I recently reread one of my all time favorite books from when I was a kid, Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink. Out of curiosity, I went on Amazon and read the reviews of the book, and was a little surprised that people commented that the book was unrealistic. A ten year old and twelve year old get launched on the lifeboat and stranded with 4 babies… of course it’s not realistic… and who cares?
I don’t read books for realism. If I want realism, I go to work, where it’s real every day. If I wanted realism, I’d read or watch the news. (Though it’s debatable how realistic the news is, since they play one story over and over and over and don’t report everything).
Books are an escape to a better time and place. I recently read The Glimmer Palace, by Beatrice Colin. While it was a good book, with well-drawn characters, and ultimately was a compelling read, I felt gypped. The back promised an “orphan girl’s journey from poverty to film stardom, set against the grand backdrop of World War I Berlin, the cabaret era, the run-up to World War II.” What I got was a novel that felt like largely historical fiction. It was gritty and dirty. I learned much about the wars and the poverty, but not very much about cabaret or silent films. The book promised a payoff that (I felt) it never delivered. But the book felt realistic.
Bah! Who needs it?
Some people like realistic fiction, and while I’m all about things making sense in the context of the universe created, I personally want happily ever after. Of course, if I’m reading horror, I want to be scared. I guess I just want to know what to expect; there’s a difference between living up to my expectations and being predictable. I prefer an interesting journey that might make me doubt the destination, but ultimately pays off my expectations.
I don’t like it when reading a book is like expecting to go on vacation to a tropical paradise and ending up on an iceberg. Neither are bad, but if I’m expecting to end up on the beach, I want to end up on the beach. I’d go on vacation to an iceberg, but I’d know what I was going into before I started the journey.
Realism is overrated. Expectation is not.
How do you feel about realism in what you read?