The Consequences of Censorship

October 8th, 2014

Hello again, dear readers,

As I am writing this post on the heels of Banned Books Week, I thought it might be a good time to discuss literary censorship.   I realize, since I am writing this blog for a publishing house, that a post listing the reasons against banning books would end up being a post that merely preaches to the choir.  So, rather than simply enumerate all the reasons I (and, I assume, all of you) despise book censorship, I thought it might be more interesting to discuss the consequences, both positive and negative, of book banning.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for instance, was banned from my hometown’s school district some years ago.  Not only could this novel not be included on any public school curriculum, but the school libraries were forbidden from keeping it in stock.  The censorship of this novel led me to believe that it suggested some pretty condemning perspectives on race and/or Christianity (the things that my town usually objected to in a work of literature).  Imagine my surprise, then, once I finally picked up the novel on my own time, and discovered that the only objectionable aspect to the novel was its use of the n-word – and even this derogatory term was used in a questioning, rather than a lauding, context.  My school district’s banning of this novel turned it into a work that, prior to actually reading, I perceived as radical, even though the novel itself is not.  These mis-perceptions of books happen on much wider scales, too; Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, for example, although a wonderful memoir about a daughter’s struggle to understand her closeted gay father, has in some communities gathered the unfair reputation of being pornography.

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Book banning doesn’t just alter the cultural perception of a book – sometimes it can affect how many people actually consume the book, too.  While this claim does not hold true for small-scale bans, e.g. eliminating a book from a single library or school, banning a book often results in increased sales.  When Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis was banned from numerous public schools in Chicago last year, sales both online and within bookstores spiked.  Sales increased so much within Chicago itself that many bookstores reported being unable to keep the book stocked, even though the memoir had been available for a decade without ever selling so quickly (http://tinyurl.com/l7cxye3).  While I am never going to advocate for banning books to increase sales, as I believe that more authors are hurt than helped by such reduced exposure/free speech, it is interesting to note that sometimes literary censorship gives people more incentive to read the banned books rather than put them aside.

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There are, of course, also the obvious consequences of book censorship: the restriction of free speech; the closeting away of ideas; the limited opportunities to read material that challenges our understandings of a particular notion, place, group of people, or lifestyle.  Books are usually banned to prevent what some individuals perceive as dangerous ideas that could corrupt others.  Several months ago, psychologist Christopher J. Ferguson decided to investigate the relationship between frequently challenged books and their perceived negative impacts upon people (specifically, in this case, Texan teenagers).  The study did not find any correlation between reading banned books and a student’s GPA.  Nor was there any perceived relationship between reading banned books and committing crimes, either violent or nonviolent (http://tinyurl.com/n3htdmh).  If such studies were to be repeated on a larger scale, perhaps the banning of books could – at least on the basis of decreasing academic motivation and/or encouraging crime – one day be proven to be unnecessary.

More promising, however, is the study’s discovery of a positive correlation between reading banned books and partaking in civic activities.  In other words, if a teen in this study were more likely to read banned books, then the teen was also more likely to vote, go out of their way to help others, and/or volunteer.  This is, again, not an argument FOR banning books so that these positive effects might become wider spread, and nor is this to say that reading banned books automatically increases teenagers’ compassionate behavior, political awareness, etc.  I nonetheless find it fascinating that reading controversial books correlates with civic behavior.  Clearly more research must be done here, but it seems that statements regarding a book’s ability to widen peoples’ compassion for situations/people normally outside of their lives could one day be statistically based.

Book banning creates numerous cultural, financial, and psychological ripples through our society.  I do not support book banning, but since censorship is (unfortunately) not going away anytime soon, I do think it worthwhile to discuss the consequences of literary censorship.

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Until next time, dear readers,

~Scarlett Beau’Hara

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Notes From Underground

October 3rd, 2014

Hello all,

While many may question the life expectancy of printed books and the value in entering such an unpredictable industry, the New York subway system has proven to me that good books will never really go out of fashion. Whether they are sitting, standing, waiting, or attempting to juggle their coffee in one hand and book in another, it’s almost impossible not to see at least one subway reader on your daily commute. So, in search of my next read, I decided to take Notes From Underground readers by asking my fellow Q train riders for recommendations.

Here is my top choice from this week: monstrous affections

Described by its reader as a Y/A collection of darkly-themed short stories that is both clever and enjoyable for readers of all ages, Monstrous Affections takes the first slot. It was published last September by Candlewick Press and has received glowing reviews by readers on both Amazon and Goodreads. This collection of imaginative tales features everything from classical mythology to aliens, yet still manages to explore themes of love, fear, and the trials of human relationships.

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The second book that I will recommend is Notes From Underground, a Beaufort book by Roger Scruton that I have just begun about the underground culture during the Czechoslovak communist regime. While its subjects are not mythical or magical creatures, but people, its themes also touch on fear, love, and the struggle to find truth.
Notes from Underground
Books are there to teach, inspire, and entertain; they transform us and influence our tastes, passions, and ambitions; but most importantly, they are ready and accessible without being coercive or unavoidable. They tell their story in hopes that someone will listen, and in this way, books are like Mockingbirds.
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird”–To Kill a Mockingbird
More to come soon, BEAU Radley
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A Cup of Hot Tea and Books (A Lot of Books)

September 18th, 2014

“A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.”
- William Styron,Writers at Work

Good morning internet world (or so I hope it will still be morning by the time I finish writing this post!)

I will be writing under the name Daisy BEAUchanan, after Jay Gatsby’s love interest in The Great Gatsby. It is one of my favourite novels, however, I am still conflicted about my feelings for her. When I first finished the novel, I disliked her. When I watched the movie, I really didn’t like her. Yet, often times when my mind wanders back to Daisy’s character, I begin to understand some of the despicable things she did. But I will stop there, for this is not a rant about her. Maybe I will save that for another post some day.

I also run a blog and one of the most frequently asked question from my readers is, “What books do you recommend?” Therefore today, I will be sharing some books I have added to my Autumn reading list and some that I have already read and highly recommend. I have to warn you- I am currently a little obsessed with the Fantasy/Dystopian and contempporary fiction in the young adult genre.

Let’s start off with my favourite books I read this year:

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1. Sold by Patricia McCormick was just a random pick up at Barnes & Nobles. I love the way it is written – in short verses told in the main character’s point of view.

2. Everyone on the internet and all the avid readers I knew raved about Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Now, I understand why. Right after I finished it, I had to rant to my best friend about how madly in love I was with the concept of the story and the characters too.

3. The first time I passed by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, I knew it had to be something I needed to read. So I walked past it again, read the blurb, but told myself, “maybe next time.” The next time was when I began reading it. I can only tell you how many quotes and parts of the books are high-lighted in my Nook.

4. Champion by Marie Lu is the third book of the Legends Trilogy. This trilogy has taken me out of this city and to a different time and place. Oh, and it’s also made me cry a couple of times.. (okay, maybe more than a couple of times.)

5. I love Mitch Albom. His books always rearrange the way I think, how I feel about life, and becomes a part of me. All his work just make so much sense. The First Phone Call From Heaven is no different.

6. In high school, I was forced to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I am grateful my teacher did because I loved it. However, I love A Thousand Splendid Suns even more. It opens up a new door and I am able to get a glimpse of a whole different culture than the one I grew up in.

7. I am a little obsessed with young adult fantasy/dystopian novels. I used to read them a lot when I was younger but I feel as if I read them even more now as I grow older! I heard a lot about Throne of Glass and when I finally got to reading it, I was hooked! The second book, Crown of Midnight was even better. I am currently reading the third installment that was recently released, Heir of Fire. I have a feeling I will be dreading the ending of that since the fourth book will be coming out next year.

 

Now, let’s move on to books I want and hopefully will get to read before 2014 ends:

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I am stoked about this reading list! I’m especially looking forward to And The Mountains Echoed, The Infinite Sea, and Fangirl. What books are on your reading list? What books do you recommend for any book lover? Are there any new books coming out in 2015 that you are looking forward to?

 

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Until next time,

Daisy BEAUchanan

 

P.S. I just made it! It’s 11:56 AM.

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Coming of Age

September 12th, 2014

Hello all,

I have chosen the nom-de-plume, BEAU Radley after Harper Lee’s mysterious character that represents the collision of imagination and reality for Scout and Jem. Unlike countless others seeking a career in publishing, I wasn’t always a book fanatic, and To Kill A Mockingbird was truly the first book I actually enjoyed reading. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the reason for my less-than-enthusiastic response to reading as a kid–I simply didn’t like children’s books. My coming of age years had a lot to do with To Kill A Mockingbird because it lead me to a love of reading, which brought me to where I am today: a graduated English major attempting to make a career out of reading. As Scout and Jem approached adulthood with a new recognition of the realities of the world, I entered adulthood by finding a world of imagination that lay before me in the pages of unopened books. So for this post I leave you with three classic coming of age stories and three new ones:

 

Is it the story you read or the age you read it that counts? Do the new ones stand up to these classics?

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“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

-BEAU Radley

 

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Bookish Bandwagons

September 3rd, 2014

Hello dear readers,

I’m Anna, one of the interns at Beaufort Books this fall. Following in the footsteps of the great interns before me who have incorporated “beau” into their blogging nom-de-plumes, I have elected to call myself Scarlett Beau’Hara from now on.

When I first picked up Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind four years ago, I was prepared to despise that novel. I’d watched the movie one sick day at about age eight and had been bored beyond belief. More importantly, however, Gone with the Wind — both the film and the novel — had always represented to me cultural artifacts of mass appeal. Being something of a closet hipster who tries to avoid bandwagons, I didn’t care to ever pick up the novel. But when two good literary-minded friends of mine independently recommended Gone with the Wind to me within the span of a few months, I knew the time had arrived to at least take a peek at the book.

And I am so glad that I did. Because — to mis-paraphrase the dashing Rhett Butler — frankly, my dear readers, I now do give a damn about this novel. So many damns.

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Likely you are all familiar with the basic story of Gone with the Wind, so I feel it unnecessary to provide a summary. Let me for now say that the novel is a wonderfully accurate and frequently uncomfortable glimpse of our country’s past, a romantic tour de force, and a masterpiece that contains of one of the most unlikable and yet compelling heroines in literature. A heroine whom I’ve decided to pay tribute to with my blogging name.

It pains me now to think that, four years ago, I refused to read what is now one of my favorite novels simply because I’d decided that too many people in the world already liked it. And so this leads into my topic for today: literary bandwagons. Gone with the Wind was not the first book I decided not to read because of its cultural popularity, and it was certainly not the last, either. I’ve noticed this is not an uncommon problem among bookworms. In my case, while I take personal recommendations seriously, I become skeptical when the whole world gets excited about the book in question.

Why this reluctance to jump upon literary bandwagons? I don’t want to make a blanket statement about all readers, but I think it often has to do with a book’s perceived literary merit. In the case of Gone with the Wind, I expected a frivolous and overly-long bodice-ripping-romance with only a thinly excuse of a plot. There is no reason to believe that just because something is popular, it also has no plot, character development, thoughtful prose or themes, etc, but such is the way my mind works.

And that really ought to stop. Because while I shall never stop lauding the value of my less-acclaimed favorites (Eleanor Updale’s Montmorency series, for instance, or T. Greenwood’s novel Undressing the Moon), neither should I feel the need to apologize for adoring Gone with the Wind or any other popular book. It’s highly gratifying to see that this divide between popular books and literary books is not as tidy as it used to be — gratifying to see, for instance, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel Dune being taught in schools, or critical essays being written about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (I highly recommend The Girl Who Was On Fire, a collection of essays about this fantastic and smart YA series by authors and scholars, by the way).  I don’t think this tension over bandwagon books will end anytime soon, but I do hope that I — and other readers who share my mental block when it comes to popular books — can begin to stop assuming that being popular equates with having no literary value.

Well, that’s all I’ve to say for now. Until next time then, dear readers,

~Scarlett Beau’Hara

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Books From Start to Finish

August 19th, 2014

Hello readers:

Yes, summer is drawing to a close. As in all times of transition, I am driven to reflect on what these past few months have meant. What have I learned, what of value will I carry out with me?

To begin with, my internship with Beaufort has been a pleasant, informative foray into the world of publishing – for which I am very appreciative. I can predict now what the day to day in a publishing company might bring: the variety of tasks, the encounters with authors, the publicity ups and downs, the mailings, and then again, the mailings… The life of a small, independent publisher is, of course, different from what I would encounter at a larger, departmentalized publishing house – and better, I think, as an introduction to the field; I feel as though I have gotten the broader lay of the land.

My literary summer has been informative in other ways. My past few summer reads have drawn my attention to something interesting: an author’s ability to write a story that is uncannily pre-cognizant of real-world events. I first had this thought after reading David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Several years into the future, a foreign correspondent named Ed Brubeck reports from Iraq on the increasing sectarian division and violence that has beset the country. In one fell swoop, Brubeck sums up the chain of events that has led to this: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the withdrawal of American troops, the reemergence and rise of the radical Sunni minority. Back in the real world, several weeks pass and I begin to read stories in the paper about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Indeed, it is precisely what Mitchell (via Brubeck) predicted.

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Another example: Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls. The book begins with the kidnapping and subjugation of thirty young girls from a boarding school in rural Uganda, at the hands of Joseph Kony’s rebel army. Sister Guilia, the leader of the boarding school, determinably sets out to find her girls and bring them home. She will get no help from local authorities, and is accompanied only by a fellow math teacher.  The book is based on the real wave of abductions perpetrated by Kony’s army in the early 2000s, and yet it is also eerily pre-cognizant of what soon came to pass in Nigeria, with Boko Haram. Again I had a moment of intense deja vú: “Nigeria’s Stolen Girls,” reads the title of a recent New Yorker article; had I not just read this exact same story?

These prophetic moments arise, not as a result of authors’ sixth sense when it comes to foreign affairs, but rather as a result of their ability to view events within the wider scope of human history – to take a step back and see a particular moment in time as part of a larger story. No matter how many articles I have read about Iraq, I will now always remember the conflict in the words of Ed Brubeck, and that is because his explanation was woven into a larger story about the cyclicality of violence.

Brubeck’s words will also stay with me because I was invested in him as a character. It is easy to become hardened to the wave of news updates from Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine – there is so much of it, and so much of it is bad. Occasionally long-form journalism can break through the buzz, and hit you with a strong character driven piece that reminds you why you should care. Most often, though, it is a book like The Bone Clocks or Thirty Girls that does the trick.

All this to say that this summer has been a literary education on two fronts: a glance at the behind-the-scenes sweat that gets books published in the first place, and a reminder of what books can do once they are out there.

 

Yours truly, SWS

___________

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Goodbye to All That

August 15th, 2014

I can’t believe today is my last day at the office; the summer went by so fast! Being a Beaufort intern has been such a wonderful experience. I got to attend BookExpo America (which is pretty much the coolest place for book lovers), read submissions, edit manuscripts, and even do rewrites. During my time here I’ve learned a lot about publishing and social media, but mostly team work. I really appreciate that my opinions and ideas were truly valued in the Beaufort office; Megan and Michael were constantly including me in conversations, brainstorming sessions, and meetings. I’m so grateful to them for the amount of trust they put on me as an intern and I hope I made them proud. I also appreciate having been able to participate in the PR aspect of the publishing business. Working with Felicia, drafting press releases, and keeping our social media accounts up to date were a great learning experience for me.

Since everything must end, I’ll make like Joan Didion and say goodbye to all this, but not for good. A new adventure awaits next summer.

Until next time,

Simply Beautanical

Forget-Me-Not

Forget-Me-Not

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Farewell

August 12th, 2014

As today is my last day as a Beaufort intern, I bid you all adieu. This internship has been so wonderful, and has been the perfect introduction to the world of publishing. When you’re working at small company there’s plenty of hands on experience, and I have loved working at a place where reading is part of the job requirement. It’s given me confirmation that this is what I want to do with my life.

This post is going to be short as the clock is ticking on my time here (quite literally), but I just wanted to say thank you to everyone at Beaufort for giving me an amazing opportunity, and providing both an amusing and informative summer.

Farewell-The Red Beaulloon

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G.A.N.: The Great American Novel

August 1st, 2014

Hello readers:

Is there such as thing as The Great American Novel? How should we define the term, and which authors, if any, have produced titles that deserve this crowning accolade? In a recent podcast, writers Elizabeth Gilbert and Adam Gopnik took up these questions with a great deal of perspicacity, discussing the Great American Novel (let’s call it G.A.N.) as it was understood historically and in its modern day iterations.

For starters, a simply great novel– as I see it -should strive to elucidate some essential feature of the human experience, and in particular, human experience in the author’s day and age. But is there an added criterion for the Great American Novel?

Gilbert and Gopnik begin by distancing the G.A.N. from the Great European Novel. The Great European Novel is epitomized in cross-sectional novels such as Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which attempt to catalogue life as it exists at each level of society. This formula does not work in a country like America, where we have no ennobled class and (ostensibly) a more equalized distribution of wealth and privilege. Rather, as a country of immigrants, American society is best understood as a kind of melting pot – a medley of people with disparate backgrounds, cultural mentalities, and beliefs. A G.A.N., then, would be a novel like Moby-Dick or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – books in which a diverse group of people are forcibly thrown together, stirred up, and let loose.

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From my own reading list, I can see how this melting pot formula applies. Donna Tartt’s recent book The Goldfinch, first instance, utilizes it when the protagonist Theo gets stuck in a crowded museum during a bombing. During this moment of crisis, Theo is drawn to the side of an elderly man named Welty, whose dying request is that Theo steal Carel Fabritius’s painting The Goldfinch and carry it out of the museum;obeying the dying man’s request charters Theo’s course for the remainder of the novel. Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto also fits the bill. In an unspecified South American country, a terrorist group holds a group of party guests hostage for a period of several months. The result: relationships are forged not only amongst the hostages, but also across hostage-terrorist lines.

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There are others, of course. And yet for each novel I determined to meet Gilbert and Gopnik’s criteria, there was one which did not, and which I believed nonetheless deserved the title of G.A.N. Take The Great Gatsby, for instance. An undeniable classic, Gatsby gets at a different type of phenomenon that is uniquely American – the possibility for self-invention. Along with Gatsby, you can throw in works like Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Cather’s One of Ours, and Miller’s Death of a Salesman – all starring ardent, idealistic protagonists determined to make their way in the world according to their own definition of “success.”

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At the moment, I happen to be reading a book that qualifies as a G.A.N. along both of these axes: Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. In the summer of 1974, Jules Jacobson – the funny, ambitious protagonist of The Interestings – attends an exclusive summer arts camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods. There she meets and befriends five others campers, all of them talented budding artists who inspire in Jules a mixture of envy, fear and adoration. Dubbing themselves The Interestings and attempting to blanket their ambition in a sheath of irony, the group of six sets out to make their mark on the world.Wolitzer charts their progress across several decades, observing as several achieve the success they once dreamed of, and several others resign themselves to more practical occupations. Through Jules – who struggles to reconcile herself to the latter category – Wolitzer is able to offer a fresh look at the age-old question of success, proposing, ultimately, that we might just find ourselves content with a less-exacting definition.

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So yes, Wolitzer’s book offers us both a colorful and diverse cast of characters – thrown together at an adolescent summer camp – and a conversation about the possibility of self-invention. It is a G.A.N. if there ever was one. And yet waving a flag of greatness over The Interestings seems counter to everything that The Interestings stands for. Instead, I will simply congratulate Wolitzer on producing a touching and important book, and, in the spirit of that work, I will propose that there may not be a best definition of The Great American Novel, and perhaps that is the way it should be.

 

That’s all for now. Make sure to stay tuned for future blog posts from yours truly, SWS.

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The Charmingly Unreliable Narrator

July 23rd, 2014

Recently I finished reading The People in the Trees, a terrific, yet haunting work of fiction written by Hanya Yanagihara. The book is essentially the edited memoir of renowned scientist Dr. Norton Perina, who writes his memoir from prison after he is accused and convicted of committing a heinous crime. Norton’s memoir is made available to the reader thanks to his friend and colleague Dr. Ronald Kubodera, who prompts Norton to write the manuscript and acts as editor and narrator, providing helpful footnotes for the reader’s benefit. In his memoir Norton tells the reader of his childhood, his relationship with his twin brother, his research trip to a mysterious island in the Pacific, his discovery of a turtle that can grant immortality, and his eventual undoing. From the beginning, however, the reader is suspicious of Norton and his account of the events that led to him being in prison. The reader is also suspicious of Ronald, who might or might not be filtering and editing the truth that Norton might or might not be telling. Yanagihara has then given the reader not one, but two unreliable narrators, which I must admit at times was more than I could bear. Was Norton being truthful or was he writing a lie? And was Ronald publishing the truth and nothing but the truth, or simply an edited, less implicating version of it? The ending of the novel, which left me chilled to the bone, provides an answer to these questions.

By Hanya Yanagihara

By Hanya Yanagihara

The book left me thinking about unreliable narrators and the role they play in literature. Yanagihara’s characters join a slew of unreliable narrators that litter the fiction genre, including the lascivious Humbert Humbert in Lolita and self-proclaimed liar Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.

By Vladimir Nabokov

By Vladimir Nabokov

By J.D. Salinger

By J.D. Salinger

Why is the unreliable narrator so popular in literature? My guess is that unreliable narrators are the closest thing we have in fiction to the human psyche. Think this over for a moments: when you’re telling a story to a friend, you’re telling it from your point of view and, whether you like it or not, your truth might be different from someone else’s truth. Maybe the guy sitting next to you saw things a little bit differently than you, but how could you possibly know that? When you’re telling a story, it’s hard to remain objective. The same thing happens with many unreliable narrators. The unreliable narrator in fiction isn’t necessarily an outright liar. He or she might lie by omission, exaggerate something, give an event less importance than it deserves, and so on. Some unreliable narrators might simply be unhinged (Edgar Allan Poe definitely gave us a lot of those in his short stories). In essence, however, the unreliable narrator is someone who is telling a slanted truth. It’s something we all do, albeit subconsciously. Some readers abhor dealing with unreliable narrators, claiming that they are nothing more than an overused literary technique. I respectfully disagree. The unreliable narrator is a mirror image of the human mind, which is always at work on a subconscious level. Yes, there are unreliable narrators who are being deliberately coy and untruthful, but the best type of unreliable narrator, in my opinion, is the one who doesn’t know he or she is sliding towards unreliability, the one that swears he or she is telling the truth and nothing but the truth, the one who suddenly plants a seed of doubt in the reader with masterfully uttered words, the one that, inevitably, lives inside every single one of us.

Until next time,

Simply Beautanical

Sunflower

 

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