What Readers Bring

Last night I attended my monthly book club meeting. We discussed John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. I would recommend it to all of my friends. In fact I have. I kind of expected the discussion to be gushing, overflowing with praise and awe at this author’s book. But a few of my book clubbers didn’t like the selection – one flat out hated it, actually – and it steered our discussion onto why. After hearing the answer, I completely understood.

If you didn’t know, TFiOS is a cancer book.

Or rather, it’s a book about kids who have cancer and struggle to deal with it. It’s a rough look on the disease, an honest one about what these kids (and anyone really) would go through if they had it, as well as how it affects their friends and family. But it’s also an examination of the pedestal we put certain figures on, a metafictional take on how words impact our lives and a lovestory of two teenagers.

Personally, I adored every aspect of this book. I loved the struggles Hazel and Gus (the two main characters) go through. I loved how their story evolves and changes. I even loved all the freaking water metaphors that punctuate almost every chapter and how it’s got some Shakespeare elements in it, too. (My friends will tell you I’m not a terribly huge fan of the Man.)

I also cried. Choked up. Thought back to every single person I’ve known who had cancer and beat it, and who’ve had cancer and didn’t. People who I love (and loved) dearly. I had to put TFiOS down a few times just to compose myself. Green captivated the pain so well, I felt it again myself.

And yet, it was in those moments that I realized how much words could impact a person. These characters aren’t real. These are just scratches on paper. Separate the pages and they won’t mean much to anyone. Separate the words and they’d mean even less, the letters and they’d mean nothing at all. And yet, Green managed to compose a story that made me feel (ALL THE FREAKIN’ FEELS, GREEN). There was an undeniable emotional connection to his characters and I liked it. I was amazed and inspired by it. If he could do it, then why couldn’t I?

These were the comments I expected to hear in the book club. It didn’t happen. Most of the clubbers thought it was a sad book and even said, were it not for the club, they’d never pick it up. Why? Because 1) it is a terribly sad book and 2) because they, too, had lost someone to cancer.

This particular reader would never want read the book again. And hated it because it brought up all the past cancer battles, just like it did to me. But, unlike me, it made this reader upset in a bad way… which isn’t what a book is supposed to do at all. Books are (mostly) for enjoyment.

But the conversation got me thinking – what does a reader bring to the story?

Well, differences, obviously. Points of view, opinions, schooling, where they lived, what they loved, what they hated, experiences that shaped who they are today.

And every time a reader picks up a book, they bring all that with them. (Hence, the heated discussions over sex, religion, death and such, in books and in life.) It shapes how they read the text, determines if they like the book or if they’ll never read it again. It decides if they’ll pass that book onto another or shred the pages.

And, honestly, with all the different backgrounds of humankind, I’m surprised there are even bestsellers (or classics, for that matter) in the first place. Books that have, no matter what experiences readers may bring, transcended everything and hold a place of honor in a great many hearts.

There is one thing everyone could agree on though – John Green’s writing was awesome.

Have a lovely weekend!
Warm regards,