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Did You Like It Or So Many Other Things’d It?

by Callie Oettinger on April 4, 2014

I didn’t like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it, yet some five years later, his short stories still drift into my head.

They arrive with Sadness and Inspiration and, in their wake, leave me struggling with the reality of the fiction.

I didn’t like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it. Instead, I so many other things’d Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it—and learned from it.

In 2006 I helped share the documentary The War Tapes.

After watching a screener I sent him, a long-retired veteran relayed his plans to share the film with others.

My reply?

I’m glad you like it.

Without pause, he said:

I didn’t say I liked it. We need to learn from it.

In the years that followed, like grew with Facebook, as a popular way to nod our heads toward a book, an article, a movie, a quote, a picture, and so on – thus making like a stand-in for hate, love, amazing, tragic, astonishing, silly, wonderful, moronic, intolerable, and numerous other descriptives.

With Facebook’s watering down of like and the comments of the veteran in mind, my response to “Did you like it?” today often arrives in two parts.

The first part addresses the craft.

I admire Uwem Aspan’s writing in Say You’re One of Them. Relentless. Honest. Well-crafted. Brave.

The second part addresses the story itself.

I fought an urge to throw up while reading the short stories within Uwem Aspan’s Say You’re One of Them. I didn’t like the stories, but I kept reading. I didn’t like what happened to the children. I didn’t like the Hell in which they lived, nor the people around them.

So did I like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them? No.

I admired his writing. I was saddened by his stories. I was inspired and terrified by his characters. I learned about myself through my reaction to his stories, as well as the realities of others through his fiction. But . . . I didn’t like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them. I everything else’d Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them.

Just as my answer to “Did you like it?” evolved, so did my approach to sharing. Gone are the days of wanting others to like a project I’m sharing. Whatever the project, fiction or nonfiction, the focus isn’t on getting others to like, but on getting them to learn.

I go back to the comment “I didn’t say I liked it. We need to learn from it.” It came with an open mind, a willingness to go beyond like. That open mind is what I try to maintain when I read and what I strive to reach when I share. It doesn’t have to like. I just do everything possible to keep it open to learn.

Note: This post is a part of the “What It Takes” series, running on Steven Pressfield’s blog.

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