Darren M. Palmer
5 Types of Giving and Books that Exemplify Them
It’s the season you’ve heard of a thousand times. This month is a time to give selflessly and embrace gratitude for what you have. Let’s be honest, though. How many times can you give in the same way? Sure, you made the green bean casserole for family dinner. You volunteered at the local food bank. You may have even dropped off some clothes at a charity office.
In the sheer chaos of life today, maybe you feel like you’ve given all you can, but it’s still not the right type of giving. I know I do, and it can be disheartening. What’s harder is trying to incorporate giving into your writing because you want to spread a message of kindness, but the playbook feels overused. How can you continue to add value to your community and readers without playing the same old song?
To assist in your authorship journey, and maybe even the peace of your soul, I’ve put together a list of five books that exemplify oft-overlooked acts of giving. I hope they’ll move you to expand your definition of joyful offering in your writing. If nothing else, you’ll walk away with a lightened heart and a moving story in your mind.
This list includes stories from several genres. Feel free to put your adventure pants on and read through each category or stick with a familiar favorite.
1. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (Young Adult)
Taylor Greer wants out of her small town. As a teenager, she buys a rusty heap with tires and heads across the country, searching for her identity and new life. Her plans are interrupted, though, when she is handed an abandoned toddler at a truck stop. A sudden, reluctant mother, Taylor must learn to give this precious child (and herself) a chance.
A chance is one of the most loving things we can give to ourselves and others. If you are a human (I’m betting you are), someone in your life has taken a chance on you. More specifically, someone has given one to you. What would have happened to your life without it? How can you cosmically return the favor? How can your book inspire this type of giving in others? If you reflect on these questions, you’ll have more than inspiration for plot development. You’ll have inspiration for giving back.
2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Classic)
“When all you’ve got is nothing, there’s a lot to go around.” – “Through Heaven’s Eyes” from The Prince of Egypt
Did I really just quote a song from a children’s movie? I sure did. I heard this song when I was just a child, and I still belt it to this day. I’m sure it makes my neighbors wonder what’s going on at my house.
Those lyrics have stuck with me into my adult life because they are such a concise way to describe human nature. They speak the essence of who we are. When life hits hard, people have historically shared their resources, their time, and their company.
In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck shines a spotlight on this glowing part of us. As the Joad family is forced from their farm and into the fields of California, they are met with the reality that folks like themselves are starving (by the thousands).
Yet, the second they walk into the government camp, they are met with families offering their meager meals to share. Clothes pass around as needed, backs break for fellow backs. People rally together and care for each other, and it is never more evident than in times of great scarcity. As humans, we give of our means.
Our nature in sharing is, perhaps, the most noble of our attributes. If there is an opportunity to exalt this type of behavior in your book, I encourage you to try.
3. I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell (Appalachian Lit)
In this stunning work of magical realism, Jess, a young boy growing up in North Carolina in the 1940’s, gives a gift we often forget: his attention.
Chappell weaves a novel centered around the men in Jess’ extended family and their visits to the farm. During these visits, Jess listens to their stories and searches out their particular curiosities, of which there are plenty. Be it watching a beloved farmhand go off to war or investigating the strange coffin one great uncle takes everywhere he goes, Jess’ attention pays homage to the lives of those whom he will follow.
We, as authors and humans, are so often sucked into the mundane business of daily life that we forget to give the gift of our attention to the people and situations around us. In listening, observing, and offering our presence, we can honor life as it is (and maybe get some fodder for our next novel, too).
Bonus: While I Am One of You Forever is near and dear to my heart, don’t pass up the opportunity to read its sequel, Farewell, I Am Bound to Leave You. The second novel follows the same narrative flow but serves to tell the stories of the women in Jess’ family instead.
4. Are You My Mother? By Alison Bechdel (Graphic Novel)
In her second graphic novel, Bechdel explores the complex relationship between mother and daughter in a life where the mother’s presence looms large. It is a query about love and familial relationships, focusing on women’s interpersonal relationships.
As the novel progresses, Bechdel’s writing slowly transforms from confusion, hurt, and awe into a beautiful sense of her mother as a complete human. Bechdel shows us how to give something that each of our parents needs: understanding and acceptance.
Many authors tend to gloss over family as background characters in their protagonist’s life. The sister is mean. The mother is sweet. The grandfather is distant. By developing these background characters and their motivations, an author can give their protagonist a chance to grow themselves.
Read it and call your mother. You’ll want to.
5. The Ender’s Game Series by Orson Scott Card (Fantasy)
Okay, so this is four books. But, if your only experience with Ender’s Game is the movie or the first book, you are missing out. I’m going to give a highly unpopular opinion here–Ender’s Game is the worst book of the series.
Before you light your torches and grab your pitchforks, I admit that Ender’s Game is a fantastic novel. However, the characters, the story line, and the importance of Card’s message only grows with each sequel. Please, take my word for it. Read this series.
If you aren’t familiar with the story line, Ender is a young boy who lives on a future version of Earth - one that has been attacked by alien enemies. As a gifted child, Ender is tapped to train and lead an army to protect the planet from another potential invasion.
The meat of this story, though, is what happens after. There’s space travel, a humanoid artificial intelligence, the study of a new alien culture, and another desperate attempt to save the human race. And that’s just a tiny hint.
The reason this series has made it onto my list of giving is the overwhelming persistence Ender shows in giving his effort. His entire life becomes a tale of trying, against any odds, in any condition, to do the right thing. He puts forth his effort when it hurts and when it’s terrifying, but he always tries.
Readers root for a protagonist (and a person) who tries their best. When you give your effort to a cause, you are giving of your true inner self. Though the odds may seem insurmountable, I encourage you to dig deep and find your effort. After all, in the words of the (nearly) immortal Eleanor Shellstrop from the sitcom The Good Place, “Why not try?”
I hope that you’ve taken inspiration from this list. If nothing else, I hope you’ll look into this season and the future with a determination to give. Here at Self Publish -N- 30 Days, we come to work every day to give our talents and effort because we believe in the power of people who care enough to share their stories and give their wisdom to the world. Obviously, that means you.
-- Cori R., Editor