Today I’d like to talk a bit about fiction.
No, not the stories that people think I make up for the newspaper, but rather the fiction books that adorn my many bookcases at home.
Do you remember when you were a kid and someone tried to get you to sit down and read a book?
Why would I want to do that? I could be outside playing with my dog, hiking in the woods, playing ball, riding my bike. Why in the world would I want to sit perfectly still and stare at paper?
Did any of you feel that way as a kid? There were so many ways to have fun, and staying inside didn’t sound like one of them.
Grade school teachers have heard that a thousand times, I’m sure. And the responses I’ve heard usually go something like this:
Books are the ultimate escape. You can travel the world, experience things you’ve never seen with your own eyes. You can have great adventures, be anyone you want. A reader lives hundreds of lives, but a non-reader only lives one.
Does that sound about right?
As Neil Gaiman once wrote, “A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.”
What I inferred from those conversations with teachers is that I can live the life of a regular Joe, but I can read books that are so much more. I can be a pirate or an astronaut, maybe a pirate astronaut. I can have superpowers or be a supervillain.
So why are there so many boring books out there?
A little true story here.
When I was married, my wife once told me that she almost broke up with me early in the relationship after the first visit to my house.
Along the right wall of my living room is a bookcase devoted just to Stephen King. Another bookcase has Dean Koontz. Others have science fiction and fantasy.
One look at my bookcases, and Sarah was ready to dump me.
“I saw all those horror novels and thought you must be a serial killer,” she said.
There are also lots of humor, sports and how-to books in my house, but those didn’t concern her. She was opposed to my books that were too far out there for her tastes.
Turns out that she was more of an Oprah Book Club kind of gal.
Let me just randomly choose one of Oprah’s many recommendations.
“August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead.”
Geez, how depressing. I know books can let you see the world, but I don’t wanna do it while sitting in the passenger seat holding an urn. This is not my idea of a pleasant escape from everyday life.
With all the funerals I’ve attended in the past couple of years, this hits too close to home. I’d rather read about Bigfoot or space aliens.
Let’s try again. Next book on the reading list.
“College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe’s life is ever the same. Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran — and a murderer.”
Okay, I was pretty bored right up until the last three words “and a murderer.” That last part might be enough to interest me. But if it turns out to be more August Shroeder morose, I’m going to put the book down.
I don’t get it. I thought fiction was to escape from everyday life, but “serious” literature just seems to be more of the same stuff we already have in our lives.
I work at a newspaper. I get plenty of everyday life stories right here. When I’m home with my feet up and a throw across my lap, I want to enjoy myself.
So on my trip to Barnes & Noble on Monday, I pulled a book off the bargain shelves: Dean Koontz’ The City.
“The City, a place where enchantment and malice entwine, courage and honor are found in the most unexpected quarters, and the way forward lies buried deep inside the heart. Brilliantly illumined by magic dark and light, their unforgettable story is a riveting, soul-stirring saga.”
Now THAT is more like it.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.