Why do we read?
To learn about the world and to learn about our potentialities as humans.
To read a book is to live part of another life.
To learn something new.
For a vicarious adventure.
Okay, so what KIND of books?
Optimist or pessimist? is a question I ask books.
Even horrible books can raise spirits, especially by the end of the book. The Diary of Anne Frank does that.
Is your book ultimately depressing or uplifting?
It’s a value judgment.
A depressing book – depressing author?
Doing some research, I spent time reading the Top Reviews for Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls (2016).
‘Top reviewers’ on Amazon are the ones who get the most comments or upvotes; the first four pages with that option selected had negative after negative reviews (it wasn’t until page 4 that I found two short positive reviews, from readers), many of those from reviewers you would love to get to read your book: Top 500, Top 1000, Vine Voice…
And those reviewers were appalled at the violence against women that was graphically depicted, over and over. ‘Gratuitous’ was used as a descriptor.
Many commented that the writing was good or adequate or competent (workmanlike would have been my assessment, from reading the Look Inside sample provided), but that the choice of subject matter left them sick to their stomach.
Ms. Slaughter is a NYT bestseller.
Apparently, previous books she wrote were not nearly as negative as this one; but many of these reviewers commented they would not read another of her books.
Some commented they wished they could scrub their minds of the images, for which they could find no socially redeeming reasons.
Me, I wondered why they continued reading, even if they skimmed.
The optimistic book – optimistic authors?
And I don’t mean just sappy and inspirational, with ready-made solutions to the world’s problems.
SF can be pessimistic (dystopias) or optimistic.
Romance is usually optimistic, and those fans who like to read Romance want their ‘happily ever after’ (HEA) ending, and can be very unhappy with writers who don’t provide one. There is a subset of books which end, not with an HEA, but with a ‘happy for now’ (HFN). These books are still hopeful, but possibly more realistic – and also possibly open to sequels.
Jane Eyre is optimistic. Silas Marner is optimistic.
Huckleberry Finn is optimistic. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein) is optimistic.
Thrillers and mysteries can be all over the map – but do deal with the grittier side of life, and more often are pessimistic or neutral, but possibly with an optimistic undertone, say, to a continuing detective’s life.
A special category is the detective who finds happiness
My favorite, obviously, is the definitely HEA ending of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, ending with Busman’s Honeymoon, where Peter and Harriet marry, finally, and solve one last real mystery which sets the tone for their married life. Sayers wrote only two short stories about the pair and their children after that, even though her series was popular and is still popular now.
During all the novels, there was still an optimistic cast to the series: there was a right and wrong, people had principles, and there were consequences – but mysteries were solved and things set ‘right’ where possible. Sayers went on to write theology, so her stories were optimistic because she believed in the possibility.
You read what you like
And I don’t like ultimately pessimistic books.
Almost every genre can be written either way; even serial killer Dexter is optimistic.
I just want to know that, at the end of the book, things are, or have the potential of being, better.
That covers a lot of territory, but the thing in a book that makes me pick another book by an author is that there was hope at the end.
And you write the same way
The road to happiness for Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey is a rocky one. But when he asks her, on their honeymoon, if she finds life, on the whole, good, she answers,
“Yes! I’ve always felt absolutely certain it was good–if only one could get it straightened out. I’ve hated almost everything that has happened to me, but I knew all the time it was just things that were wrong, not everything….Things have come straight. I always knew they would if one hung on long enough, waiting for a miracle…”
I haven’t the slightest reservation about Pride’s Children. It is an optimistic book.
Not easy. Not simple. Not fast. And you may have to trust me for a while.
It makes a difference to me.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? And does it show in what you read and/or write?