of reader are you? And please, expound. ;)

31 comments:

  1. I read to escape my other wise boring and mundane existence where I never learn any thing and nothing ever changes and there are no protagonists or antagonists and certainly no great plot twists or cliff hanger endings. I guess Mom didn't pass the meaning in everything genes on to me. Just entertain me, baby.

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    1. Riiiight! You dissect your books like you dissect your chicken. ;)

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  2. I'm afraid I just read for the story. I think it's cool if I find some deeper meaning but I'm not looking for it. Life is full of meaningful and moral teaching moments - sometimes I just want the fun of reading about something that just couldn't really happen, like magic and time travel. I also love books that take me to a new place so I can experience it vicariously - but only if they are entertaining.

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    1. Yeah, I like to be entertained too.

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  3. I actually think there are a lot of authors that don't write specific messages into their stories. They just write stories. I once read somewhere that Narnia was the same way. Although Aslan was a "Christ-like" figure, it wasn't meant to really push Christianity on anyone. It's hard to believe, huh?

    That's actually why I HATE to analyze books, especially in class. I think people make a bigger deal out of a book than there ought to be. Sure, some books are pure symbolism (e.g. East of Eden), but I think most books are just stories that people want to find deeper meaning in.

    I'm okay with other people trying to find deeper meaning in books. I know I do in some. But, normally, I read just to enjoy reading.

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    1. Oh, I'm not saying I KNOW what an author was trying to say, I just think there's always a little lesson to be learned from a book.

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  4. I think some of the books I've liked the best had a moral, or at least some growth. Although I still like other books that (for me) are just an interesting story. The first one in that style that comes to mind is Anna Dressed in Blood. I didn't really feel like there was any sort of message, but it was an interesting plot. So I enjoyed it.

    But something that bugs me is when I feel like a book is pushing an agenda/issue that I don't agree with. That's ruined a couple of books that I was really enjoying, until I got to the whole agenda-y part.

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    1. Oh, I HATE agenda pushing books too! If an author DOES want to teach us something they need to be subtle about it.

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  5. This reminds me a little bit of a discussion we used to have in my English Lit class many years ago. We were studying A Midsummer Night's Dream and the teacher was insisting that there was hidden meaning behind practically every word. And we (the students) would argue that Shakespeare wrote so many plays in his life that there is no way he could have had time to consider the meaning of every single word he wrote! I think this is just another example of people looking for things in books that might not have been the intention of the author at all.

    I must admit that I read for the story. Yes I do like it when I learn something, or I relate to the character for whatever reason - but I don't read a book for that sole purpose. I read for escapism and if a book can take me away to another world and immerse me in a life with characters I like with a plot that I like then I am happy :)

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    1. Yeah, I don't think anyone can say for certain what an author was or was not trying to say unless they were actually told by the author in person. And unless your teacher had a time travel machine or was really old, I doubt he/she knew what Shakespeare was trying to say, if anything.

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  6. I think most authors probably have a "message" even if they don't realize they put one in. It's a subconscious thing based on their beliefs/morals/ideas, I think. Maybe I'm way off base, though, since I'm not an author :) I can be annoyed by books that push a moral too hard, but really love ones that have more subtle morals I agree with!

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    1. Amen! That's all I was trying to say. Somehow, I think I came off sounding like I thought I KNEW what authors were trying to say and I have no idea. I just like to guess.

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  7. I think there's usually a message or a meaning or at least a glimpse into what author's opinion about whatever, but to be honest I just read for pleasure. I don't seek out theme or moral or message.

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    1. Oh, good heavens, look at the silly books I read. I definitely read for pleasure too. I just like taking a lesson or message from what I read.

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  8. What the heck purpose is there in a book club if not to discuss possible lessons learned from the books we read. I write because I'm curious about what lessons people will learn from my writings. I don't necessarily write to teach anything, but my philosophies and beliefs sure shine through. Maybe a better question to ask rather then "What was the author trying to teach us'? would be...." Do you think the author intended for us to learn these lessons?"

    I do think, though, that it would be Awesome to be such a great writer that you could fill your book with all kinds of intended lessons and sit back to see how many lessons people actually learn and smirk at the lessons they learn that you didn't put in.
    ....Maybe someday....

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    1. Yeah, I don't feel I expressed myself very well. I couldn't teach a moral or lesson in my writing if I tried! ;)

      I agree with you, though, what's the fun of reading a book and then not discussing all of it's possible lessons?

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  9. Very timely, your post.
    I was talking to my friend yesterday about how literary classess would drive me nuts - always looking for meaning in the author's words - the intent for the story - the message.
    My thought is, how do we - as readers - have any idea what the author was meaning? Maybe the author was not meaning anything at all and we readers go ahead and dissect for a meaning anyway.
    Unless an author tells us point blank what the intent of the story was...the moral...the theme...If author does not directly tells us then do we ever really know? I do not think so.

    I tend to believe Le Guin that she did not write a moral into the story. But also agree with you, her belief system and opinoins of life probably did seep through to some degree. But if it were not consciously done then how can we analayze it for one and say it was purposefully done.

    I think if an author writes a good story then a message...a moral...will be in there in some way shape or form. Life in of itself lends to messages with the choices we make and such. So, I do not think an author necessarily needs to purposefully think of a message rather they need to purposefully construct a great story. Sort of get what I am so terribly saying?

    A pet peeve of mine is "active reading" that schools are having the kids do these days. Now, active reading is not bad, but with every single book that id assigned can kill the love of reading quickly. My kids would halt their reading if I asked them questions like your mom did with everything they read. So I find it interesting that you continued to read - that is fantastic.

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    1. You make sense. And I'm not saying I have any idea what an author is actually trying to say in a book. I'm not psychic...but that would be cool. ;) I just like learning lessons from books and I think they're usually in there. Even if it's as simple as good vs evil.

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  10. While I think that there is something to be learned, consciously or subconsciously, from everything we read, I for one, am glad I don't have to figure out what that is with every book! Some books are more fun if we just enjoy them, some books are more fun if we analyze the crap out of them. But as I said, I'm glad that we don't try to do that all the time.

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    1. Yeah, but it's like that conversation we had about people that say you can't learn anything from fiction. I'm just saying, "Oh, yes you can!" I think every book has something to take away from it, just like you said. And if you have fun along the way, great!

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  11. In defense of myself;), I had a college children's lit teacher who read us a book called "Nobody Listens to Andrew" in which Andrew keeps telling everyone-his sister, brother, Mother, Father, Neighbor, etc., that there is a bear in his bedroom. Everyone says uh huh, that's nice, really, etc. and goes on about their "very important" business. Then it is announced that the circus has had a bear escape and asks for the city people to help find the bear. You guessed it!, there really was a bear in Andrew's bedroom.

    The teacher said we should never make any comments about the book at all to the children about what they felt or say anything about the book. Just read and enjoy.

    I was madder than a hornet and determined right then and there, whether the author meant what I got out of it, that never, ever in my life would I treat a child as though he was so insignificant that I couldn't be bothered to listen to him. And I greatly resented not having the opportunity to vent my feelings about how we sometimes don't take children seriously.

    You don't have to find a bunch of deep meaning in every book(but sometimes it's fun if you're in the mood) but neither should you be stifled in what you feel about a book.

    Jenny, perhaps your saying what you think about a book, whether you like it or not, is a result of me allowing you to just say what you thought without any real condemnation. Like "Witch of Blackbird Pond". We've had some fun times saying what we thought of it and why.

    When I said "What do you think the author wanted you to think, feel, or learn from this book?" I just wanted you to be free to say what YOU thought. And you do that so well in your book reviews. Love ya'

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    1. Well, I don't think I need to say much more to you after our long conversation yesterday. ;) I'm just glad you taught me to learn from what I read. Love you too.

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  12. One of my worst pet peeves is having to psycho analyse a book. I did it at school and it drove me almost insane. Also killed my love affair with many of the great classics. Which is why I don't really try to find meaning in books anymore. I just read everything on face value and smile when the good people win. I don't mind there authors put meaning into their books and I certainly want good character growth, but I highly suspect that many authors write because they want to tell a story and as so often happens with writing, a writer's own morals and ethics will come into play. I think more than anything, that's what comes out in books. I mentioned it in my blog not long ago that writer's who say their characters are nothing like themselves are a bit deluded. Even if the character is seemingly the complete opposite of a writer (especially if they're evil), if this were a made up world and the writer was bad, I would bet my life savings, they would be exactly like their evil character. I hope this rant makes sense!!

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    1. I totally agree with you about writers writing about themselves. They do! I'm sorry you had to psycho analyse everything. I was homeschooled and that's not what my mom was making us do, thank goodness! I just don't think I made that very clear.

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  13. I think there's always something to learn or understand or at least a vital truth to the facts of life in every story. Even if it isn't a moral, you can learn about some struggle you've never known possible or face reality through different eyes. I don't think I've ever read a story without taking something important away from it, whether I liked the story or not.

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    1. Thank you! That's exactly what I was trying to say...and see how short and sweet you made it? Sigh, why can't I do that?

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  14. I can imagine LeGuin bristling at the idea that a story should have a "moral," but I know she was fascinated by a certain Eastern philosophy (Taoism? I can't remember! =() at the time she wrote A Wizard of Earthsea and incorporated its dualism into the story.

    My own approach to a text has been to look for the main idea, which may or may not be a moral. Or am I just splitting hairs? ;-) I have a feeling my favourite writer, G.K. Chesterton, would say that there's no difference between a moral and an idea that is strong enough to tie so many different elements together.

    Great question, by the way! I do think the best books are those that give us something bigger than the sum of their parts to take away with us. =)

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    1. Ha, and people think I'm to analytical. I can't even begin to analyse and find meaning like you do. I envy that. ;)

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  15. Hey Jenny, I don't read for the moral of the story, I read to escape. BUT I definitely notice if there doesn't seem to be a message of any kind, or any development in the characters. It really irritated me, I have reviewed a few books on the blog and near the end I remember saying "What the hell was the point of this book?!" It just ends, no defining moment, no character growth and it feel like an insane waste of time. Huh...maybe I do read for the moral? Shit, now I have to psychoanalyze this question in relation to my reading habits. DAMMIT Jenny, you just had to ask didn't you, LOL I kid, I kid. Great question, hope you had an awesome weekend. Oh and have you read the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, I recommend it, AWESOME =D

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    1. LOL! Sorry. :( I don't think I analyse books I just like there to at least be a tiny little lesson or point. I'm glad I got you thinking, though.

      I haven't read those books...yet. I'll try to get to them soon.

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