The “I”s don’t necessarily have it

For some reason I am not too comfortable with admitting the following: I don’t often like books that are told in the first person.

When I read “me” or “I” as the narrative in the story I tend to put the book back on the shelf.  There have been few stories that have used this point of view that have sucked me in on the first page.  The obvious one that comes to mind is The Hunger Games (but the pace of that story was so fast that I could barely register the first person story point due to my heart pumping like a jack hammer).

I have a reason though.

When I read a story that is in the first person I feel that I am potentially missing parts of the story that could be told from other perspectives.  I like to know what is going on.  If I am at a party I want to know what is happening in all the other rooms.  It is the 3rd person observer in me who likes to watch people.  When a character is speaking from the first person I get irritated with that character.  How do you know that John, whom you (as the first person character) are having an argument with, has become thoughtful following the hateful words you flung at him?  What if he just had gas and needed a moment to ensure he didn’t fart in front of you?  I realize this is extreme in my reasoning but I guess the bottom line is I don’t trust that I am getting all sides of the story.  First person stories are, let’s face it, only about one side.

To me an enriching story is one that is fueled with hues, colours, different viewpoints, experiences and observations.  The point of view of the observer is a role that I find most comfort in (as do most introverts) and the most interesting.  I don’t just want one view point in the stories I read, I want them all.  As the reader, I am omnipotent.  So yes, that probably means that deep down I have trust issues coupled with probably needing to become more active in life and less of an observer.  Maybe throw some control issues (God complex) into the mix.  However, this post isn’t about me and the therapy we all know I need but rather, just another book snob confession.  And this was a tough one for me; so tough that I didn’t even put it down on my Confessions of a Book Snob page.

Again, I realize I am potentially missing out on some amazing stories and I am never completely close minded to the first person points of view, I just have a harder time getting in to them.

Anyone else?  I would welcome some arguments supporting them.

And yes, I realize I am right now, writing in the first person.  But my life is not a book of fiction.


Or is it?


About Geeky Book Snob

Learning stuff since birth. Happy introvert who likes socializing when she's not busy being an introvert who likes to read.

Posted on August 21, 2012, in General Musings & Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I actually read and like both points of view. But I see what you’re saying about first person. We definitely miss out on information when it’s told from one point of view. I actually think that was one of the main problems with The Hunger Games trilogy – so much of the action happens off-screen, and we just sort of get a summarized “oh, yeah, all this stuff happened while you were sleeping,” and that’s not really the best way to tell a story.

    That said, though, just because a book is told from the third person doesn’t mean that we’ll get all the facts. Harry Potter was told from third person, but we don’t get all sides, either. And first person narratives can eventually lead to discovering other motivations – we just learn along with the main character.

    You bring up an interesting point, though. It’s always interesting to see which people prefer first and which prefer third. 🙂

    • You are so right! Sometimes third person stories have waaaay too much information and you are begging for the author to get on with it. And you are right again about some first person view points revealing some great information. I am open to them for sure, they just aren’t always my first choice. However, I have been reading more of them in the last couple of years. Years back I could barely read any. I too always like knowing what people’s books preferences are.

  2. I’ve run into people who are allergic to first-person narration, but none of them have really been able to articulate why, so this is nice. I personally don’t have a strict preference. I do, however, like an unreliable narrator to screw with me every now and then, so I sometimes give first person the edge.

    • I was hoping I could get my reasoning across. Again, I am not totally opposed to first person, I have read quite a few of them. But they are more difficult for me to get into. And when the first person is in the voice of a man? Even harder, I almost always end up hearing a woman’s voice in my head. It’s intimidating to admit it because so much of who we are and what we like is connected to our inner selves/spirituality so what does that say? Am I a know it all? Sometimes. Should I relax a bit more and take it easy. Probably 🙂 Thank you for your comment though, I do appreciate it. I also like your point about the narrator screwing with you, I admit, that is a nice surprise when that happens.

    • And you know what, thinking on it more. Sometimes a story can only be told from a first person point of view. The story calls for it.

      • “I was hoping I could get my reasoning across.”

        I think you did, especially considering that a hang-up like this is nearly impossible to explain. When it comes to personal taste, most people are content to just have their reaction and leave it at that, but then they miss out on some potentially useful self-knowledge (you know, “the unexamined life” and all). I’d just say don’t let the introspection drive you crazy.

        Ultimately, I think that while first person is the most natural way for most people to tell a story, that doesn’t always mean it’s the most natural way to receive it.

  3. I think it depends on how well the author constructs the story. I don’t think it matters whether it’s written in first/second/third person, I think it’s how the author manipulates it to achieve a certain outcome. It depends on style, skill, and motive. Have you read any novels classified as postmodern? How about “Weetzie Bat” by Francesca Lia Block? It’s a young adult novel that she classifies as “pop magic realism” and it’s not told in first person, but it’s strange. It appears very impersonal, like a narrator without a bias, but I think that’s a part of the point. It’s very intriguing. You should look into it. 🙂

    • I think you are right. It only takes me a few seconds of reading first person to decide if it is a rhythm that I can get into. I recently finished The Witch’s Daughter which was written in the first person and it hooked me right away, but there was a certain fluidness to it that I was really attracted to. I’ve never read Weetzie Bat before, nor heard of that term but now I’m curious.

  4. Lorraine Gouland

    I take your point and can’t disagree although I have no personal preference. Having said that, I recently graduated with an MA in Creative Writing and the novel I started for my dissertation began life with a third person narrator but it was too cold, too distant so I had to start again in the first person.
    As to getting to know everything that’s going on in all the other rooms at your party, you must have a third person omnipotent otherwise you have third person limited which is not vastly different to first person.
    Golly, it’s a complicated business.

  5. Well said! I have no strong objection to the first-person narrative, but I do feel like it hinders certain books. In fact, when I wrote my review of The Hunger Games back in August, one of the only disparaging things I had to say about the book was that the first-person narrative hurt the storytelling.

    The other thing that really bothers me about books written in first-person is that it allows the author to get lazy about past vs. present tense. Drives me crazy!

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