What We Learn From Books – Featuring Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

My typical reading month involves delving into two books simultaneously; one in ebook format, the other an audiobook for those long housework hours, getting ready in the mornings, and so on. While I’ve been slugging my way through the beast that is The Name of the Wind, (seriously, there are far more audiobook hours in my day than hands-on reading hours), I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Maine. I was initially drawn to the title of the book because my family is from Maine, and I lived there for several of my childhood years. I miss it dearly, from the ocean to the dense trees to the visit to Salem, MA we took one time, during which I had my first taste of what Stephen King enjoys as home decor (gargoyles, anyone?). While the setting of this novel plays particular importance into the unfolding of events, the main focus of Maine is family. Or, more specifically, family drama.

One thing that J. Courtney Sullivan does particularly well as an author is instilling conflicting empathy in her readers. In a fictional family where almost half have a chance at their own POV, and pretty much all have some sort of beef with each other, deciding who is in the right and who is in the wrong is very difficult. Why? Because the reader is introduced to plenty of full stories, from a addiction victim’s perspective, a Devil Wears Prada Grandmother, and a granddaughter who just wants peace. And every single one of these characters, no matter how utterly irritating or close-minded they may seem, are often easy to relate to.

In our own nonfictional, dramatic relationships with other human beings, this same type of empathy and understanding is difficult to come by. If we all knew everyone’s story, most of the people we dislike or think negatively of would become forgivable in our eyes. Most of our harsh judgments merely come from some a lot of naivety. It’s no small or easy feat to adopt a more positive understanding of others, especially with all the evil that there is in the world, but remembering that we only know synopses of even our friend’s and family’s lives might help. It is one of the reasons why many people believe in or hope for a higher and far more forgiving being; in that case, at least there’s one person in the universe who knows.

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It has always struck me as hilarious that the characters we so love in novels are often the ones we really, really wouldn’t like in person. The same principal applies: we know their weaknesses, their strengths, their likes and dislikes, their pasts, their potentials, and every small heroic moment that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. If you enjoy books like I do, think of the people you meet as characters. Every character has a story, and if you really think you can judge them, you first have to know it cover to cover.

Good luck with that.

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