I started thinking about the purpose of books. Should they be just another form of entertainment? Or should all books have a deeper meaning? Should they leave us with a new way of looking at the world and make us want to change the things around us? And if some books are meant to entertain only, are they “bad” books?
I first started thinking about this after reading The Boy Meets Girl Massacre by Ainslie Hogarth. It was entertaining and scary at some points. It was meant to be a horror story and I felt that the author definitely delivered in that regard. But when I finished the book, I was left with a Meh feeling. I was trying to understand how this book fit in my life. I wanted to undercover its deeper meanings and themes, but I came up blank. I gave it a three star rating on my Goodreads account and left it at that. But somehow I felt unsatisfied and in a way, I thought I was being unfair to the book. Just because there wasn’t some earth-shattering epiphany at the end of the story, didn’t mean it was a bad or mediocre story. Why couldn’t I just enjoy the story and be happy?
And I think the answer lies in people’s relationships with books. Most people are introduced to books in schools. And starting at a young age, we consume books to learn. Whether it’s learning new words or learning how to solve an equation, we look to books to impart some deep knowledge in our minds. If we’re going to spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years reading something, then we damn sure better get something in return. And I think many people, readers and non-readers alike, carry this mentality with them for the rest of their lives. We can’t really help it. It’s the world we live in.
So we carry this “you scratch my back, I scratch your back” mentality around with us and we judge books (or any form of art) based on its ability to provide some deeper meaning. Think about it. Best-selling books are praised for being insightful, thought-provoking, witty, world-changing, etc.
But I think there is a danger in all of this. Sure, some books may not tackle issues of modern-day slavery or sexism or race relations or any other pertinent social and political issue, but that doesn’t make them any less any important than the books that do tackle these issues. Not all books carry a deeper message. But I think all books carry a message, which is this: These characters, this setting, these words are important and they are worthy of your attention.
I went back and thought about my feelings for The Boy Meets Girl Massacre. Should I really be concerned with the apparent lack of a deeper meaning in the book? I don’t think so. The author felt that this story needed to be told and that this character needed to get something off her chest. She just wanted someone to listen and pay attention to her. And really, at the end of the day, isn’t that a powerful message to send?