You are what you read

Books feed both your brain and your spirit.  No one thrives eating only cake and spoiled meat. Neither do we thrive reading only pulp fluff gossip magazines and the naturalistic nihilism of best-selling novels.  Empty calories starve the body while empty ideas starve the soul.

Sometimes you want to read a light beach book, or dive into a gripping action yarn.  By all means, enjoy a mental parfait or plate of nachos from time to time!   Let’s compare literature to food, and create mindposts that will help you find and appreciate books that share your sense of life.

  • Theme = Main ingredient = the message or lesson of a story.
  • Plot = How it is prepared = the events and actions of the storyline that support the theme.
  • Setting, Characters, and Style = Cuisine, seasoning, and delivery = the genre, narrator, people, tone, perspective, and language.

The core of a dish is the main ingredient. The core of a book is its theme.  When evaluating a book for its literary merits, look first to the theme.   The author’s philosophy will be on display.  Here at Mindposts, we seek books that promote a rational, positive, objective sense of life. We seek books that promote a rational, positive, objective sense of life.  The theme of a story can be rich and wholesome, light and fluffy, junk food, or just plain rotten.

Prime steak or canned ham; ripe fruit or high fructose corn syrup; fresh salad or moldy cardboard?

The works of many authors betray a sense of life that is dismal, irrational, mystical, malevolent, or nonexistent.  Their style and prose cover up the rotten core like the shiny red skin on a bad apple.

The plot is the storyline, actions and events that happen to support that theme’s message.  A few examples of theme/plot are:

  • Love conquers all — A knight enters a dungeon to fight a dragon and save his beloved princess.
  • Home is where the heart is — Grown siblings return home from around the country for their family Thanksgiving and reconnect with their loved ones.
  • Man is a helpless pawn of the universe — A woman is widowed by a tornado, then fails at her suicide attempt, and later dies of a sudden aneurism while gardening.

A book can have a great theme, but still be a lousy story.  If there is no action, or if the plot actions are seemingly random and not in support of the theme, the disconnect spoils the book.  If the theme is the main ingredient, and the plot is how it is prepared, it is not easy to get them both perfect.  Imagine a burnt fish, or a really salty steak, or a perfect soufflé made from spoiled eggs.

Just like a yummy side of mac and cheese, or a dollop of tangy BBQ sauce can make you forget about how bland the chicken is, so too can character, setting and style cover up weaknesses in a book.  Sometimes they can even end up being the main attraction, as in the case of pulp romance novels. 

Unfortunately, the other side is that a flavorful sauce and fancy plating can be used to cover up rotten food.  There are famous writers that have an irrational, nihilistic, or mystical sense of life that get by on their style and prose.  Often English teachers are enamored of these authors, and promote these authors to students, in spite of the theme/plot being broken, foul, or missing.  Examples: James Joyce, DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Leo Tolstoy, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway.

To be sure, through these books we can meet unique characters, visit a different setting, or twist through some cleverly turned phrases.  But, we can alternatively experience these things in well written books that also have a rational theme and interesting plot.

When reading, if you feel a book is tedious, or strange, or disorienting, you may be experiencing a tension or disconnect between your sense of life and that of the author.  You are not too dumb to “get it”; rather, the author was not rational enough to present it.  Unfortunately being rational is not a virtue in every English class.

If you have a positive, rational, objective sense of life, you will enjoy books that share and promote that view.  There are great books where you will witness decisions and actions that inspire you, meet heroes to aspire to be like, and learn lessons that are just and noble.  The goal of MindPosts is to review novels nad list books that share your sense of life.

Like the Dormouse said: Feed your head!

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