The Plot Thickens

I notice that several searches that reach this site are asking for the plot to one of the books I read or mentioned (like in my Bookshelves). I associate these searches with young students, Junior High or below, that are either trying to avoid reading the  book in question or are looking for some authorization for what they want to say but are not yet comfortable with their own opinions and analysis.

Remember those days of youth when you submitted a book report that at best was a summary of the plot of the book? I suppose when we’re young enough, re-expressing the story is good for enhancing the memory and also for getting other students interested in your book, but I rapidly began to dislike this sort of book report. At some time in my literary career I announced that one should read the book and not rely of someone else’s flawed retelling or someone else’s personal interpretation. By the time I got to college I had formulated the best way to study literature:  read the piece over again and only if there is extra time (in college?) do you consider secondary sources (and then with a questioning mind).

I really works! Oh, there are those professors that might grade you higher if you parrot-back the theories of his favorite literary critic but there are others that will fail you for the lack of independent thinking. I once wrote a paper that meticulously proved a somewhat obscure analysis and at the end of the paper the professor wrote—Totally wrong!—but gave me an “A” because of the original though and seemingly fool-proof analysis. Then again, I suggested to my daughter that Claudius might not have killed his brother and instead thought that Hamlet was the murderer and now was after Claudius himself. It’s an interesting slant on a play that has been over-analyzed in school and there is plenty of evidence in the play to make the conjecture. Unfortunately, there is even more evidence that says Claudius is guilty and my daughter’s English teacher effectively wrote—Totally wrong!—on her paper and gave her an “F.”

Hamlet 2

But back to plot. I suppose I dismiss the value of plot rather easily because I have always been analytical concerning my reading; in other words, I was more concerned with how the author told the story rather than what the story was. I have been of the opinion that there was only one plot is literature anyway:  the father’s search for the son and the son’s search for the father. Everything goes back to Homer. It’s true that on more than one occasion I have been forced to defend this idea and have often been presented with plots that don’t seem to fit the model, but I still contend that it is valid and those other plots are still questionable. Even so, there are only a few basic plots in literature and, like network television sit-coms, they can all be traced back to one of sixteen episodes of I Love Lucy.

Plot, therefore, is highly imitative and the author is for the most part trying to twist, bend, and apply enough mascara to make the whole thing seem new and fresh … but lipstick on a pig still leaves you with a pig.

So my advice to anyone who is spinning the internet to find the plot of a book you probably haven’t even read, I give this advice:

  • Read the book
  • Read the book again
  • Think about what the book says
  • Put blue ink in your fountain pen
  • Consider the structure of the text … the plot is for sixth grade book reports.

2 thoughts on “The Plot Thickens

  1. AS I AM SEVERELY IMMATURE YOU MAY BE REFERING TO ME? THEN AGAIN, AMERICA IS A SEVERELY CHALLENGED NATION R.E. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT… SO YOU COULD BE REFERING TO ANYONE…
    I’M AWAITING THE DAY YOU DISCUSS A REALLY REALLY SPELLBINDING BOOK…
    REGARDS
    THE UNREAD

    Like

    1. I have recommended Palafox to the French reading group. Get an English translation if you don’t read French and tell me what you think of Chevillard’s novel.

      Like

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