Monday, 05 August 2013 13:37
Interpreting literature can be boorish business; just skim book reviews in major dailies—or customer reviews on Amazon. Even book clubs can work themselves into a frenzy over different ways of reading the same words.
Yet if we learned anything from Post Modernism, it's that words don't confine themselves to a single meaning...which is why it was so gratifying to come across this comment by Margaret Atwood.
I’m not comfortable giving interpretations of my work. If I were to provide one, it would become the definitive interpretation, inhibiting readers from finding their own meanings.Talk about humility. Atwood acknowledges that while an author may exert full authority over plot and characters, she has no such control over her readers.
Thursday, 19 July 2012 09:09Do mysteries and thrillers make good book club reads? More important, do they lead to good discussions?
Wednesday, 10 February 2010 13:34
You've seen the cartoons in which characters say one thing—but they're thinking another. Authorial intention is sort of like that.
Contemporary literary theory pretty much debunks the idea that authors say exactly what they mean—because the words on the page don't always support their intended meaning. Or readers find additional meanings that author's never considered.
Here's an interview with Peter Carey, author of Parrot and Olivier in America and Oscar and Lucinda. An audience member asked Carey about an espisode in the latter novel that reminded her of Adam tasting the forbidden fruit.
Here’s Carey’s response:
Your way of reading that holds up perfectly, I think, and it’s totally consistent with the book and consistent with my intention, and yet it never occured to me!
Then he said . . .
So isn’ t that the extraordinary thing about literature? It only really works when the reader reads it because until then…it’s words on a page…. Everybody brings their own lives, and their own experience, their own intellect… and then a book is made! And that’s the wonder of literature.
No one could have put it better. You can listen to the full interview from this 2003 BBC World Book Club broadcast.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 13:51
Olive Kitteridge got me thinking about point of view—who gets to tell the story. Elizabeth Strout’s book shifts from character to character, a narrative technique that lends her work its depth and beauty.
We see Olive, not only as she sees herself, but as she’s seen by the community. The pay-off is a richer, far more complicated portrait of Olive than if she alone—or any single narrator—had told us the story.
Point of view, or perspective, is one of the most important decisions an author has to make. Whoever tells the story shapes the story.
A little game: take a couple of novels, change the narrators…and see what happens. Try this as a book club activity. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Remains of the Day: what if Miss Kenton told the story rather than the butler Stevens? We’d miss the rich irony of a hopelessly naive narrator. In fact, if we weren’t inside Stevens’s head, he would seem a pitiless monster of a being.
- Gilead: if we were to see the story through shifty, unreliable Jack Boughton, the story’s prodigal son, we would never experience our own sense shame as we, along with Reverend Ames, willfully pass judgment on a misunderstood character.
More on point of view at a later date. In the meantime take our free LitCourse 8 on Point of View. It’s fun…quick…and informative.
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