Since I’m a teacher, I’m didactic. And I’ve thought a lot about what that means over the years. I’ve decided that what I do best as a teacher is to express and model my passion for certain topics and so I admire writers who do that successfully in their writing. I write “successfully” because there are many books that exhibit passion, but in a way that makes you feel you are being hit on the head and not in a good way. Greatness is being able to get a grand idea across, one you the writer care about enormously, in a way that gets the reader to care about enormously too.
The above is part of my comment to a post on didacticism at Read Roger that has provoked intense discussion. And because the original commentator had things to say about Octavian Nothing, Tobin Anderson has joined in.
I’m very glad he did because I think Tobin is an excellent example of a writer who is passionate about communicating big ideas in his books, something I think he did brilliantly in Octavian Nothing, less successfully in Feed (I know I’m one of the few who feels this way:). In the former the big ideas are carefully built up through the novel for readers to react and respond to strongly. The characterizations are beautifully delineated, the setting impeccably researched, the plot is tight, and the writing sublime — as a reader I felt I was traveling with someone who was taking me on a wild ride of emotions, provocation, and thought. Feed doesn’t work as well for me — I loved the writing and setting, but by the end felt that the author’s beliefs and passions were breaking through and that I was being preached to.
Writing for children is an imaginative act; writing for children so that they think deeply beyond the book requires a tightrope act that is very, very difficult to pull off. My hat’s off to all who try — it is risky to put yourself out there, to show your passions and beliefs, to strip yourself bare in front of those child readers even as they lose themselves (hopefully) in your story, and to hope that (trite this may be) you’ve made a difference for these future adults whose world this is to become. That’s my kind of didacticism.