author C.C.Cole's blog

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On Stories and Culture

Swedish "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

American "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

If there’s anything I like best about fiction or non-fiction it’s the setting of the story the author drops me in to.  Like other readers, I want to feel the world, the characters, the buildings, the clothing, whatever it is, the setting and culture of the story is every bit as part of the story as the plot itself.

As an American, I do read many novels that take place in the United States, like political, crime, and legal thrillers.  While these are enjoyable and are part of the “mainstream genre,” I get a treat when I pick up a book with a setting elsewhere in the world, having little to nothing to do with the United States.  It’s like traveling without traveling (of course not exactly the same), but I find it refreshing to see how circumstances in my own country happen in other countries.  Though cultures may vary, on some level people are the same when it comes to love, hate, courage, fear, and revenge.

A lot of my reading of non-US stories has been in biographies, like Napoleon, Churchill, and Attaturk.  I’ve found some novels with excellent historical backdrops, like Elizabeth’s Marshall’s “When Fate Dictates” or Paul Anthony’s international crime ace novel “Bushfire.”  Fortunately I haven’t run into many readers set on “American only” novels; to me that would defeat the purpose of reading; we want to read and expand our minds instead of reeling them in.  Also, some of the most treasured classics are non-American writers (Shakespeare, Austen, amongst many others).

But with my film obsession, I do have a bit more scrutiny.  I’ve seen enough of the “Foreign film” category and in this day of filmmaking, good films are created in many countries.  I tend to prefer subtitles with actors from the setting created by the story over an “American-ized” version.  As I write this, believe me, I’ve been taken to task with arguments, especially with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” films.  I agree, I liked both films, both were well acted, and Daniel Craig is never a bad thing on screen.  Also, point made about which was more loyal to the book.  But, overall, I like seeing actors I don’t see everyday.  Other examples would be Dutch film “Black Book,” and “Downfall,” which were excellent historic films made by the culture that lived the history.  As well-produced and hyped as “Valkyrie” was, it didn’t give the message “Downfall” did, though the story deserved telling. 

Though film viewers and readers have preferences, what’s good about the writing/film industry is variability (controversial these days).  We have a lot to choose from and I read and see other cultural stories as a further expansion of the human experience, through words or film.


  1. I wish there was a way to keep the language authentic in writing like there is in movies with subtitles. My current WIP has the setting of ancient Greece and beta readers keep asking me,"Would they have used that word back then?" No, they wouldn't have used any of the words I've given them to say because they didn't speak English.

  2. Thanks for the comment, and I agree. One of the criticisms I agree about "A Song of Ice and Fire" (Game of Thrones" series is the modern-day profanity.

  3. I love reading good books written by people from other countries. When I was heavy into conducting research on my Welsh ancestors, I read a lot of books and materials and sites from Welsh writers. Even though it was all in English, the forms and word choices were different in some cases. I'm reading a book right now by a Welsh writer, and I'm taking notes furiously, on her word choice, the way she writes dialog, etc. I love being transported to foreign lands, especially if the scene-setting language is above average.