What Makes the Best Social Commentary Books So Memorable?
On February 15, 2016 | 0 Comments

Any writer who aspires to produce memorable and thought-provoking social commentary faces quite a challenge. Anger and outrage may motivate your initial interest, but a prolonged rant filled with abuse is unlikely to attract much attention outside the realms of the already converted, no matter how well-written or fact-driven it might be.

Good social commentary possesses a subtle character that rises above the injustice and indignation that forms its core. Readers are invited to contemplate larger implications and notice previously unrecognized connections between seemingly disparate problems. The best social commentary books are microcosms of a society that has either lost its way or buried its continuing hypocrisy under layers of denial and/or rationalization.

Another defining characteristic of strong social commentary is that it never flatters the reader by unreflectively confirming his or her biases. When encountering such work, you may alternate between complete agreement and existential disquiet, squirming in your chair as you realize your feet are being held to the fire right along with everyone else’s.

Fiction and the Expansion of Social Consciousness

There are hundreds of outstanding non-fiction social commentary books that touch on issues related to race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, war, sexual orientation, police and governmental abuse, environmental destruction, animal exploitation and the influence of the media, to name some of the major categories. All push the envelope and make the reader think, while exposing important information that should be far more widely discussed.

It is interesting to note, however, that many of the most widely read and critically praised books that address serious social themes are works of fiction. Here are just some of the most familiar titles (there are countless numbers of them and perhaps these are my favorites:

  • The Jungle
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • 1984
  • Animal Farm
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Native Son
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Invisible Man
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Slaughterhouse Five
  • Black Boy
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Kindred
  • Brave New World
  • The Color Purple
  • Catch-22
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Candide
  • Sneetches on Beaches (yes, really!)

We all encountered at least some of these great social commentary books during our high school or college days, and I’m willing to bet their characters, themes and plot lines made more of an impression on you than most of what you studied during that time.

Novels like these head lists of the best social commentary books because they are personalized, evergreen and allegorical. They may delight you with their satire, shock you with the accuracy of their prophetic visions or upset you so much they lead you to reexamine your entire worldview. They introduce you to memorable characters who seem as real as any flesh-and-blood person, and as you stand in their shoes you can see what they see and feel what they feel—and it moves you.

Breaking the Boundaries

If you plan to produce a work of social commentary, the fictional platform is certainly an option. But even if you prefer to stick to non-fiction you can still look to the great social commentary novels for inspiration.

For example, you can personalize and humanize your book by making yourself a central character in the narrative. As you tell the story of your own journey to awareness, let your readers know how you felt and how it affected your life. Let them see how you grew and changed as a human being, as you came to terms with the imperfections and grievous injustices that haunt the collective soul of our nation and our world.

By custom, fiction is generally more open, flexible and non-linear than non-fiction. But there’s no rule that says you have to stay marooned on an island of convention just because your story is based on fact.

You shouldn’t be afraid to break the mold, and here are a few suggestions that can help you do it:

  • Experiment with chronology by moving backward or forward in time.
  • Switch back and forth from first- to third-person in alternating sections.
  • Mix detailed recitations of the facts with anecdotes that involve real people.
  • Imagine the injustices you’ve identified have been eliminated and describe your vision of utopia.
  • Present nightmare scenarios as if they’ve already happened, to illustrate how serious our problems may become if they remain unacknowledged and unaddressed.

You could try all of the above, none of the above or something completely out-of-the-blue. The best social commentary books are all unique and distinctive; the most admired fiction and non-fiction writers imitate no one and neither should you.

Fact, Fiction and Everything in Between

The need for intelligent, effective social commentary has never been more acute. We know this as well as you do, and at Coquí Press we can help you reach an audience that is mature enough to hear the truth and committed enough to act upon it.

Partner with us and you’ll be working with a team of professionals who specialize in translating great ideas into reality. But we have no pre-conceived notions about how that reality can or should be presented. That is up to you as a storyteller, a researcher, a writer, a creator and a citizen of this planet.

Fact, fiction and everything in between, the most insightful social commentators have embraced them all as legitimate methods for speaking the hard truth—and at Coquí Press so have we. If you have, too, contact us about your ideas and let’s see if together we can make some magic.

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