Is it possible to distill the main message from any book? Does it matter?

One of the most beautiful aspects of books are the many ways they can be read, interpreted. I remember the debates we had at my university when we were discussing various models, approaches to “read” a book: hermeneutically, feministically, queer theory, deconstruction etc. And all of a sudden, the same text could appear in many different lights, providing the reader with interesting insights into the world of the author, the characters etc.

From my university days to the present day

That was a long time ago. I left the academic world and my doctorate on Henrik Ibsen to pursue a career in what people call “Corporate America”, working for large global corporations in the field of training and development. Today, as an author, I sometimes think back on those early academic years and wonder how people look at my texts, what they take from my writing. Mind you, I’m not worthy of any academic articles. My writing just isn’t good enough for any awards or accolades. But it’s good enough to be published. I share this fate with most writers, past and present.

Needless to say, I have a story to tell in each and every one of my books. There is always one or two central questions at the core of each novel, even my short stories are driven by them. Those questions drive me to write in different genres, tackle subjects differently. Just this morning I had to put down my pen, just a few thousand words shy of concluding my latest one, as I need to learn more about fracking and the environmental risks thereof. My entire plot hinges on getting that aspect right. Sadly, the researcher whose input I need is on vacation and won’t be back until Friday. I can wait.

From contemporary to fantasy

The theme for my new one is the environment and how humanity callously (my axiom) treats the earth, our natural resources and the plants and animals we share this earth with. To tell the story, to be able to get to the point I’m trying to make, without being preachy (remember “show don’t tell”) I chose to go down the road of a fantasy novel. It’s not something I’ve done before, but I believe the question lends itself to this particular genre. The new novel could also mean another departure in that I can see this becoming a series of books, or at least two, as I won’t be able to tell our protagonist’s entire story in one book.

I’ll readily admit that my books are pedagogic in nature. I am a teacher. Always have been. But what about other authors? What drives them to write books? Is it to entertain, to provide a simple escape from our real world’s grim realities, the looming threats of war? Or is it to teach, like I do? Or something else?

Does it matter?

I don’t know. Maybe it is, remembering my early uni days, less about the message the author tries to send, and more the message we get from the text? Knowing full well that our every reader will read the story differently, maybe that’s the only certainty we’ll ever get? What’s your take? Reader or writer, what do you gain from reading/writing? Feel free to pitch in. We all love our books, but why do we read them?

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