Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Themes Draw You In?

I was getting teary over a song (yes, I know) on my drive home tonight and thinking about how certain themes in books, music, television, and film always draw me in. I was pondering why there are certain topics or themes that we find ourselves drawn to in art, why do we pick up books about the same subjects, hoping for a little different revelation, a glimmer of insight not found in the last books centered around the same topics.

You may think this doesn't apply to you, but I can certainly pinpoint certain bloggers and their "themes". And if the book isn't directly about this particular topic, they may still discuss how it was presented in the book.

For me, and feel free to tell me if I'm missing some, the big ones are social justice and the importance of pain. (or everything in balance) This is not to say that I don't read books about other things, I most certainly do. But books that deal with these topics are the ones that seem to pierce me or move me deeply or gain my approval. Not because they answer any big questions, but rather, I think, because they are dealing with areas that I feel are unresolved in my own life. So since I myself am asking questions, since the questions are sitting there in my brain and on my heart, a book that is willing to explore them and present some fragment of the story that is life, I am eager to devour, eager to add to my knowledge. Grateful to know that others have asked these questions and processed them through novels.

One day maybe I will be able to fully embrace the gift that is pain. And one day maybe I will feel like I am living a socially just life. But until then, I'm glad for the books that give me a little nudge in the right direction, that remind me, that sometimes sneak up on me.

What are your favorite themes? And don't tell me you don't have one!




Amy

35 comments:

Jodie said...

It's got to be gender for me - anything that explores what being a woman or a man might mean, or contains themes of feminist theory will make me really engage. Branching off from that an exploration of sexuality and all the different kinds of relationships human engage in is something I love to see in a book. Finally I can not add coming of age stories to my list fast enough, not just YA but also flashback stories for adults that deal with teenage lives. For a long time that was a diminate theme in my reading.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I like anything to do with WWII, but under that umbrella, I like the stories about good conquering evil, rising from the ashes to succeed despite the odds, and finding love under the most dire conditions. The shallow, less socailly conscious side of me (ha) loves spooky, gothic novels! You always get my little brain moving first thing in the morning Amy!

debnance said...

It's not cricket. Will I ever find the juice of this book, Netherland? I was warned it would take 100 pages. I'm up to 150 and I haven't found it yet.

Lenore said...

The search for identity is a big one for me. It's probably why I've been sucked into reading so much YA lit lately.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, you want me to think this early in the morning? I'm really not sure - I do love memoirs, what does that say about me?

lilly said...

Social injustice is also definitely something that draws me in or rather moves me deeply. Especially when it deals with people affected with serious mental illnesses (schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder) that are mistreated by 'the system' and generally misunderstood. I read abot them and then I sometimes even cry when I see a homeless person muttering to themselves and being avoided by everyone, because that person may very well have the disadvantage of being ill. That is their only sin. After all, not many diabetics end up on the street. I think the labeling people is what ticks me and also draws me in.
Another theme is that of people going after their dreams, despite all their failures never giving up. Hell, I cry watching AI or SYTYCD when someone is eliminated or moves on to the next round.

Elena said...

What a great post! I think one theme I am really interested in (books, movies, comics even) would be blurring the line between good and evil. Characters I'm drawn to are often deeply flawed, but with redeeming qualities, that make the reader question what it means to be good, or evil, or both. I think playwright and director Martin McDonagh's characters fall into this category.

Alexa said...

Like Lenore the search for identity is a big one for me. As well as the dynamics of families. Which is probably why I'm reading so much YA.

Meghan said...

I know I have a lot of favorite "themes" but it's hard to articulate them. The one that immediately comes to mind is books with grit, that don't shy away from killing favorite characters if it's necessary for the plot, or don't romanticize history like so many books do. This is what first drew me to Stephen King, I felt that his depictions of fear and horror were realistic and gritty even in the midst of supernatural events that are anything but. And you know I also love a good romance, though my favorites are really the ones that happen in a wider story, much as I enjoy romance novels themselves. I'm sure there are more!

jennysbooks said...

For me a big one is the relationship between truth and stories - how the stories we tell can become the truth, etc. This fascinates me endlessly. I like to do little experiments with it in real life - when I was learning to drive, and my instructor was being an ass and making me cry, I tried an experiment of telling myself all day that I loved to drive and could not wait to get to driver's ed. It worked amazingly well - driving is one of my most favorite things now.

Brainwashing: Sometimes it's your friend. :P

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Finding peace and one's place in life. Like the identity answer above. Guess that's why I write YA!

L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com

Sheila (bookjourney) said...

Time and again I will pick up a book centered around strong women friendships. I have always enjoyed this type of book (The Wednesday Sisters, Summerhouse, Same Sweet Girls...)

Another one that I have trouble passing up is books (fiction and non fiction) about other countries and children in need (Dragon House, Three cups of Tea, Jantsens Gift...)

Beth F said...

Not sure if I do but I know that I like to explore other places, other times (fiction of any genre and nonfiction), I like coming of age stories, and I like the theme that explores how one's life can change in just the blink of an eye. I like these themes whether I read them in YA, fantasy, literary fiction, mysteries, HF....

Heather J. said...

My big theme is family history, generational stories, and the way our lives/personalities are based on where we came from. I love doing geneological research and interviewing older family members. B/c of that I love reading about the time periods my family members lived through, or books that deal with issues of family history.

Great topic to discuss Amy!

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

I'm kind of all over the place in my themes, but I love books about sexuality, gender, and feminist/social issues.

I also really enjoy books that explore marriage and the nature of committed relationships, but the warts-and-all, marriage as it really is approach, not the "everything is rosy" chick lit love story. I'm very mindful of my relationship and the decisions I make, and I like to read about characters who also think about things this way, even when their conclusions and decisions are very different from my own.

On a broader level, I like books that I think of as "smart." I'm just a snob that way.

Out of curiosity, what do you see as my themes?

Nicole said...

Hm, this is a really good question. It's made me take a look at what I've been reading and what drew me in--or at least why I liked what I liked. I think my overall theme would be freedom. I am definitely drawn to books in which people's basic freedom has been infringed upon in some way. It's not so much that I deliberately seek out books that deal with this theme, but in my reviews I do tend to focus on any freedom issues that come up.

I hadn't really thought about this before. Thanks for that!

Jen Robinson said...

Interesting stuff, Amy. I know that my favorite sub-genre is dystopian fiction, and you got me to thinking about why that is. What theme underlies these books (the ones I read are mostly YA). And I think it's kind of a larger question of identity (as mentioned by Lenore and Alexa). I'm curious about what happens when the traditional constraints of society are removed. How to individuals rise to the challenge? How does society reform? Which values are internal, and which are imposed by society? I never tire of books that address those questions.

I'm also drawn to tween books, where the characters are just starting to think about growing up, dating, etc. Perhaps this is identity, as framed by separation from the family (just as the dystopia books are identity as framed by separation from society... interesting).

Thanks for making me think!

Lisa said...

Like a few others above this question made me go.. huh.. what theme DOES draw me in?? And I mentally look at all of the books I have read and loved. And I would have to say that family and the relationships (good or bad or indifferenct) within families is a constant theme to me. The bond of family, and the way we accept the sometimes crazy goings-on in our families! That was a very very cool question, Amy! Had you not asked it, I never would have even realized that!!

Kacie said...

the theme that gets me in movies, books, music, etc... is loss, goodbyes, and the related theme of death. I've said so many goodbyes myself, it hits home and digs down to those old wounds.

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

By far one of my favorite themes is the triumph of the human spirit, or the focus of man as a source of reverence. Probably why 'Shawshank Redemption' is my favorite short story, and why 'The Fountainhead' is one of my favorite novels. Any source of art that makes me happier to be alive, and to be a human, is a winner in my book!

Memory said...

I love books that explore what it means to be a good person. I find them especially gripping when the main character is really, really worried that something in their past will prevent them from ever achieving true goodness.

I'm also over the moon about anything that explores the meaning of family. Give me familial issues and I'm a happy girl.

Nymeth said...

I love this post, Amy. I hadn't stopped to think about this before, but there are definitely some themes I'm drawn to again and again. Gender is a big one - particularly how gender roles are socially constructed. Also storytelling and what it means to us as humans. That's a theme my favourite authors tackle again and again, which is probably a big reason why they're favourites of mine. And finally, relationships - not necessarily romantic ones, but...connecting with other people, and how that changes us.

Valerie said...

Wow. Very thought-provoking, I'm going to have to mull over this for a while! One thing I have noticed about myself is that my reading tastes do evolve and change over time. For example when I was in college (eons ago) all I read were mysteries. Why was that? I don't anymore. Now lately it seems like it's been multicultural themes (both fiction and non-fiction). Why? I guess I'll have to do a bit of self-analysis. Not a bad thing to do, sometimes.

Jenny said...

The themes I tend to like are about passion... and I definitely don't mean physical passion because romance books and all are NOT my thing. But I mean passion towards something (even love) are good. For instance, I love Wuthering Heights because of their passion for each other, even though it's not necessarily a good relationship that they have. I love The Count of Monte Cristo because of the passion he puts toward revenge, etc.

Other themes I enjoy are social issues and psychologically in depth characters/storylines. As a current social worker and soon-to-be therapist I love reading these topics.

Amee said...

Romance always draws me in. Historical settings from about 1950 and earlier also interest me. Identity is a big one too. I read a lot of Christian fiction so I guess religious themes or moral themes within books is a pull for me. I've never really thought about it before so I'm not even sure if these count as "themes" or just genres!

Florinda said...

I tend to be drawn to books that revolve around relationships - not so much romantic ones, but friendships and family dynamics. I'm also intrigued by books that delve into marriage; I think that in some ways that's a family/romantic hybrid. Books that incorporate issues of contemporary life - not so much the Big Issues, but more day-to-day things - frequently appeal to me too.

This is a pretty vague answer, but sometimes "theme" is a pretty vague concept. (And if you've associated any particular themes with me, I'd love to know what they are!)

heidenkind said...

I don't have one.

Ha! Kidding. There are a lot of themes I'm attracted to. Anything with a Cinderella theme to it is usually something I'll like. I also love books that deal with power struggles, especially between men and women. But anything that deals with power and justice is probably something that I will be attracted to.

I also adore the theme that people are never what they seem, or at least are never entirely what they appear to be. That's one of the reasons I loved Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles.

J.T. Oldfield said...

I am always drawn to books about religion. I don't really read religious fiction, but ones that have to do with religion in some capacity draw me in.

I always cry when a character goes to his/her death willingly in order to save someone else. But I wouldn't really say that draws me in, because usually you don't know that that is going to happen.

Kristi said...

Wow, what a great post! I've enjoyed reading everyone's comments, too. The theme that draws me in every time is the exploration of relationships. Relationships of all kinds - between a man and a woman, parent and child, brothers and sisters, friends, human and beast, cops and killers... I enjoy reading how the psyche of one affects the other and how they react as circumstances change. Great question!

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I LOVE themed reading. Somebody once told me that if you read a certain # of books on a topic than you would consider them an expert. We were talking about Darfur and so did that make me an expert? I'd say no. I'm certainly no expert. But it's a topic that I can get behind.

My themes? Like you mentioned, social justice. I usually read those books that others avoid. Abuse, war, genocide, and such. My book review today was about child abuse. So I seem to be right on topic. LOL

Mindy Withrow said...

Like you, social justice is a big one for me, especially in terms of gender. That applies more strongly to my non-fiction reading, but also runs through a good portion of the fiction. Also related, though it's not quite a theme, I am very interested in fiction that presents various religious worldviews--I don't mean Christian fiction (which I never read, having grown up on an overabundance of it), but really great stories that explore, without any particular overt faith commitment, the big themes of evil and suffering and human purpose(s) in the face of it all.

Great question!

Jen said...

I love stories that explore fate vs free will. I'm also a sucker for stories about first love.

Juju from Tales of Whimsy said...

I love when good prevails over bad and people strive to do good.

christina said...

I love this question! I enjoy all sorts of books, but the ones that really stay with me are when the characters (who might not even be all that liked) show growth and overcome against themselves. You know the old saying, we're always our biggest enemy.

Oooh, but there are so many good things out there.

justicejenniferreads said...

I absolutely agree with you on this one. I think that themes are like nail polish choices - people always seem to go for the same stuff! But I guess it's not always a bad thing. I try to read a diverse selection of books, but I always come back to the same themes: love, coming of age, finding the self. I'm not sure exactly what draws me to these kinds of books, but I've always enjoyed them and once a start a book like this, I find it difficult to put down. Still, I also like books that concern social justice, equality, and the occasional psychological thriller. But many of these have traces of my favorite themes so I guess I'm lying to myself when I say I aim for diversity.

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