Would you rather read about a place new to you, or one you know well?
May 20, 2013
I know reading is about discovery.
Discovery of what?
Do we read to learn something about places we have never been, only dreamed about?
Or do we read to discover something about ourselves?
I know I have stated these questions as if they are either/or, when in truth we read for both reasons and for many others.
However, the notion of place in novels is very important to me as a reader.
Place is much more than location. It includes all the nuances of the slice of society featured in the book.
I’m a pretty provincial guy. I have lived most of my life in the state of Texas, with only occasional diversions to North Carolina and my adopted home, the Florida Panhandle. So when it comes right down to it, I’m nothing but a boy from East Texas.
East Texas is very much an extension of the Deep South. The red clay and pine trees look the same there as they do in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama. But each location has a different vibe, maybe just a variation on a theme, but still distinct.
I am most at home with Southern literature, fiction about that portion of the United States south of the Mason-Dixon line.
When I come to a work that purports to dig beneath the surface of the South, to expose its soft underbelly, I can be a harsh critic. If the work is superficial in its treatment of a theme such as racism, or if it portrays its characters as nothing but a collection of backwater rednecks, I soon stop reading.
I stop reading because I know the novel is not a path to discovery.
It’s just another cartoon, a caricature of a place made up of real people, people who deal with all of the issues of the human situation, its weaknesses, its strengths, its injustice, its innate desire to see good win out.
But the converse is also true for me. There is nothing that moves me more than a book that captures the essence of place. Such a book is great treasure, a diamond a person can hold up to the light, turn in his hand and watch its dazzle. A novel like that reaches inside the reader and exposes him to himself.
As an author, I believe the true artistry of the writing craft inhabits that nether world, that almost inscrutable divide between location and place.