Did you know?

I love trivia. Like really, really love trivia. The single worst thing about not owning a television is that I can no longer watch Jeopardy! every night at 7:00. Any other show I’d care to watch, I can find online, but there’s no magic in watching a rerun of Jeopardy! The best kind of anecdotal knowledge is the kind you pick up by accident. Of course, knowing facts and information because you’ve studied it or gone out of your way to research is valuable and fulfilling stuff, but it’s the answer you blurt out that you didn’t even realize you knew that means the most. The “I have no idea how I even knew that” qualification after correctly answering an obscure question really gives weight to your knowledge.

While you must, of course, be careful trusting history or information given in a novel as fact, as a  novel is, by definition, fiction, I’ve learned many useful (and many more useless) things simply by enjoying a book. Whether it be rudimentary philosophy, practices unique to various cultures or eras, definitions or obscure words or scientific classifications, every writer of every book has a knowledge and understanding unique to themselves—as do, of course, the readers! In so writing purely what one knows (as goes the age-old advice), there must be some assumption that every bit of background or situational intelligence is common knowledge. Otherwise, books would have to be at least twice as long purely on account of necessary explanation of every little thing.

Sometimes it’s just that a book was written in a past decade or century, and society as portrayed in, say, Pride and Prejudice may not have been a groundbreaking description when Austen first published, but is insightful to modern readers. Even just a sense of a different human experience can spark an interest that was previously dormant and leads to further reading and research. Luckily, my passion for trivia is trumped only by my passion for books, so the two feed well off of each other. What sort of things have you been lead to learn more about because of a novel? Are there any novels in particular that you feel have taught you something—whether or importance or simple fun fact?

5 Responses to Did you know?

  1. Bridget says:

    I became really interested in whooping cranes after reading Even Cowgirls Get The Blues :)

  2. I grew up on Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware mysteries. My parents played the audiobooks during long car trips. My mother later informed me that everything Jonathan Kellerman portrayed as sexy was stupid and that made me doubt the accuracy of the details about psychiatry. Still, I ended up majoring in psychology in college and getting a masters in counseling, so who knows? His novels definitely piqued my interest in deviant behavior.

  3. April says:

    Laura Ingalls Wilder and my state history. My own family history those of who were here about the same time as she was. Both of those have a huge impact on my volunteer work in my neighborhood. I’m sure it all started from those little books. Writers from this area do make it from here.

  4. golden pen says:

    An interesting comment you make.
    “there must be some assumption that every bit of background or situational intelligence is common knowledge. Otherwise, books would have to be at least twice as long purely on account of necessary explanation of every little thing.”
    It raises the question of where omission of explanation is acceptable and where not.
    If a character were milling wheat to make bread, I don’t think it needs a full explanation of the recipe for bread. However I was once doing a workshop critique of a story where a character who up to a point were he passed a mirror had been human, but the mirror showed no reflexion of the character and from that point on was a vampire. In my critique I stated that I felt the character needed more explanation of the vampire factor. The author in rebuttal stated that the non-reflection in the mirror was common knowledge and felt I was nit-picking. My reply to that was, suppose a somebody had picked up this story and it was the first book they had ever read; could they be expected to hold this common knowledge?
    I don’t suppose there is an absolute right or wrong to this, but I think, there is duty of care for authors to realize that one persons common knowledge is another person’s mystery.

    Also interesting obscure words, which again will not be obscure to all.
    Stephen King said, “If your looking for a word in a thesaurus, then you are looking for the wrong word.” I think he is right….90% anyway. I do use a thesaurus, but largely because I am lazy and rather than sit and think of the word I need to find, I take the easy prompt. But keeping the spirit of Mr. Kings words in mind, I try too keep within my own vocabulary. However in the 10% where I don’t agree with Mr. King as I don’t possess the same volume of vocabulary as he does and I seek to improve on that, so when I do use; what are to me; new words, I self-impose two rules: I restrict myself to 1 new word in 10,000 (even when I cheat on that, absolutely no more than 1 in 5,000) and also, I ensure I use them in a context that is self-explanatory.

    It would be interesting (to me) to know the agent’s viewpoint on manuscripts where there is over/under explanation of situations. Also, manuscripts that they find over wordy, or written in too simple a vernacular.

  5. Donn says:

    I think it’s an important way of involving the reader, to assume they know what you’re talking about (even though really, they don’t or can’t). The tricky line of course, is not making it so alien that they feel left out, but instead making them feel like the child now sitting at the adult’s table, eager to piece together the meaning of these new conversations.

    Few things are more likely to cut the rope that’s suspending disbelief than a from-outside-the-world explanation of what’s going on, or what such-and-such means – ESPECIALLY if it’s one of the characters in the book who says it.

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