On the Importance of a Good Story

On the Importance of a Good Story

Julia Zaksek , Staff writer

While searching for a new book to read among my overflowing bookshelf, I stumbled across a worn paperback lost between two middle school required reading books. It was a much battered copy of S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders.” I remembered it vaguely, something about leather jackets and cigarettes and the ‘50s. I shrugged and opened it to the first page. About three hours later, I finished the last sentence.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, it follows a gang of “greasers,” the kids who live on the rough, east side of town, get in fights with the rich kids on the west side and wear more than a fair deal of hair gel.

Now, with having only lived in the comfortable upper middle class and my first and only fight being in elementary school, I can honestly say I have no real relatability to any of the characters or points of the plot. I found no real commonalities, no especially pleasing diction or lyricism or any overly complex or hidden themes in “The Outsiders.”

Yet I found myself setting this slim paperback on my nightstand instead of back on my shelf. Over the next week I returned to it, re-reading favorite passages, quotes and the final page.

I went on a fervent hunt for others who’d read it, asking them their opinion. They all conceded it was a good book, entertaining, absorbing, but I knew there was something beyond that easy, slappable label.  

At its gritty heart, The Outsiders is more than a good book, or a happy escape. If anything it’s anything but. My sudden and strange obsession with it came from the simple truth that it is not a good book. It’s a good story.

S.E. Hinton left behind the intricate literary points, plots and devices that define novels today. Her book leaves behind the overtness and subtlety of modern literature.

Today, authors of every kind, from screen script to graphic novel, often pick merit and profoundness over storytelling. They’d much rather the critic write that their story is “thought-provoking and multi-faceted” than settle for simplicity. As an aspiring writer myself, I understand. In the highly competitive and ruthless market, different is the new best-selling, for readers as well as authors.

Thus, the importance of a good story, not a good theme, not a good intellectual sparring match, is forgotten in our modern reading age. Books that invoke thought, not feeling, are favored. Almost every book these days seems allegoric, metaphorical, satirical.

It takes a book like “The Outsiders” to remember the beauty of simplicity and feeling. To remember what it feels like to read for hours, oblivious to the passings of the world around. Books like it are needed, not because they’re good, but because they tell good stories.