Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Blogger Hop No. 92: Reading Books that Clash with your Beliefs


Welcome to the Book Blogger Hop,
hosted by Billy @


For more information, and 
to find out the topic of next week's question, click HERE.


This Week's Question

Would you stop reading a book if an element of the plot strongly clashed with your personal beliefs,
or would you continue reading until
you finished the book?

(Submitted  byMaria  @ 



My Answer

WARNING: There will be some spoilers included in my answer. These are necessary in order for me to fully discuss why I did not like a particular book. 

I do have one extremely important belief, which is part and parcel of my Christian upbringing. (Of course, this belief is also shared by those of other religions, and even, sometimes, of none.) It is the belief in the value of ethical, moral behavior. If I'm reading a novel that fails to present such behavior in a positive light, then the book will make me feel so uncomfortable that, most likely, I won't be able to finish reading it.

One of the things that really bothers me is when I come across a main character -- whether male or female -- who is a villain. I don't enjoy reading about such people. I cannot ever sympathize or empathize with a character who is blatantly engaged in evil acts. However -- and this is the unfortunate part -- on at least two occasions I did find myself reading such a book until the very end. 

The first book that comes to mind is Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. I hated Heathcliff! This man was totally evil, and all he cared about was revenge. The worst part of it all was that he took revenge on the wrong people. I don't know why I had to read this novel until the very end..... I guess I just wanted to understand why it's considered a classic. To me, it was a nightmarish reading experience! Still, I did love the prose, and the characterizations were perfect. If only Heathcliff had not been so evil....

I do have another objection to this novel, which is that, in my honest opinion, the plot just seems too contrived. The author kills off characters when they're no longer useful to the story. This is also just too unrealistic. Furthermore, Catherine Earnshaw's passing is totally melodramatic, and not believable at all.

The second book is another classic -- Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. While I also loved the prose style of this author, as well as her masterful buildup of suspense and skillful characterizations, I was totally disappointed and disgusted when I found out that one of the main characters had actually been guilty of murder. Worse still, there's another character in the novel who even helps the murderer to cover up the crime! Thanks to this help, the character in question totally gets away with it, too.

In this case, du Maurier disclosed the murder so late in the novel that I felt I just had to finish the book. Besides, I kept hoping that it would turn out not to be true that this person had, in fact, committed a murder. But no, that never happened.....

I read this novel for the first time many years ago, and didn't remember all of the events at the time of my second reading. What I did remember was how the movie version presented the character. In the movie, the person was definitely not a murderer. So, when I re-read the novel, it was even more disappointing to me to find out how things had really gone down.....

Another thing I didn't care for was the way the female main character was depicted. She was much too spineless and insecure. On second thought, du Maurier might have wanted to detail the negative effects of such conventionally conditioned behavior in women. 

Another novel that I found sheer torture to read was Isle of Night, by Veronica Wolff. Although I'm a big fan of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, as well as Young Adult Fiction, I just couldn't take this book.... I never finished it. What bothered me about this novel? Well, as I mentioned in my review, a brutal murder takes place pretty early on in the plot, and nothing is done about it. Also, by the end of the novel, the main female character has become a trained, professional assassin. (Yes, I did peek at the ending....) UGH. This novel also contains other highly unethical elements. The vampires depicted are totally ruthless and have no qualms about killing. Various kidnappings take place, as well, and again, the perpetrators are never punished. On top of everything else, I didn't like the relationship between the various female 'students' and the vampires they were supposed to assist in their projects.

As you can see, I can't stand it when criminal behavior goes unpunished. If there's no justice in the world, then I want to see it in fiction. Of course, fiction frequently mirrors reality, even if it's in the fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, or magic realism genres. Still, it really bothers me when villainous characters don't get what they deserve in the end. 

Infidelity is another type of unethical behavior that really bothers me, especially if a character gets away with it. I know what it's like to be cheated on, and hey, it ain't pleasant. I have never inflicted -- nor would I ever inflict -- such grossly selfish, cruel behavior on anyone. 

Because of my strong feelings regarding this issue, I was unable to get through Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. I did try, because I was reading it as part of a read-along, but I just could not finish it. I was never able to relate to Anna or to her lover, Vronsky. I wanted them to be punished. I wanted them to suffer because of their actions. The novel did have a tragic ending for Anna (I peeked again, lol), but somehow, I still felt unsatisfied.

Another disappointing book for me, also because of the issue of cheating, was Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, by Lisa Kleypas. I was really surprised by this one, as this author has a reputation for penning great romances. (This was my first Kleypas novel, too.) However, I just could not get into this story, and the reason was a very simple one: the two romantic leads met while the man was in a romantic relationship with another woman. The fact that he didn't tell this other woman about his involvement with the new one, until he was absolutely sure his new relationship would work out, made it impossible for me to continue reading this book. Talk about unethical behavior!

Yet another highly disappointing novel, and again because of the issue of infidelity, was The Christmas Bridge, by Elyse Douglas. (This is the pen name of a husband-and-wife team.) This novel concerns the story of a woman who cheated on her hometown boyfriend with a guy she met in college. During a holiday visit home, she goes out with this hometown boyfriend and gets pregnant. So, she dumps her college boyfriend -- whom she had very deep feelings for -- to marry the hometown boyfriend. Did she love this boyfriend? No. She just married him because he had gotten her pregnant. 

Years later, as a widow, she decides to reconnect with the college guy. But, on the eve of her planned dinner date with him, she meets yet another guy, and starts up a relationship with him. I peeked at the ending in this instance, too (blush, blush), and saw that it was a happy one -- for the woman and the third guy. This made me see red, because the poor college guy went through a romantic rejection twice, and from the same woman! Needless to say, I hated her guts!! Thank God this was a Kindle book. I easily got rid of it, and received a refund from Amazon. Lol.

I was very surprised by the plot of this book, as I had previously read a highly satisfying one by the same authors. Titled The Christmas Town, it was the totally wonderful story of two young women who unwittingly step through a time portal, and are transported to a small town in the year 1943. While there, they meet and fall in love with two soldiers on leave from the war front. What a contrast between the two novels! This one was thoroughly enchanting! I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading holiday romances, as well as time travel romances.

Another novel on my list of unpalatable books is The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. This one was a rather curious experience for me. While I could admire the main male character's defiance of "what people like", and his firm decision to stick to his creative guns, I couldn't stand his unashamedly arrogant attitude. (In fact, he strongly reminds me of Donald Trump.) I also disliked the author's obvious disdain and contempt for the disadvantaged, as she makes it a point to disparage them for needing government assistance. (I was not totally surprised to find out that Paul Ryan* is a huge Rand fan.) Thank God I didn't get very far, because I also found out, through a review of this novel, that Howard Roark, the main male character, actually rapes a woman he is in a romantic relationship with, and insists that she enjoyed it. In other words, Rand was an unfeeling, uncaring, misogynist and bigot. End of story. 

Yet another pet peeve of mine is encountering vulgar language in fiction. I realize that authors want their books to reflect real life, even if they are writing fantasy. Still, I don't think it's at all necessary to use such language. I cringe every single time I come across "the F bomb", for instance. It's bad enough that I do hear this word when I go to work every afternoon. I teach adults English at a local high school, so, when I'm entering the school building, I will sometimes hear passing high school students saying this word. I just steel myself, and walk on, as it's really not my place to correct these students. But I hate hearing the word! So I will simply not tolerate it in fiction.

Just the other day, I started reading a book I featured here on the blog. It's titled If You Were My Vampire, by L.J.K. Oliva. I initially loved this book! The characters and plot were totally engaging, and I began to devour the book. But, I soon found out that the text was liberally sprinkled with "effing this" and "effing that". There were also other vulgar words that I didn't care for. Additionally, I didn't like the way the vamps in the novel went about getting their "nourishment". This was definitely not like The Twilight Saga! I did try to continue reading, but finally had to give up. Another Kindle refund from Amazon! Lol.

Yet another problem I have with novels is when the plots include very graphic sex and violence, as well as the depiction of sheer terror. These objections are also part of my general view on ethical behavior in fiction.

I don't mind sex scenes if they're presented in a romantic manner. If they're too explicit, though, I really don't care for them at all. This is why I refuse to read erotica. 

As for violence, again, I realize that some action is necessary in certain types of novels, but I certainly do not need to read all the gory details about severed body parts and blood all over the place, for example.

In addition to erotica, I totally refuse to read the horror genre. I do not enjoy being so terrified that I will not be able to sleep at night! This is what happened to me when I made the huge mistake of reading The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, years ago. I never saw the movie, but, just from reading the book, I could not sleep well for an entire week! This is another novel that I couldn't finish reading. 

An additional problem with the horror genre is the moral ambiguity of these novels. The bad guys frequently win out in the end, or the fact of whether or not they do win is left up in the air. This is totally unsatisfactory to me, as I have already pointed out.

These are some of the books I've come across that really bothered me so much I simply had to stop reading them (with the two exceptions mentioned above). I've also come across others that I've never even started, because, just from skimming a few pages, I could tell I wouldn't like them, for the reasons stated above. Heck, sometimes the synopsis itself will tell me that a book is just not for me! Needless to say, I would never even start reading a novel that presented racism in a positive way, nor one that did the same thing for the mistreatment of women.

In short, reading is supposed to be an enjoyable activity that takes you away from the unpleasantness of reality, although admittedly, characters in fiction do encounter formidable challenges of their own. However, escaping into books should not involve anything that causes a reader too much discomfort. If that happens, then the only sensible thing to do is to just stop reading!  

* For my international readers, Paul Ryan is the current Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Like Trump, he's a Republican.

 
                       
What are your thoughts on
this topic?
Please leave a comment!
If you're participating in this meme,
I'll go comment on your 
own BBH post.
If not, I will then comment on one 
of your blog posts!
Thanks for visiting!!! 








13 comments:

  1. An amazing answer as always, Maria.

    You are an amazing young lady.

    TERRIFIC answer.

    Happy Hopping!!

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog Hop Answer

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    1. Hi, Elizabeth!

      Thank you for the compliments!! i GREATLY appreciate them!!

      Happy Hopping to you, as well!! Thanks again for the SUPER nice compliments!! (blush, blush) <3 <3 :) :)

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  2. It's been interesting seeing all the answers today as everyone handles this a little differently. I had similar issues with The Christmas Bridge too though the Lisa Kleypas book didn't bother me too much. Not sure what exactly it was about that book because that's usually a deal killer for me as well. I can handle books where there are topics that are against my personal beliefs unless I feel like the author is pushing their opinion or trying to manipulating me.

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    1. Hi, Katherine!

      Yes, I've noticed that there are different takes on this question.

      I'm glad I wasn't the only one to object to "The Christmas Bridge"! In addition to the fact that the authors basically condoned cheating, the plot was such a mishmash! It sure read as if they tried to write TWO books in one!

      I agree with you -- I have no problem handling topics that are against my personal beliefs. However, there are certain non-negotiables, such as the ones mentioned in my answer. Authors who attempt to manipulate readers are a HUGE turnoff for me as well.

      Thanks for the great comment!! <3 :) :)

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  3. I felt much the same about Wuthering Heights - I finished it but it went on my "hours I will never get back" booklist. I suppose it bothered me because it's billed as a love story, but there's no love at all. The characters are selfish and reprehensible. I cannot stand reading a story in which good is treated as evil and evil is treated as good.

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    1. Hi, Kym!

      I'm so glad I'm not the only one to feel the way I do about "Wuthering Heights"! Yeah, I can't understand WHY it's marketed as "a love story", when that part of the plot is really NOT the main focus of the novel!

      I TOTALLY agree with what you say here: "The characters are selfish and reprehensible." There's NOTHING at all in Heathcliff and Kathy's "relationship" that is in the least romantic. And Heathcliff is DEFINITELY NOT "swoon-worthy"!!

      On the other hand, I do think this requires some thoughtful analysis: "I cannot stand reading a story in which good is treated as evil and evil is treated as good." I don't think Emily Bronte was presenting evil as good. Her intention was probably to present Heathcliff's behavior as something to be condemned. However, in the process, she exposed her readers to SO much of that behavior, she probably defeated her own purpose! And I felt that reading about all of Heathcliff's evil acts was a TOXIC experience. And yes, those are hours we will NEVER get back....

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!! <3 :)

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  4. Superb post on a great topic Maria!

    There is so much to this issue. I also find it difficult to read about horribly immoral characters. I also had a lot of trouble with Wuthering Heights. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart was similar. However, I think that those books were portraying representable behavior to criticize that behavior. I think that the authors of those works were in no way condoning the actions of their characters. Achebe was showing misogyny in his main character in order to attack misogyny. It is portrayed as a terrible thing in his book.

    Ayn Rand on the other hand, advocated the behavior of her characters. This is truly a conflict with my beliefs.

    On the other hand I think that it is important to expose oneself to beliefs that one disagrees with. If only to be able to criticize the beliefs more effectively. It is one reason that I think people should read writers like Ayn Rand.

    Have a great weekend!

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    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thanks for the compliment!! <3 :)

      You know, as I mentioned in my reply to Kym above, I don't understand WHY "Wuthering Heights" is labeled "a love story". It most certainly is NOT. Instead, it's a tale of sick OBSESSION.

      I've had a suspicion, for some time now, that Bronte's intention in this novel was to present Heathcliff's behavior as reprehensible. However, at the same time, she's forcing her readers to wade through all those pages depicting his evil acts. I consider this TOXIC to the brain, as most especially, to the soul.

      The same thing goes for Achebe. In depicting this HORRIBLE behavior, he was indeed criticizing it, but, again, at the same time, he has subjected his readers to highly TOXIC material.

      In short, these books leave a very unpleasant impression on a reader, and especially so in highly sensitive ones, like me, for instance. I'm the type of person who never watches the news. I can't take it! I've had the experience of sitting in the living room, doing my blogging, while my husband is watching the news. A VERY sad, tragic story suddenly shows up on the program. It pulls me away from the blog, and, before you know it, I'm crying..... So I've asked my husband to NOT watch the news while I'm in the living room, or, alternatively, to put on his headphones. So, bottom line, I just can't handle these books that depict these HORRIBLE injustices. I realize they're necessary, though, in order to raise awareness of these things. But I simply can't read them.

      The same goes for movies. I can't take movies with tragic themes. I made another HUGE mistake, years ago. I watched a foreign film titled "Camila", based on a true story, about a young woman who fell in love with a priest, and he with her. This story took place in Argentina, back in the 19th-century. Well, they were shot by FIRING SQUAD. Their graves are next to each other, in Argentina. I BAWLED when the movie got to that part, and couldn't bear to look.,.. So yeah, I can't take tragic events, or highly evil ones.

      As for Ayn Rand, I agree that one needs to expose oneself to her beliefs. That's what I did. I just didn't go very far in my exploration, lol. At the first sign of something objectionable, I just SPLIT. Lol.

      I don't mind exposing myself to beliefs I might disagree with. However, 'exposing" is the key word here. Just a cursory knowledge of such beliefs is enough for me. And I can do that thanks to Wikipedia. :)

      I should have mentioned the book "Gone With The Wind". Yes, it's a great story, BUT, it's set against the background of the Civil War. I just couldn't feel much sympathy for Scarlett, or any of the other WHITE members of the cast of characters. This war was being fought over SLAVERY. And, instead of delving into how it affected the SLAVES, for Pete's sake, Mitchell decided to focus instead on the troubles and travails of a spoiled, selfish, cruel, WHITE little Southern B***H.

      Anyway, let me go ahead and get off my soapbox....lol.

      Thanks for the TERRIFIC, thought-provoking comment!! Hope your weekend was AWESOME!! <3 <3 :) :)




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  5. What an insightful comment, Maria! I think it is good to know your limitations, how far you can push your own comfort zone, and what works and doesn't work for you.

    I tend to be pretty open to what I will read. There are certain topics I prefer to avoid, but even then, I don't always--and have been rewarded with good books when I have taken a chance and stepped outside my comfort zone. I know not everyone is able to do that, however. There are times though when a book pushes too many of my buttons and it impacts my enjoyment of a book.

    I cannot say I give up on books often because of a clash in personal beliefs. I rather like the challenge of confronting such viewpoints in some instances. Of course, even I have my limits.

    I didn't care for Wuthering Heights, but I didn't feel nearly as strongly about it as you did. I have never read Ayn Rand. My husband thinks very little of her, and so it's kind of dampened my interest in reading her work (not that I always agree with him, but I do value his opinion--and he knows me well). I loved Tolstoy's Anna Karenina personally, although Vronsky and Anna were not among my favorite characters. Fortunately, they were only a part of the novel and not the entire focus.

    I didn't go into excessive violence or graphic sex in my post--as I don't really see those as going against my personal beliefs rather than, at least for me, being more a matter of taste. I agree with you though in that I prefer not to read either. If it's there, I tend to skim over the scenes. Goodness knows I have read enough excessive violence in my reading life given my love for mysteries and thrillers.

    I don't mind the grey in novels. I am not a believer that everything should be black and white in novels--just as it isn't in real life. I like coming across the sympathetic villain, even though I in no way condone his or her actions. I think it's a sign of a well-developed character and kudos to an author who is able to paint that side of such a despicable character.

    I agree with much of what Joseph had to say about exposing oneself to beliefs we don't necessarily agree with. I think there can be a benefit to that--sometimes in opening our own way of thinking, and also in helping us solidify our own position and make a better argument for it.

    Thanks for sharing, Maria. I hope you are enjoying your weekend!

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    1. (I've had to break this comment up into two sections, as the Blogger system will not accept it as is. It's VERY long. Lol.)

      Hi, Wendy!

      Thanks for the compliment!! <3 <3

      It's true that, sometimes, one should step outside one's comfort zone. I feel that way about diverse reads, for example. I definitely need to read more such books! I am indeed open to reading about other cultures and ethnic groups, with different beliefs, even.

      On the other hand, there are things I just can't tolerate, such as the ones I mentioned in this post.

      The only way I could possibly tolerate these topics is if I saw, somewhere in a book's plot, that evildoers would get what they deserved. In the case of infidelity, for example, I would love to see the wronged party be able to take the cheater to court and be able to get all their money. I would also love to see the cheater's reputation totally ruined. However, I would only enjoy reading about something like this if the cheater was TOTALLY unrepentant. If, on the other hand, the cheater was genuinely sorry, and apologized to the wronged party, then they should deserve a second chance. Otherwise, they deserve any negative consequences they might suffer for their actions, except for murder, of course.

      I have to disagree with you about the grey areas in novels. It's true that we sometimes encounter them in life, but there's one principle I go by: what's wrong is wrong. Cheating is wrong. Murder is wrong. Taking a life might be justified in the case of self-defense, which would definitely be a grey area. But grey areas should be the exception, not the rule.

      I read somewhere, some time ago, that Hitler owned dogs that he was very kind to. Well, that doesn't take away from the fact that he was a very evil person who killed six million Jews.

      There's a HUGE problem we currently have in this day and age: moral relativism. People think that "what's wrong for you may not be wrong for me". Supposedly, there are no moral absolutes. As I pointed out above, grey areas should be the exception, not the rule. Racism is wrong. Are there any grey areas regarding this? Is there EVER a time when racism is right? Obviously not. Misogyny is wrong. Domestic violence is wrong, unless it's in the grey area of self-defense. This does happen when a woman is trying to defend herself from her partner's physical abuse, and ends up hurting or killing him.

      Denying a woman the right to pursue an education in the name of "keeping her in her place" is totally wrong. Would this ever be justified? Not in the least.

      (This is continued below.)

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    2. (Continued)

      I have read "Wuthering Heights" twice, and have NOT found anything about Heathcliff to make me feel the least bit sorry for him. True, he was an orphan. True, he was mistreated by Hindley Earnshaw. I was bullied in childhood (and in adulthood, as well). Many people have had miserable childhoods, and have not abused other people in turn. So this is no excuse.

      Another villain I could never feel any sympathy for is Voldemort, in the Harry Potter series. Nor could I feel any sympathy for Harry's Muggle family. They treated him horribly. I was SO delighted when Harry, through magic, made his cruel, racist aunt blow up like a balloon and float away into the night!

      As for Ayn Rand, I did expose myself to her viewpoints. I promptly found them despicable, and stopped reading her work. In "The Fountainhead", I couldn't believe that Howard Roark, the male MC, actually raped his girlfriend, and then went on to brag that she had enjoyed it!! This is totally unacceptable. Rand apparently agreed that there is no such thing as rape. This is also appalling.

      In exposing myself to different beliefs, I have found Wikipedia to be extremely useful. All I have to do, if I have any doubts about actually reading a book, is to look it up on Wikipedia, and read the plot summary. If I see that there are, indeed, objectionable elements in the plot, I can simply avoid reading the entire book. Lol. Time is just too precious for me to waste in reading books that will just get me upset. Of course, I can't do this for every book I'm thinking of reading, as there are recently-published books that are not summarized on Wikipedia. In that case, I check out reviews of these books on Goodreads and Amazon.

      You're very welcome for the sharing, Wendy! Thanks for such a thought-provoking comment! Sorry for the late reply.... Hope you're having a WONDERFUL week!! <3 <3 :) :)

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  6. I do not disagree that right and wrong exist. Nor would I disagree with the examples you gave falling into those categories. What I meant was that grey does exist, and I don't mind it in the novels I read. I do think there are some issues/situations where ambiguity (or grey) is worth exploring--at least for me. I am not talking about racism or murder or anything as big and heavy as that. I understand that you and others might not like going into that territory, but I do. As I mentioned in my own post, human behavior and psychology interest me. I want to know why humans make the decisions they do or act the way they do. I work in a profession in which I help families in crisis. Some of the people I work with have done reprehensible things. I do not believe all of these people are necessarily evil. We all make mistakes, make bad choices, some bigger than others, that we are not proud of. In order to help the families I serve, understanding where the came from and why they did what they did can be significant in ensuring their bad behavior doesn't happen again. It means I can help them acquire the resources they need to get on the right path. It doesn't mean I excuse their bad behavior--not at all (and some of it is beyond fixing), but it does mean I believe most--or at least some--people can change if they work at it. I wouldn't be in my chosen profession if I didn't believe that.

    It makes me sad that Wikipedia is used as the final word and source for so many things. It's good for quick searches and basic information (although accuracy can be an issue). I hope our young people and students (old and young) are not relying on it as as an authoritative source. It's a good jumping point, perhaps to learning more, but we risk forgetting how to think on our own when we don't explore different sources and dig deeper.

    The original question posed is an interesting one, that's for sure. Lots of different opinions out there in response. I think it's important to keep in mind that these are our individual opinions on the subject. Hopefully we can all respect that these are just our opinions and that it is okay to disagree.

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    1. Hi, again!

      I can understand that, since you work with people in crisis, you would need to help them overcome their reprehensible behavior. You are to be commended for the important work you're performing to help these people, as well as society at large. Those people deserve to be helped to change their lives. KUDOS to you, Wendy!!

      I see the issue of moral ambiguity in novels as different. Novels do influence people. Therefore, I don't think it appropriate for any fictional villains to be sympathetic. They might have some 'endearing' characteristics, but I don't think that should make the reader like them. That's just my opinion, though. Others might be able to handle this kind of thing, but I certainly can't. It just makes me very uncomfortable.

      This is why I have never read "A Clockwork Orange", for instance. I know what the plot is about, and I hate it. I can't be at all sympathetic to the central character, even if his mind has been toyed with by the powers that be. Yes, this is wrong, but he's a criminal. I cannot choose either side as being right.

      As for Wikipedia, I have generally found it to be pretty reliable in regards to plot summaries. I've compared their summaries with novels I've actually read, and they're very accurate. Of course, I also look up other Internet articles where other topics are concerned.

      I'm glad you found this question interesting! And it definitely refers to people's opinions on the subject. Not everyone sees this issue in the same way. Not everyone will agree, and that's perfectly all right. This is what book blogging is all about -- the friendly exchange of ideas.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Wendy! Hope you're having a WONDERFUL day!! <3 <3 :) :)

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