What I Learn from Readers (Part 3): Required Reading
I was learning a lot from the readers of my novel Dancing Priest. Some had read it as the kind of story they’d like to be part of, being used by God in the ways the novel described Michael Kent, the main character, and even some of the minor characters. A pastor had discovered what he called the best explanation of lifestyle evangelism he’d come across.
And then there was the reader who worked for a big, well-known software firm on the West Coast.
I’d corresponded with this man before. We followed each other’s blogs, and we had corporate career experiences that had much in common (good and bad). I didn’t know he had bought Dancing Priest, but he had. And one day, about three months after it had been published, he sent me a note.
“I’ve read your book,” he said. “And I’m moved beyond words. Do you know what you have here? It’s almost an operating manual for how young men should act and behave. It should be required reading in every high school in the country. It tells young men how important nobility, character, and courage are. There’s nothing in the culture today – movies, books, TV, nothing – that does that. Not a single thing. And it’s desperately needed.”
I didn’t write Dancing Priest to be an operating manual. What I had heard from a few readers (including my wife) was that Michael Kent seemed a mite too perfect; he needed some flaws to make him more real. This particular reader (a man) saw the same thing but saw it as a positive, an example of noble behavior that young men could aspire to.
Yes, like with the other readers, I went and reread my own book, trying to understand what he meant and what he had found. (I think I reread that book so much I could almost recite the dialogue and narrative.) And I found it, in many of the same places I had found other readers’ discoveries and in some new ones as well.
But would young men respond the same way this adult man thought they should and could?
A partial answer came a few weeks later. A family of four – husband, wife, and two teenaged sons – had all read the book within days of each other. The wife had read it first and urged it upon her husband, and then he, in turn, urged his sons to read it. It was the wife who wrote to me with the boys’ response. “They inhaled it,” she said. “They said they had never read anything like this, and they loved it.”
Perhaps my friend in the software business was right.
Writing a novel involves a lot of time, focus, and sometimes pain. You think you know what’s in your own book, and then some readers come along who disabuse you of that notion. You tell the story, and the readers decide if it’s written on their hearts.
Top photograph by Christopher Jolly via Unsplash. Used with permission.