The 49th Shelf posted just posted about a novel I’m extremely interested in, Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel. This is the first Inuit novel ever written, and the history behind it is fascinating (I’ll leave it to you to read the post). 49th Shelf went on to link to a great article by Keavy Martin that gives you more awesome reading to do on Inuit culture. Martin’s book, Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature, looks fantastic.
This was all great as I had just been having a conversation with my partner about the dearth of Inuit literature on my shelves, how I didn’t come across it much and how I didn’t know anything about it. How many of you can list any Inuit authors that just come rushing to mind? I certainly can’t. Coming across this novel and this article just days after this discussion was beautiful synchronicity (hmmm, though wordpress’ spellcheck apparently does not recognize “synchronicity” as a word).
Martin’s book brought up a question that I’d like to ask you, dear readers. No, I’m not about to delve into topics I know nothing about in terms of analyzing indigenous literature. I’d like to ask, when reading a novel about a culture totally different from your own, or about ideas you are not familiar with, do you read the background books BEFORE you read the novel, or do you read them after? I’m someone who enjoys going into things blind on occasions, as I believe being surprised is one of life’s great joys. I’m just curious to know the reading habits of others. I love picking up a novel and knowing nothing about it and then having it lead me to the curiosity that is required for me to sit down and read non-fiction. But then, it’s true that when you are reading about cultures/ideas that differ from your own and you don’t have at least a small base knowledge from which to go on, you can misinterpret or just totally not understand portions of the novel. There are arguments to both sides. When I’ve done background readings for classes, I’ve sometimes felt that it took me out of the story a bit as I was sometimes thinking “well, that wasn’t how the books said it happened” and forgetting to just let myself get wrapped up in the narrative. However, when a discussion in person or online happens about the book, if you haven’t read any of the background reading, you can realize how much depth you might have missed out on during your first reading of the original novel/story. And I think this question leads to the broader question of how much do you want to know about a story before you read it/view it? Are you someone who despises trailers and spoilers? Or are you someone who can know the ending before starting and still get completely involved in the reading/viewing journey that gets you there? Interestingly, I think with movies I can know the end and be fine with it, but with books I can’t. So, how about it? What kind of reader are you?