The Value of Stories You Don’t Like

A local police officer, who makes a habit of visiting our school, does not like the Percy Jackson movies. When he goes to the movies, you see, he is seeking escapism. And he can’t enjoy being absorbed in a world where children get hurt.

That’s perfectly valid, I think. He doesn’t have to like the Percy Jackson franchise. But my youngest brother does, and many of my students do. Just because one adult doesn’t like the series, doesn’t mean other people can’t enjoy it. And, even if you don’t like or enjoy something, you can still acknowledge some value in it.

Specifically, with Percy Jackson, I empathize with an adult who doesn’t like to see kids get hurt on the big screen. But refusing to enjoy kids getting hurt through violence doesn’t erase the truth that many children do suffer violence, directly or indirectly. And many children who don’t experience it directly still know someone in their life who does. Fiction may help us be more empathic people, so reading the experiences of a fictional character may better equip a child for dealing with similar circumstances in their lives or the lives of people they know.

Not only that, fiction can force us to confront the uncomfortable realities that other people live in. Books like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck were not books I would have chosen to read as an adolescent, and I failed to realize their full value as I read them. But they helped contextualize a lot of complicated lessons of history, economics, geography, and more. Those stories allowed me to talk about others in college courses. (I felt a lot more sympathy for Achebe’s Okonkwo after reading The Sorrows of Young Werther.) And while I still wouldn’t say I enjoyed these books, I can say I like them because they helped pry open the close-mindedness I had that I wasn’t even aware I had.

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