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Maybe the Medium Isn’t the Message?

[2/16  Since I was asked, I’ll share what I neglected, namely the book’s title:  Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson.]

A group of six women, 30 something to 60 something, sat around the table. The microphones were immaterial…we were there to talk. After seven years on this radio program (most of us) we tend to jump right in to the conversation. And we frequently disagree. But once in awhile I am really shocked by the degree of difference of opinion. Today for a change we were talking about a work of fiction. And now I know why we’ve been avoiding novels for so long. The host of the program has a problem with fiction. She hated the book we read, the same one I loved. In fact we were divided into three camps: one who loathed it, four who thought it was so-so, and me. It wasn’t even a matter of my being able to identify with the main character more than the rest of them could. I didn’t relate to her at all, in fact. But I believed her voice, and I wanted her to grow, to figure out how to hear God and follow Him out of the prison she’d gotten stuck in.

I enjoy a book that delves into character, that takes its time, lingering over a beautiful phrase, a deep conversation. There weren’t any over-simplified answers in this book. It did end well, with the heroine and her family making better choices and on a path to a richer, more Christ-centered life. My friend at the radio station doesn’t like fiction because it feels too “happily ever after” to her. I can see that being a problem, depending on the kind of books one tends to read. She’s also an impatient person, by her own admission. She likes fast-paced, sparely-written prose: John Grisham, not Charles Dickens. So it’s not a matter of “right or wrong”–it’s personality and individual preference. I should not take it personally or wonder what’s wrong with her…or what’s wrong with me.

[I’ve discovered something about myself, unfortunately: a beloved book is like a child, and I am wounded–involuntarily– when someone I respect doesn’t like my kid. I definitely need to get over that.]

It strikes me as odd that this same fiction-hating soul really loves film. So it’s not a matter of being unable to get caught up in story. It’s just the patience factor, I guess. She admitted she would have enjoyed this story as a movie. The medium makes a difference for her. I also appreciated the observation from another friend at the table that this story would have more validity were it biography…it’s impossible to argue with a real person’s real experience. But we can always accuse a novelist of manipulating us, making events come out the way she wants. Yet another reader observed that this novel was based on the author’s real-life experience and she did write a non-fiction account of it. But knowing that many of her fans don’t read non-fiction, and having a strong reputation as a novelist, she chose to fictionalize the story too. I consider that wise: sharing the same truths in as many forms as possible. Rather like the apostle Paul saying, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I might win some.”

Know your audience. Understand how to use your medium wisely. Use as many different ways to tell your story as possible. And don’t be surprised that different folks respond to different (pen) strokes.

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