Monday, January 20, 2014

Reading for Comfort and Moral Superiority

Many readers approach novels with specific demands such as puzzles to be solved, moral choices to be made, adventures to be embarked upon, quests, and discoveries.  There are as many of these demands as there are sections in bookstores, categories in libraries, and secret yearnings within the hearts of readers.

In like manner to so many readers, you enjoy the sense of eavesdropping on the more memorable characters as they are confronted with moral choices, presented with temptations, played upon by the more knowledgeable writers who have learned the secrets of withholding enough information to cause the fuse of curiosity to be lit.

Under these circumstances, a writer as dreadful as Dan Brown becomes transformed into a living example of story trumping style; you read him in a state of constant awareness of his many narrative defects, but as well in equal if not greater awe of his ability to keep you turning his pages in spite of your growing cynicism.

In your time, indeed, in your own family, you have had dealings with those who turn to reading as an anodyne for the disappointments, ruptures, frustrations, and boredom of their daily routine, wishing to be embarked with one or more characters whose wishes are for comfort, rich pleasures, and some sense of control over the more dreary aspects reality leaves us as gifts when it comes to visit.

In the recent years you've had classes of undergraduate students, you've begun to suspect the reasons why so many of them are interested in reading and writing in the genre best known as fantasy.
The major ingredient in fantasy is magic of some sort or other.  Small wonder fantasy is popular among the age range from about thirteen onward toward twenty.  

Even smaller wonder, you have this quarter a student who is fast approaching twenty; she has already written three novels, is at work on the fourth.  And yes, they all have somewhere within them an aspect that moves us away from the reality we see, inching toward a reality in which there are quests and discoveries of a higher order.

More than once, you've heard the complaint about certain types of fiction that it is too violent, too mannered, too structured, too much like the fact of our not being quite able to identify the onion and garlic eater in our midst but nonetheless aware of the presence of onion and garlic in the atmosphere about us.

To your tastes and sensitivities, such stories force stories that are more plausible, more fraught with the potential of practical solutions to the problems all about us.  These problems are often spoken of as having no practical solution, rather needing some leader-as-dictator to hold the work and philosophy in place.

The fancier the uniform, the more absurd its premise.

A story can be the equivalent of a softball lob, a concerned mother telling a crying child "There, there."  You have no quarrel with such individuals although, much in the manner of vegans, they will tell you at great length how they see story as a reflection of happiness.

Reflect on.  Depths of the darker side of awareness provide natural burrowing places for the animals of despair, pain, humiliation, and embarrassment.  Without such aspects, what we think of as humor emerges as mere joke, at once impersonal and seemingly manufactured.  

Your interests are drawn to the individuals who were once embarrassed to cry in public but who are now aware that on any given occasion, they are as apt to laugh aloud as cry.

There is a form of dignity dwelling within individuals who'd come to believe they had no more dignity left to offer up when the debt collectors come about, looking for payment.

Some readers, who claim they have had all the despair and gloom they can handle, unwittingly put themselves forth as sources of humor to the rest of us, we who have taken a more Marxist view of the human condition.  In this view, we see CEO's of large corporations butting heads for year end bonuses at about the time wealthy college graduates are banging their brain pans against one another for the weekly presentation of contact sports.

We continue reading until we become aware our demands are largely ignored.  Then we begin writing.

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