Friday 12 July 2013

What Good is a Book?

The real world is often a violent and ugly place. One only has to watch the television news or read the daily papers to know just how destructive humanity can be to each other and to the other species that share our world with us.

Euripides, (c. 480 – 406 BC) one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens,  said that great writers don't flinch from reality. I agree, but do today’s writers have to absolutely deny the possibility that humanity has the potential to create a better reality?

Instead of reflecting a cruel world without hope, why can't we reflect the real world – as harsh as it is – but reflect it through a more positive lens that offers ordinary people the hope that, despite their flawed humanity, they’re able to make a difference?  

So many brilliant writers show things exactly as they are, through a collective vision of a dystopia where crime and murder is rampant, and sex and money are the only gods worth worshipping. And there are writers who only show a perfect ShangriLa, where there is no pain and suffering.

I want to be the kind of writer who shows the world as it can be: very harsh and cruel indeed, but a world in which we can use our free will to make different choices and make it a better place.

As writers we have the divine gift of imagination. Can we use that gift to create worlds that inspire humanity to reach for a different outcome? Every person, on a small scale, can be a Mandela or a de Klerk – two Nobel Peace Prize winners who could both have stayed stuck in their pasts, but who each made a conscious choice to  walk a different path and, in so doing,  made a better world.

Quincy Jones on his classic album "I Heard That" asks “What Good is a Song?” …   "What good all the lyrics if they can't soothe you, if they can't ease a troubled mind. What good is a song if it can't inspire, if it has no message to bring? If a song cannot send you higher, then it's not good enough to sing."

I say: if a book cannot send you higher, then it’s not good enough to write.


CA Heaven said...

I fully agree with your last statement.

Books can be entertaining and books can be good. The first does not necessarily imply the second. For me a good book introduces new ideas and new thoughts. I can do the trivial thinking myself.

Even though we live in a cruel and brutal world, we have to believe in the old saying that the pen is stronger than the sword >:)

Cold As Heaven

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

CA Heaven: oh definitely! The pen is mightier than the sword - if it wasn't for the scribes, would any of the warriors be remembered at all? And, looked at another way, it takes far more strength to get a person to change willingly by convincing them to think differently then it does getting them to change by force (because a change made by choice is more long lasting than a forced change, isn't it?)

Ann Summerville said...

I agree. I tend to shy away from dystopian books, it's like reading about Washington DC and our political system which has got totally out of hand.

Anne Gallagher said...

Funny, I don't read reality. Nothing with violence or mayhem. I even change the tv station if the commercial is too stark. perhaps I'm just a sensitive soul, but too much "reality" just makes me cry. Same as in books.

Bish Denham said...

I think there's a lot more good out there than we know because feel good stuff just doesn't make the news. It's the tragic, the terrible that we are bombarded with.

A little piece of hope is that there are fewer wars now and than at any other time in history and thus fewer people dying in them. (I heard this on some scientific documentary not long ago.)

My aim in writing, because it's for children, is to try to infuse it with the wonder and magic that I experienced as a kid. That was real too.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy - you write with such passion .. be it your books, or here on the post ... and I'm always learning - could do with learning more, one day perhaps.

The news is so appalling and so many believe everything they read - and I don't think they think too often either ..

Mandela doesn't deserve his plight at the moment ..

I hope my posts highlight little things that may have passed us by .. creative thoughts, or snippets of history .... my happiness is in posting posts that people appreciate and can take a different look at life. Not very erudite .. but that's not me ..

Cheers - it is beautiful here and I have an English friend visiting, whom I met in SA at the Chamber of Mines squash club - so 25 years on we still see each other .. her daughter is my goddaughter and they've been down for a family get-together .. Is your mother still here - I hope she is and is able to enjoy our sunshine at last? Hilary

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I like to read stories with struggles and successes. Not everything has to have a happy ending, long as the story has closure.

Hope you are getting along well with your newest novel.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Hello all! Thanks for your interest in this post and my apologies for the long delay in replying – we left on holiday a day after I posted it and went to Injisuthi (my favourite place on earth, but there’s no electricity or cell/internet connection) Arrived home late Monday and yesterday was spent grovelling to my feline owner Shadow who is NOT impressed with the fact I left her in a kitty hotel for so long!! Anyway, rather late than never and here are my replies:

ANN: I’ve had The Hunger Games on my TBR for ages and can’t bring myself to read them, I think human beings have so much more potential than that (but I’m not sure I’d count politicians of *any* nation in there!!)

ANNE: I go one step further – I don’t even watch TV anymore (although I confess to an addiction to le Tour de France every year!) I don’t mind a small dose of rose-coloured reality in my books, as long as the characters deal with that reality in a heroic manner, rather than an anti-heroic manner.

BISH: You’ve hit the nail on the head! There IS a lot of good stuff out there (and good people) but they aren’t newsworthy. The media has a lot to answer for – so too do the people who buy the rags (newspaper don’t print what people don’t buy) I think the Kate/William/ royal baby media circus shows how much people want to hear good news! I read or watched that same documentary on the fact that we as a species have evolved from, say, mediaeval times (I agree, at least we don’t punish people by hang, drawing and quartering them anymore!) but we’ve still got a long way to go … 7 billion people and rapidly growing because there’s not enough natural culling from wars etc and so we just kill off other species to make space for humans ( less than 20 000 lions left in the wild, just one example!) and, one last thing, I LOVE your children’s writing – the magic and wonder of life is there!

HILARY: The best news though is your gorgeous new Royal Baby, Prince George. Hope you & your ex Chamber of Mines English friend had great time, my Mom still in UK for another 2 weeks and then they’re home again. They went off to the Globe Theatre yesterday and despite the rain (!!) had a great time.

SHARON: If you like stories with struggles and successes, do yourself a favour and buy THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, a debut novel by ML Stedman. I read it on holiday and it's so BRILLIANT, it's years since any novel moved me as this one did and it’s become my new writing “role model”. I’ve been a bit side tracked from my new novel (although I am still going gung-ho on the research reading, but need to wrap that up, it can become another form of justifiable procrastination!) I decided to bring out an anthology of my short stories first so in the process of editing etc with a hoped for publication date of late September.