For the first time in their lives, both boys have summer reading to do for school. My youngest son’s assignment is to read one of two books and write a marketing piece for it.
Sounds like a pretty cool little project, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, my son hated the book he chose. It’s a coming-of-age novel filled with characters so dislikeable that he simply didn’t care what happened to any of them. According to him, the book is a classic example of rats in a box.
The other day, he asked his mom about it. She scanned a couple chapters, then started coming up with reasons for the main character’s behavior, the kind we would typically use to rationalize real behavior by real people.
My son argued, citing other scenes from the book. My wife responded with more parental explanations.
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “I have to throw a flag.”
They both looked at me.
“I’m all for book discussions, but only if you’ve read the book.”
“I’ve read a couple chapters,” my wife said. “I get it.”
“It’s fiction,” I said. “You’re using valid real world reasoning on fictional characters. That only works if those characters are valid real-world characters.”
“Which they are. . .” she started.
“Maybe,” I said. “But you’ve got to read the book to be sure.” I nodded at my son. “He’s using examples from the book. You’re using examples from real life. Those are two different things.”
She glared at me. “There is nothing wrong with talking about characters in a book as if they were real. Real-world rules still apply.”
“Maybe,” I said. “Right now, I’m writing about a dragon.”
My son laughed.
“He’s a very likable dragon,” I continued, “and I think he’s a great character, but he’s still a dragon.”
“These aren’t dragons,” she said.
“You don’t know that,” I said. “You haven’t read it. You have no reason to give the characters the benefit of the doubt, no reason to ascribe any sort of depth to them. They could simply be mean people.”
“Why don’t you read it?” she asked.
“Nah,” I said, turning back to my writing. “He hates it. That’s good enough for me.”
My son giggled. “I think I better start on the other book.”
[Author’s note: In the first version of this article, I included the name of the book that my son didn’t like. As my intent was not to slam or insult another author’s work, I have rewritten this article.]