So You Think You Know
I was involved in a conversation with other authors a while back and we got around to authors criticizing other authors about the authenticity of their work. These were writers who had used the lives of their parents or grandparents as the basis of their stories. My question is why did these critics think they knew more than the writers?
The US is a large country with many cultures merged into the over all American one. Our politics are full of it, so are stereotypes. Within cities as well as throughout the different regions of our nation areas have their own subcultures. I think it is safe to say that no one knows everything about every area and subculture there is. Different regions progressed into modernity at differing rates due to many factors, climate, resources, education, poverty, location, etc.
To me reading about other living styles and ways is part of the joy of reading. I know little about the ways of the deep south, the west, urban living today, let alone how it was in the 1960’s, 1930’s, 1880’s. It takes more research than I'm going to do in order to learn enough to comment on the authenticity of someone else's writing of a specific place and time.
We all have general ideas of other cultures and eras. We all also have concepts of how people live within those. Our understanding of historical eras or cultures etc. maybe no where near what the people who are living or lived experience. Remember the social studies book when you were a kid that had the picture of a soddy with the goat on the roof? That has always stuck with me. Maybe they don’t use it anymore, but it can illustrate my point.
I’m married to a farmer. We live in western Illinois. No, not Chicago. That’s four hours away. We went to one of the suburbs to visit friends one summer. They had a party where we were the only ones not from the burbs. As I stood in a group of women who weren’t familiar with agriculture in the 1980’s the question came up as to whether I had to cook for threshers and what I did all day. An image came to mind of them thinking I lived in a soddy and had goats mowing the grass.
Surprise was written all over their faces when I said we didn’t have threshers. We had huge machines called combines and that I put my kids breakfast in the microwave and actually had a washer and drier as well as a computer. I’m sure they would have been less surprised that a girl I went to college with in the ’70’s came from a farm with no running water. That would have fit their idea of farm living better.
The point of all this is to be careful when you criticize writers about the lifestyles they are writing about. Realize you don’t know it all and they will be much more familiar with their topic than you are. They may have lived what they are writing about.
This doesn't mean that authors can get away with errors concerning history or technological and word usage. Those are not what I'm referring to. Even though the technology is the same in the South as it is here in Western Illinois the culture is different. I know about midwest culture so that's pretty much what I write about.
We are told to write what we know. With critiquing or reviewing be careful you don’t think you know when you don’t.
“It seems some people are just looking for something to tear apart. Craziness.” Sheila Hollinghead