One of Those Days

Three weird things about today

1. My shoulder hurts from too much exercise. That is a first. Feels just like RSD from too much writing, but on the wrong arm. 

2. Realized I’m really tired of fiction that has no emotional depth. Thus, I’m enjoying stuff more, but also putting more stuff down. 

3. Thinking about SF and Fantasy cons and remembered seeing Laurell K Hamilton once. She was pretty cool, and clearly loved writing the books she did. She was somewhat dismissive of their value, though, in comparison to “great” works of art like Dostoevsky. But, she said, she’d had wonderful and powerful moments were fans told her they were going through horrific life events, and her books offered them a much needed escape, a means to catch their breath and gain some emotional strength back. And that was as great a prize as any. It was a powerful anecdote she shared.  She was moved, and so was the crowd. But she capped her comment by saying that “I bet no one says that about Dostoevsky.”

Sadly, it struck a bad note with me. Not the validity of the person enjoying her fiction in a much needed time in their life, which was wonderful and important, but dismissing a classic as being unable to achieve that kind of positive impact on readers in hard times. 

I’ve written about my own experience with trauma and its impact on my reading life. And I can say that I completely understand the need for escape via fiction that had no realism in it, fiction that has tremendous psychic distance between its story and my life. I am forever in Robert E. Howard and Solomon Kane’s debt during a particular bad patch. 

But I’ve also found resonance in such times with writers who wrote more realistic (compared to REH) work (though all of it touched the fantastical), and with a greater attention to language, theme and structure than you can find in many genre novels. Herman Hesse’s STEPPENWOLFE was a lifesaver at time of intellectual fatigue. The short fiction of Gary Braunbeck reached through the numbness of a rough patch and connected with its visceral emotional resonance. Even Dostoevsky has come to my aid. And it was his command of language and deep psychologically rich work that provided me insights I’ve kept forever. My favorite being this line, from THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV

“Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering.” Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov  

It’s a simple, elegant, and powerful sentence. The kind that hits you like a hammer and leads to deep and important thoughts about your own life, and the nature of evil. 

Read whatever you love, love whatever you read, but don’t dismiss the value of classics, realism, or other genres for their ability to reach in and provide comfort, connection, and resonance. It’s all good grist for the emotional mill. 

JSR

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About ridlerville

Jason S. Ridler is a historian, writer, and improv actor. He is the author of A TRIUMPH FOR SAKURA, BLOOD AND SAWDUST, the Spar Battersea thrillers and has published over sixty stories in such magazines and anthologies as The Big Click, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Out of the Gutter, and more. He also writes the column FXXK WRITING! for Flash Fiction Online. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He lives in Richmond, CA. Visit him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jason.ridler.56
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4 Responses to One of Those Days

  1. Lynda says:

    Ha–LKH’s comment is funny, because the realistic British and European 19th century novel is one of my favorite tools for escape. They’re so massive I get lost in them, and they’re so wise about human nature they generally enable me to take the long view on whatever is troubling me.

    • ridlerville says:

      Coolio. As far as I’m concerned, Dickens or Tolstoy or whoever reads like a secondary world fantasy to me. Most novels from a hundred years do, because they are!

      • Lynda says:

        I never thought of it like that, but I think you nailed it. I actually read almost no secondary-world fantasy, but I do read a lot of classics (using the word in the broadest sense to mean ‘thousands of years of literature’) and I think it definitely fulfills that urge for me.

      • ridlerville says:

        Always happy to help! I know when I read some historical works, it’s as immersive as a fantasy novel (TE Lawrence’s Seven Pillars f Wisdom comes to mind). The past is a foreign country, and often a fantastical one!

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