What a Book Is About

Pile of Books

Recently, I picked up the 60thanniversary edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I don’t remember reading it in my younger days. Even if I had, it was definitely time to read it again.

This edition has an introduction written by Neil Gaiman. A side note to those who disdain reading introductions or prologues, don’t!

Gaiman’s intro provides great insights into the world at the time Bradbury wrote the book. He also opened my eyes to the idea that what a book is about isn’t necessary all that the book is about.

For example, I could tell you that Elizabeth George’s newest book, The Punishment She Deserves is about an investigation into the death of a prisoner in police custody. And this would be true, but it would not be completely accurate. The book is also about people who make bad decisions that reverberate across the entire story world. From helicopter parents to alcoholic police commanders to students free from all restraints to corrupt police officers, every choice, every action has a consequence and an impact on the lives of others.

Every story is about a number of things. About the author and the world the author lives in. The story is also about the people in the story. If they are well-developed characters, we see the story in part through their eyes. And not all of them are reliable because the story is filtered through their perceptions of themselves, the other characters and the events of the story. The most complicated characters see themselves as the hero of the story, even the villains.

The story is also the author’s opinion of what might be, the answer to the author’s question, What if…

And authors are creatures of their own world. Even the author can’t see everything her book is about. Very often, I’ve had critique partners and beta readers point out something in my story I didn’t realize was there. Frequently, it’s something in a character or scene that makes the story zing. A serendipitous event I didn’t set out to write, but one that takes the story to a new level. And sometimes, it’s a clunker that needs to be exorcised before it sinks the whole shebang.

Gaiman writes, “Fiction is a lie that tells us true things.”

A story is about what I, as the reader, find between the pages. And what I find is influenced by what I bring with me into my reading.



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