On Reading Important (or not-so-important) Fiction
I picked up a book touted as “one of the most important works of the 20th century.”
Halfway through, I quit reading. I wanted to finish, to find out what made this book so important. It was just too painful.
Kind of like the self-inflicted injury I suffered last week. Do you know making the bed can be dangerous? I was tugging the corner of the finished sheet over the mattress and my hands slipped. The momentum pulled my head forward and it had a forceful meeting with the trim of the headboard. Ouch.
Equally painful was reading the “important” book. The protagonist was selfish, cruel, and tells us the story of his life from the mental hospital where he is a patient. It was a depressing read.
I perused some reviews to see if there was any hope for redemption of the “hero.” There didn’t seem to be. A few drew some allegories to larger historical events of the time, but reading the book was like bashing my head against the bed frame. Repeatedly. I would get involved with the story, and then the protagonist would do something so despicable or perverted that I had to close the book.
What doesn’t help are the those who commented on the negative reviews, saying people didn’t like this book were some for of literary cretins (my paraphrase), turning their noses up at a gourmet meal spread before them, crying for a Big Mac and fries.
Well, I like Big Macs. Better to eat them with company I like than shrimp and champagne with depressing or vile people.
I tried reading this book, not because it was “important” but because I thought I could learn something about writing. I did.
The author had an amazing grasp of how to communicate emotion and could make the most mundane incidents highly readable. For that he deserves the praise he’s received.
But that’s not the only reason I read. I read for pleasure, for entertainment, for escape. A world without hope isn’t one I want to spend time in.
Fiction is often described as a mirror the author holds up to readers. This is true. But the mirror doesn’t have to show only the bad and the ugly. That, to me, is a distortion of whatever truth the author wants to convey.
Maybe to some my literary tastes are too plebian to appreciate such an “important” work. They can wallow in the misery and despair of their gourmet literature. I’ll joyfully feast on granola, salads, and the occasional Big Mac, books that offer this world full of trials at least the prospect of redemption.
So that’s my rant, my perspective. Anyone have an opinion to share?