Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Are Stories Important? (Nina Rants About Books, #1)

There always seems to be a direct correlation between how long you spend thinking about something and how long it takes to think of a beginning when you finally start writing it. I guess it just makes the subject that much more important in your mind, and that much more deserving of a good start. I've thought about this particular question a lot, and it's fascinating to me, I suppose, only because of my bookishness and nerdiness, and it's not even that big of a part in the general theory. Why are stories so important to us? Or, rather, what is important in a story? I first started thinking about this because of literature magazines. I like several, but my favorite above all is Cicada. I spend a lot of time reading it and therefore endure a lot of snarky comments from my parents on how this is "literature for generation Y." They think the stories are short for people with very limited attention spans, for people who can't read novels. Cicada greatly reminds me of John Green novels, in a way, I suppose, in which it has plots but the main purpose is not the plot but the metaphorical resonances of it. The stories often make me stop and think. But, what's more, the stories make me care about the characters. Five pages and these people can make me cry for a person who never existed, and person I knew for only five pages. I think these stories are short because the authors are becoming more and more masterful storytellers and requiring less and less space to make us feel their emotion. Overall, I think writing is actually progressing, not regressing (of course, I'm not saying this is the future of literature. Just. This isn't the end of it, either)

So, why is reading, in specific, important at all? A teacher will five you the vague, passive answer of, "reading is an important skill to have." Sure. That's knowing how to read. Why is using this skill and reading, say novels, important? Most people you ask will tell you that it "strengthens imagination." True. But you don't need to read to do that. My parents say that reading lets you live multiple lives. I used to think this was correct. But you can do that through, say, documentaries. Or travel. So, why, Nina, is reading important? Are you sitting? In a nice stable chair? Okay? Ready? It's.... not. WAIT, DON'T FAINT YET. I mean that it shouldn't be. What's important is the story. However, television and movies so far a) explain everything out to you and b) generally suck. Exceptions to a and b? Sherlock. And possibly Doctor Who. The task of looking at words on a page and seeing what they mean isn't all that necessary. What's great about a book though, is that it's your own. A book should, in general, be a sort of writing prompt type way to get you thinking. A book should, in essence, inspire you.

(skipping two long and unnecessary paragraphs on why Sherlock and Doctor Who, respectively, are good and resemble books. will post on request)

However, now that I'm out to get answers on what makes a story important, I'm not going to stop here. My next step is to see common themes in the three books that touched me most in my life. I chose The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns. (note from typing this up: I'd love to hear in the comments what the results of comparing your most influential books are)

So, going by general themes:

TMBS is about: inner conflict, loneliness, embodiment of abstract concepts in a person or thing (Relief, Betrayal, Lies and Companionship in The Whisperer), truth, self-discovery, trust, friendship, and just caring a whole llama of a lot about the characters.

TFiOS is about: loneliness, romance, friendship, the power of fiction, embodiment of abstract concepts in a person or thing (in this case, being understood, and not alone, because of Van Houten), self-discovery, death, and JUST OHMYGOD AUGUSTUS! (aka caring a whole llama of a lot about the characters)

Paper Towns is about:friendship, loneliness, mystery, self-discovery, poetry, philosophy, embodiment of abstract concepts in a person or thing (perfection in Margo), and just caring a whole llama of a lot about the characters.

Essentially, all of the books talk about loneliness, friendship, self-discovery, some sort of metaphor, and... most of all, all of the books make you care. I think that fiction is the ultimate definition of humanity. These are people that we KNOW do not exist as far as not being conscious (going by "I think therefore I am") but that we relate to so much, that we really start to care about. And sometimes, we can care for these illusions of people more than for real people, because we can see their thoughts and see that they are lonely too and that we are not alone at all. So do stories make you more human? I think so. At least, they show your humanness, and I think that overall, they make you a better person.

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