The meaning of everyday things

 A bottle of beer is just a bottle of beer . . . except when it’s not. Sharing a drink with a friend is usually unremarkable, but if the last time you saw that friend, he was going on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that bottle in his hand is a statement. If you’re one of his family and friends who take the sacrament at church every Sunday, the beer means one thing. If you’re the friend who’s holding your own bottle, it means something else. In a world where we can get almost anything from anywhere, items themselves have become less tethered to place. I order my Ritter Sport chocolate from Amazon, but I remember the days when it was hard to find outside of Germany. For writers, that means it takes a little more effort to convey the meaning of things without over explaining. When you’re introducing readers to a new place, those things matter, but having a light touch is hard (at least for me!). As a reader I love it when an author introduces me to something new about a culture I didn’t know without making too big a deal of it. Linda Castillo did a lovely job of this in Among the Wicked with her all-women quilting sessions. Without saying too much, Castillo made it clear that these gatherings were a little less guarded than they would have been with men present. A quilt was more than just a quilt. The same can be said of Jack Reacher’s famous toothbrush, although in that case the thing conveys the lack of connection to place. Any favorite examples of everyday things that take on special meaning in novels you’re writing or reading? Is the thing connected to place or not?     

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