Explaining What a Book Is About Isn't As Easy As You Think
The following is a guest post by Brent Godwin.
If left to my own devices, I would do nothing but read all day, every day. But alas, I'm forced by society to have a job. My job is being a reporter–which when you boil it down is just explaining things to people.
Yet, those two things don't seem to overlap for me. I have a problem--–I can't explain what a book is about.
I read between 40 and 50 books per year, which means I usually have a book with me just about anywhere I go. As I've discovered, that means people often ask me what I'm reading. I have no problem telling them the title and the author (although it did take me a bit of time to get over my anxiety of sharing the dorky fantasy books that I love, "Um…it's The Sorcerer King's Sword of Magic by Jordan Sanderson King…")
But if someone asks me, "What is that book about?" I'm left stumbling over my words like a politician who's been asked an off-script question. I just can't seem to find any coherent way to summarize a book.
"Oh, uh, it's about this guy who, well, he uh goes to this place and sees another guy and then later he sees him again and…but the other guy doesn't remember, like, the main guy…"
Yeah, it's bad. Many times I resort to just handing the book over so they can read the back or the inside flap.
It's not that I don’t comprehend the books I read. I loved Accelerated Reader quizzes when I was in school. (Yep, I was THAT kid.) But now that I think of it, I didn't always enjoy book reports.
For me, reading is more about the experience of the story than being able to summarize it and tie it up with a nice neat bow.
On a deeper level though, I think my inability to explain a book has to do with not trusting myself to do the author justice. What if I completely miss the mark on what the book is about? What if the person asking me about the book decided not to read it based on my shoddy explanation?
This year I’m challenging myself to summarize every book I read–even if its not for an official Goodreads book review--–just to help myself get over my phobia of explaining the point of a story.
And maybe I’ll learn more about the books I read along the way.
Brent Godwin is a reader and writer in Birmingham, Alabama. You can follow him at @ohmy__godwin or ohmygodwin.tumblr.com.