So, I've written here before about Being Susceptible to Fiction, and I still think it's true (it's not so easy to disabuse me of my half-baked notions!) but what's hitting me about it lately is how it affects reading tastes.
For me, there are certain intense books where I have to put the book down, repeatedly, because I can't take it. And what I think is, that it's just too easy for it to seem real to me. So if everything signals to me that, say, a person is about to make the most terrible choice possible (oh fictional characters, why must you always develop the story?), I have to look away. And the beautiful thing about a book (unlike a movie, say), is that I can.
But…is everyone like this? Is it like being a super-taster except with your mind instead of your tongue? I kind of think so, based on exactly no evidence! This post is, perhaps, the very epitome of half-baked theories: Gee, it's true for me, let me make a semi-grand extrapolation based on it!
So now, I must ask you: true for you too? As a reader, do you fall for it too much? Do you need to put down the book when it gets to intense? Or do you fall on the other end of the spectrum: are you impervious to the foibles of the fictional? Except, if that is true, is that maybe why some people don't like to read?
Help, I need answers!
I'm trying to remember how I got here. Part of it was—sob!—no doubt due to the news that Mary Berry is following suit with Mel and Sue and The Great British Bake-Off is no more.
And then I was thinking about Adopted Jane, in which a 12-year-old orphan is asked to visit two different families over one summer, and then has to choose which one to stay with. And (it could have been just me) but a large part of the experience seemed to revolve around the different foods at each home. With the lonely widow, she had a yellow cake mixed up in a bowl! And a floating island! With the farm-friendly family, she had biscuits and fried chicken!
And then theres the sausages Lucy has with Mr. Tumnus, as part of the very lovely tea. Or the hamper full of food that the beavers pack. Or, dear god, the Turkish delight!
I guess it's not just children's books, I mean Hemingway and his onion sandwiches are very compelling. But I feel like there is a particular and special connection children's books have with food, and I am not sure why that is. It's not just the candy, right—not all Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Surely adults love food just as much. And yet…. For some reason right now it is making me both hungry and wistful.
Do you have a favorite children's book meal? I keep thinking of the box of chocolates in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the one that's tied up with the wide lavender ribbon. And if I could only taste that yellow cake, I feel sure I would know why Jane chose her.
Sometimes you just really need a book. You may be in a situation needing distraction, or comfort, or—damnit, you just need a book, I don't need to explain it to you, of all people. A good book, the kind that you find yourself wishing for dinner or conversation to be over, so you can get back to it.
But—and I recognize this isn't a news flash—not all books can be that book. This has been an obscurely disappointing reading summer for me. I've been reading all sorts of different things—Trollope again (usually so reliable); Agatha Christie; Richard Price; Dorothy Sayers (a first for me). And truly, the most satisfying part of it, reading-wise, was 1) watching Lucy get into Agatha Christie for the first time (I sent her off on a bus trip recently with And Then There Were None, and I felt like I'd given her a most precious gift), and 2) having Diana, with whom I had to share a bed for a few nights for heat wave/air conditioning reasons, read Brandon Sanderson aloud to me. Which was glorious.
These were high peaks in my reading pleasure this summer—there's no question. But still, I long for a book (to read) of my own. Nothing seems to grab me the way it once did, I feel like watching Chestnut and Diana dive into the reading they love is a bit like seeing them devour an appealing meal from behind glass. I want some!
I admit that it is possible the problem is me. I'm tired and crabby and stressed this summer, which makes me a less than perfect reader. But, I just wish…that I was coming upon the Kate Atkinson detective novels for the first time. Or…just something, anything, that compels me. Right now I'm lazily going between I Love You, Beth Cooper, which is more like a TV script than a novel (fine if that's your thing), and The Chess Men, which is too convinced of its own gravity to enjoy. It's possible I am a bitter, difficult to satisfy jerk, incapable of enjoying anything. Anyone know a book for someone like that?
Do you want to know what Diana has for summer reading? This:
Remember when I complained that it was stuff that was too easy and not compelling, like The Secret Life of Bees? Well, here we are with language poetry and images and it turns out that I am NOT READY. Not ready for her to be reading things I can't fully grasp. And haven't heard of before. I am not ready for her to set off on a path I am unfamiliar with. I am not ready for her to go away.
I am not ready for many, many things. Maybe I can find a way to be ready for this?
Apparently, summer reading will get you one way or another.
Things are at sixes and sevens (sevenses?) in my life, but happily in a fairly positive way. (Though, of course, I do live in this world, which seems to be hurtling full speed over a cliff. But I want to be clear, here, that other than witnessing the horror, I myself am well and safe with nothing to complain of.)
Still, though, for an easily unsettled person like myself, it has been…unsettling: most of my house is (temporarily) unavailable to me, because we are renovating the kitchen. My mailbox for this blog has been piling up with boxes. My cats have been bearing with the renovation by shedding clumps of hair and hiding under bed in a traumatized manner.
So today, in the midst of all the heat and cat hair, I sat with my sister and nephew, while I cleaned out the litter box, and they opened the boxes of books. A great and strange variety came out, among them this:
OK, I know: it is possibly not great literature. However? When we went out to lunch afterwards, and my excellent nephew started going through the mazes and all, I was struck with a longing that I might have my own activity book.
It is possible, I acknowledge, that this is the thought of an overtaxed brain in a world gone mad. But still, mazes! Puzzles! Scribble games! Nonstop laughs!
I guess this is merely the first step toward getting an adult coloring book, isn't it? And yet I feel so far from that. Still: the feeling was there. If you see me with the Trollope Activity Book (it would have hedge mazes! Riddles! Someone please stop me!) send help. (Except maybe don't? Because likely I will be really happy.)