Thursday, February 14, 2019

"Coming Around To Fiction"


I am currently working on three books.  (Reading.  Not writing them.)

Two are non-fiction:

The Oxford History of the American People – Volume I (by Samuel Elliot Morrison) – I am currently on page 69.  But it started on page 30.

The other non-fiction book is Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare – page 13, but it started on page 1.)

The third book is fiction:
John Grisham’s The Reckoning – Disc 5.  (“Disc 5”, because I am listening to it on the treadmill.) 

Two thoughts came to me, listening to The Reckoning.  Which is surprising, because normally, listening on headphones, what comes out of them totally fills up my brain.  This time, however, there were apparently brain cells that weren’t listening, available to chronicle my spontaneous insights.

My first spontaneous insight about my fiction-reading experience was the following. 

It suddenly dawned on me how you write fiction. 

The trick is to write fiction like it’s not fiction.

The distinguishing difference being that, in fiction, the book’s “research” comes primarily from your head.

As with non-fiction, fiction requires you to believe what you‘re reading.  Otherwise, it’s fancy phrases enveloping nonsense and narratives that ring gratingly untrue.  

John Grisham generally writes legal “thrillers.”  Drawing on his background as a lawyer and a Southerner, Grisham’s details are evocatively specific, giving his work the grounding grittiness of non-fiction.  (Allowing a non-lawyer, non-Southerner to think, “That sounds right to me.”) 

The part Grisham makes up is the plot.  Which, even so, may be based on actual events.

Good fiction has to “deliver its terrain” no less persuasively than non-fiction, and perhaps even more so, fiction up against the stubborn “suspension of disbelief.” Everything occurs someplace.  Even Alice’s “Wonderland” must be a believable “Wonderland.”  Otherwise, “What am I reading?”  And, more importantly – to readers resistant to fiction – “Why?”

For me, I suddenly realized, if fiction speaks with the “Ring of Reality” of non-fiction, I’m in.  (And a little “literary stylishness” won’t hurt.)

That was my first epiphany.  My second epiphany was this.

Listening to The Reckoning, I “got” why people enjoy reading fiction, or at least that genre of fiction.  The kind that holds your attention, frees you from everyday troubles and concerns, and amiably passes the time.

People read John Grisham for the same reason I watch Law & Order. 

For the welcome absorption and harmless distraction.

Leading to the crackling illumination:

Fiction storytelling was “the original television.”

An insight that arrived just in time, as I am beginning to think about not watching television.


Perhaps.  And “ingratitude” as well, as television gave me everything I have. 

But it’s true.

Television is so “turning me off” I am seriously considering turning it off.

I shall leave “Why?” for another post, if I can conceive of a fresh way of tackling the subject.  A tentative preview?  The warning commercials for “Hepatitis C”, which I may have contracted without even knowing I have it.  And that’s just the tip of the “I-can’t-take-it-anymore” iceberg.

It’s ironic, I suppose.  The answer to “If I turn off the television, what will I do?” is a(n at least partial) replacement I have habitually maligned:

Literary fiction.

And by the way…

All television is “made up” – including “reality shows” – including those “informal chit-chats” on talk shows – including every TV script I have ever written – all of them are fiction.   (I am not touching “the news.”)

What I am doing, therefore, is not earthshaking.  I am trading “video fiction” for the kind written on the page.

I will still need “visceral connection”, as I have with Law & Order but not Criminal Minds.  It’s just that, stepping away from TV, I seek alternate relief in “made-up stuff’s” original purveyor.

Any suggestions?

I am ready to read!


Pidge said...

Get into the books by Donna Leon. The main character is a police detective trained as a lawyer, married to an aristocrat English Prof, surrounded by fascinating characters, in contemporary VENICE! The murders are secondary to the philosophical musings, political observations and food. You’ll love me.

cjdahl60 said...

I've got two recommendations for you that I think you'll enjoy. Both have great characters and compelling settings.

Timothy Hallinan has a seven book series with his main character Junior Bender. Junior is a full time professional burglar in the LA area who finds himself roped into situations with the local criminal underworld. Hallinan does a great job of portraying Junior's world and his adventures are very entertaining.

Even better is a series by Caimh McDonnell featuring his main character Bunny McGarry. It's subtitled "The Dublin Trilogy" but there's four books in the series so far. McDonnell is an Irish stand up comic in real life. All of the books are set in Ireland, the characters are all very entertaining and language is funny. You can tell that it was written by a stand up comic.

Both series will provide you with that escapism you mention in your post. Both series should be read in order. Hope you get a chance to sample these books.

Lakedog said...

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. An old fashioned adventure for our fraught age. Lots of laughs along the way. To say nothing of the dog by Connie Willis. Very droll and involves your old stomping grounds around Oxford.