Friday, August 13, 2010

A Major Escapist

When I was in college I dated a guy who absolutely loved a certain English professor. So I naturally signed up for TWO classes by said professor the next semester. Then somewhere between registration and the first day of class my boyfriend and I broke up. And that English professor? Well, let's just say that I should've known better than to take English advice from an Accounting major...

The reason I bring up this story is that ever since taking this professor's class I've felt guilty about reading strictly for enjoyment. He once gave a lecture on the value and purposes of literature. The most simplistic and least fulfilling purpose, according to him, was to read as an escape. Literature written and read only to entertain was just one step above completely useless.

And so I've spent the last 10 (okay, maybe 15) years secretly escaping into "useless" books and feeling guilty about it. I try to have an intellectual sounding backup so that when people ask me what I'm reading I can cover my tracks. For example, right now I have two books on my nightstand. One is "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" and the other is "Yearning for the Living God." You better believe if you ask me what I'm reading, I'm going to say one of these (and I'm not lying-- I really am reading them. Just... slowly). But pay no attention to the Twilight in the corner. I'm certainly NOT reading anything so frivolous as that. *nervous laugh* I'm an intellectual, after all. I don't read books just to be *gasp* entertained. Perish the thought!

Then I got into writing and learned that the primary purpose of a book, are you ready for this, is to entertain! Oh sure, it can have other purposes too, but if the primary motive isn't simply to tell an entertaining story, then the book usually goes flat. The reader can tell when they are being preached at, lectured to, or any number of other things ending in a preposition.

Believe it or not, it actually took me a long time to get reconciled to this fact. I literally struggled for years with the idea of expending so much time and energy just to write a story that might make a few people laugh. But I could never think of an idea that I felt had any merit. All my stories were too... fluffy. I never thought myself capable of writing the next great American novel, or the book that would change the world (and I'm not even going to address the fact that a book that is often denigrated and criticized for being "fluff" actually did change the world. Maybe you've heard of it? The little book I already mentioned called "Twilight." I challenge anyone to argue that it hasn't had an impact on American culture. But I digress...).

The idea that it was bad to write books strictly for entertainment and escape was so ingrained in me that even when I heard otherwise from editors and agents I still wouldn't have believed it. Except that a few years ago an interesting thing happened to me. I was sitting in the hospital while my husband was asleep in the bed, suffering from a fairly severe injury. It had been a bleak day with a lot of bad news. I was depressed, concerned, and unsure of what was going to happen next. I found myself wandering down to the gift shop, looking for some sort of emotional reprieve. As soon as I got there, I was immediately drawn to their small selection of books. I didn't want anything too heavy. I certainly didn't want anything heart-wrenching or earth-shattering. I just wanted to escape into another world for a moment.

The book I bought and read during that time literally carried me through some pretty dark moments over the next couple weeks. Since then, I've pondered all the times that a good book has helped me through a difficult situation. I've been surprised to realize just how many there are. These books have been like good friends to me, lending me a hand and lifting my burden right when I needed it.

So what's the moral of this story? No moral, just some of my thoughts. Hope you found them entertaining...

1 comment:

  1. Wow. You made my WHOLE cotton candy point, girl. And so beautifully. Thank you! Just lovely.