The Books that Mean Something

After reading Mockingjay, I’ve been thinking a lot about the books we read that mean something, the ones that are more than just an entertaining read. Mockingjay was like that for me. It was about war and violence and how a person can never be the same after witnessing that, being a part of that. Long after I finished, I’m still thinking about it.

I realized that I want my novels to give meaning. When I hand my book over to an agent or editor, I want to have a reason why my novel should be published. A reason more than “It’s entertaining for teens.”

But that wanders into dangerous territory, I think. What’s the difference between leaving my readers changed and having an agenda that I want to force upon my readers? Is it better to just not worry about it and let my story be entertaining, leaving it solely up to the reader to find meaning?

The truth is, readers can find meaning in anything they want. And a book that holds little to no meaning for me, may change someone else’s life.  But I wonder how much conscious effort I should put into creating a book that is more than just a fluff read.

My example of a fluff read is, well, Twilight. I read the whole series. And while found so many things that bothered me about it, I was still compelled to read on to the end because I was enjoying myself. But it was a candy read. I got nothing from it, but if I were to draw meaning from it, I would say that it says to girls to rely wholly on guys for happiness and to only get married to have sex.

But who knows?  Maybe someone saw Bella as a strong character to look up to. And maybe some girl out there gained confidence that she’s prettier than she thinks, because that’s the way Bella is. The thing I wonder is if Stephenie Meyer thought at all about what she wanted her books to mean to teenage girls.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I feel that too much thought was put into meaning, to the point of feeling like the author had an agenda. Graceling is another book that I enjoyed very much. The story was great. But in the end, the only thing I could think about was how I felt like the book’s main goal was to convince women to not get married, to be completely independent from men. But maybe there was a teen out there who had based her worth solely on what guys think of her, and maybe after reading this she was able to change. Maybe it made an impact on her for good.

My point is, I think, that we should think about what our books mean to us. And more importantly, to teens. Everything that teens come in contact with will influence who they are, who they become. Whether we like it or not, our books will mean something to someone. I think we should carefully evaluate what our book could say to a reader, and consider what questions it may cause our readers to ask themselves. But in doing that, we shouldn’t try so hard to convey it that it takes over our story.

So…Does that mean that my readers will see everything I see, exactly how I hope they will see it? Not a chance. But at least I can say that my work had potential to change someone’s life, simply because I tried to write a good story.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, agreeing or disagreeing. I’m not sure I was quite able to articulate what I was trying to say, so I’d love your input, dear readers.

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About Karen Krueger

I write for teens when I'm not chasing after two cute kids. I love to sing and eat cereal (though not at the same time), and I most certainly am not a vampire because I'm addicted to sunshine.
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4 Responses to The Books that Mean Something

  1. Shallee says:

    Great post! This is something I think about a lot as a writer. I had an influential professor once who said that we need to write the things that matter most to us– the very things we’re actually afraid to write. Because if it’s something we strongly believe in, it will come out in the writing. I’ve found that if I focus on that, I write things that matter (to me, at least) without being didactic and preachy.

  2. That is a great point. That’s what I was trying to get across. And you said it in a couple sentences. 🙂 Thanks!

  3. Cherylynne says:

    I’ve dealt with this same thing…I love novels that you can tear apart for inner meaning, but I also don’t want the themes shoved down my throat. The way I’ve tried to get around it is by asking a lot of questions, but not answering them. I try to bring up issues, but I don’t say for sure whether or not that’s the only way to go. Does it always work? Not really. But that’s how I try!

    • Yeah, that’s totally what I’m going for. I think I want to start a discussion, leave the reader thinking about my book because they’re trying to puzzle out what they think about the issue, etc. Thanks, Cheryl!

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