Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Good" Books and "Bad" books Part 1: the Interest Factor/the Question of Violence

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." 
~2 Chronicles 7:14~

Tis May!  As I always say, a year goes by in the course of a week.  So you gotta use your time wisely.  I should too.  But that is not the subject of this post, so I shall move along with it.

What makes a book great?  And when someone thinks that "great" book is "terrible," does that mean they are stupid or mentally ill for thinking the book is bad?

Not.  At.  All.

It means they are different, and different does not have to be bad at all.

It makes one ask the question, "Is there such a thing as a good book, if everyone can't agree on it?"

People go about the question in a quite different way than you do.  There isn't just one equation to figure out a single, scientifically correct answer, because there's more than one way to go about the question, "Was this a good book?"
People look for different stuff in books.  Everyone has their own idea of a "good" book.   It is very hard to answer those questions.  But I shall attempt it.

A book that has a lot of suspense and made the reader want to know what happened next and had a surprise ending is what some people think of as a "good book".  That's it.
 For those people, a bad book is probably a book that's boring and slow, and hard to want to finish reading.  But there are some stories that must be slow.  Perhaps they could have been written better, or differently, so that the reader wouldn't realize they're reading a slow book because they're too interested in what's happening.

There are different definitions of "boring" as well though.  None of us will completely agree on it, because it's different for each of us.  And some of us just... don't have much patience in wanting to keep reading.  More people should be in book clubs with their friends and/or family (basically, each take turns choosing a book for everyone including the chooser to read over the course of a month, and then get together and talk about the book, and then the next person chooses a book).  It forces you to read books you may not be used to reading, and tests your attention-span/patience/perseverance in a good way, and makes you think about what you read in a way that can relate to the people you know.  And the more we discuss books, the more we realize just how different each of us is.

I personally enjoy slow stories, and sometimes even find suspenseful stories boring.  Not that I am completely immune to suspense, just that... if a story starts in the middle of danger, I won't know what's happening, and I don't always care, if there's nothing interesting to me in particular to keep me reading.  Or, if the characters don't feel... real... but like paper-cut-outs with no defining characteristic traits, it's hard for me to want to keep reading.  Because there's no heart in the characters, no feeling except for fear and shock, and sometimes not even that.  Those thrillers don't always feel like /stories/ to me, but just... action boxes.

Everyone is so fascinated in violence in stories... when we'd all agree we wouldn't like to see our own families and friends fighting to the death.  When you compare stories to real life... violence in the stories/movies doesn't normally have as many consequences as it should have.  Characters heal without scars (unless you're Frodo or someone who dies).  People are so unemotional about the violence, and some are even enthusiastic about killing the "bad guys".  But even the "bad guys" are people too!  Sometimes the only way to know if someone's a "bad guy" is if a character tells us they're bad.  We sometimes have to take someone's word for it.

Remember the movie Man of Steel (the new Superman movie)?  All those buildings destroyed, people dead.  That city was pretty much destroyed and will take a long, long, long time to get back on its feet again.  And we don't see the consequences.  The camera doesn't let us.  The internet would have been out... no jobs except rebuilding... lots of lost money.  The action was for "our entertainment" and not as a tool to reveal consequences.

Though Man of Steel was a good movie, with good character development showing Clark's weaknesses and fears for the people of earth, for example, and Lois Lane's curiosity, there was so much violence... it got boring for me whenever there was fighting.  Subtract the unnecessary scenes from the rest of the film... and I'll watch it and enjoy it a lot more.  I thought it interesting how the director knew he was making Superman a Christ figure, and didn't shy away from it.
We all want a hero.  That's why we make 'em up.  And sometimes, they're very much like Jesus.  Perfect.  Sent to earth from another world to be a good example.  Gives himself up to save everyone else.  But that's another post for another time.

My point here is, why is violence "fascinating" or "entertaining" to us?  Conflict, yes, but what about the physical aspect of the violence, minus the motivations of the characters?  The goriness, the blood.  Why are we drawn to it so much?  Why do we /like/ watching people die in disturbing ways?  And if we don't like it, why have so many movies been putting it out there?
 Remember the gladiator days, with the addiction to watching fights to the death and cheering/screaming in favor of some people and screaming/booing in dislike of weaker people.  How... unpleasant it must have been, and yet, our flesh embraced it.
Violent movie trailers have attracted people to watch them in the theaters.  I am curious about the ideas and marketing behind it.  But history repeats itself.  That's why someone wrote the Hunger Games.  And... I kind of wish it had ended in the first book with Katniss and Peeta both dying and people being ashamed of the games because of it.  That would have made a good enough point.  Though some would argue (and rightly so) that there are some themes that are better explored because there was a second and third book.

I myself am sensitive when it comes to gore, though I'm slowly getting over it (and getting shocked at myself for getting over it because I thought I would always be a child at heart, though I'm still growing up).
Of course, I do like a good cup of danger in a good story, and suspense and such.  But the actual gore that happens in stories is often unnecessary (or thrown in to conform with the world).  Unless the writers make it mean something, of course, the story in question could do without so much gore.

But that is my opinion.  What is interesting to me is not interesting to everyone else.  And this is where things get interesting to think about.
There is the interest factor when it comes to a "good" book, a book that keeps our interest and suspends our disbelief in the lie that is fiction.  That illusion that pulls us gently in and shows us a world that, even though it is fiction, reveals truth.

When I was younger I came to stories looking for adventure, and eventually becoming sad because I never wanted the story to end.  But then I realized that...  I was really longing for God, for Home, for heaven, that other world still cloaked in a mysterious curtain of shadows.  It is being saved for a special day when it will be revealed like a work of art is revealed before an audience by the creator pulling a curtain or sheet away from it.
Till then, I learn and leave behind clues as well, like all the others do, clues that lead to the ultimate mystery of God who is the answer to the question of existence.

I get an adventure every day now.  And I get to choose how I react to what happens in my life.  I myself am the main character of my story, and every day I learn something, and my character develops, even if only a little.
Most people's life-stories, if put on paper, may be considered slow books.  But they need to be filtered of anything that isn't important to the over-all story.

Because fiction isn't real life, we are told not to put any detail into the book that has nothing to do with the story goal, the development of the characters.  Everything has to mean something, or it has to go.

"Things mean things, and those things mean things."

On the flip-side of one of the first questions asked, what if a book you thought was terrible... someone else really liked?
This post was more about the difference in interests that lead us to the books we like, and future posts will be about: theme (that very important thing that makes a book so special, the very heart of the book itself) and how it influences the quality of a book.  Even though interests are not universal, good morals are, and those morals unite readers in a way.
What makes a story interesting to you?  What pulls you in and creates that illusion of reality?
And what do you think about all the violence present in many books and movies now-a-days?