Do you like books with messages?
Personally, I’m not a fan of message books. I read books for the story, preferably strong, believable characters or an interesting plot. I also adore detailed world-building, amusing dialogue, strong settings, and descriptive writing.
I don’t read to be taught a lesson, but I do like to learn things when I read. While those two things may sound like the same thing, they aren’t.
The first is about a book deliberately crafted with a message or lesson in mind. The second is what I take away from what I have read.
One reason I don’t like books written to deliver a message is that it appears to be something that people attach particularly to books written for teens and children; that a book can be and should be a tool for conveying a particular moral or lesson.
The second reason is that a “message” book is written to first and last deliver a message. Everything in the book is constructed to deliver the message and that priority can result in warping the remaining elements in the book: characters, plot, setting, style.
I was NCTE a few years ago and a panel of authors was speaking. A few members of the audience were talking, in a positive way, about the great messages in books and the impact of those books on their students. At that point, one of the authors (I forget which one so cannot give proper credit) speak eloquently about the difference between writing a book to “deliver a message” and writing a book with “meaning.” She spoke about how an author should strive for meaning, not for messages. Meaning can infuse a book and the plot and characters remain their integrity; and the meaning can result in the reader walking away having learned something. Or not.
Is this only so much playing with words? Is there a difference between books written to tell a story and books written to teach?
Thanks to GalleySmith and my conversations with her in formalizing these thoughts.