Which did come first? Does anyone know for certain? Or is it just a matter of opinion? Hmm. I can’t say I lose much sleep pondering the answer to this particular question. But here’s another. Do people become readers partly because they feel a deep empathy for all people, regardless of gender, race, religion, or condition in life? Or do they develop empathy because they are readers? Or am I simply begging the questions here? Are readers perhaps no more willing to sympathize with or at least understand characters who do not fit the moral or societal norm than non-readers?
For as far back as I can remember I have had the ability to put myself into the body and mind and soul of almost anyone (yes, there are a few exceptions, which I won’t go into here). I can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, so to speak. I can make the imaginative leap into the plight of someone who is blind or deaf or traumatized by war or destitute or abused or exceptionally beautiful or gifted or wealthy or powerful or popular. At least, I think I can, and usually if I have taken a particular risk in a certain book someone who knows will let me know that I got it right. I remember the first time a man asked to read one of my books. I was horribly dismayed–he was a very well-educated man–but I could hardly say no. I was enormously relieved when he commented afterward that I had got the hero’s point of view right. I say all this not to boast, and some may disagree anyway, but to make the point that I think it is essential for a writer to be able to identify with all types, to show them as they are without judgment, not all white or all black but of varying shades (not necessarily 50) of gray. I think writers almost have a duty to show who their characters are, where they come from, why they think and speak and behave as they do–and to make it seem real. You won’t find many unredeemable villains in my books or many (if any) faultless heroes and heroines. Often the villain in one of my books will be the hero or heroine of another.
Any writer ought to present life as it is, even if it is couched in fantasy or science fiction or–gasp!–romance. We should be able to feel after we have read a book that we have looked a little more deeply into life than we had before we read it. Which is not to say that we cannot read for pure pleasure too. Who decided that there was a difference between serious literature and literature for pleasure?
And what about the reader? Is it possible to be an avid reader and yet be rigidly judgmental about people? I am really not quite sure of the answer–maybe some of you will have something to say in your comments. I can remember as a teacher coming across set attitudes that could not be shifted. Macbeth leaps to mind as an example. Some students could simply not accept Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as tragic figures who had done a terrible evil but were not inherently evil in themselves. I had to accept their right to their opinions, of course, and I could always understand their point of view. But it amazed me too that they could not climb inside the minds of the Macbeths to feel the agony there. (I am not saying that agony was not deserved–and that is really the whole point!) I wish I could know how many of those students became lifelong readers. Perhaps they all did and there goes my theory! Or perhaps, if they did continue to read, they came to see that good and evil are not such simple concepts as they may seem.
I have finally had my copies of A CHRISTMAS PROMISE with the new cover. Apparently the publication date was put back to November 26 but no one thought to let me know! So these are still advance copies though the book itself is not new. Let me celebrate by sending a copy each to three of you who make a comment below before the end of next Friday, November 15. Last week’s winner was Cindy O’Hearn. Congratulations to her, and thanks to all of you who left comments.