Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why Novels Alienate Me

To whomever's out there: you should read Mother of Sorrows by Richard McCann. It's a collection of short stories about a family that reads like a novel. Richard is also a poet & teaches at AU in WDC. I am at the point now where I rarely read novels--for some reason, novels just don't interesting me anymore. But I loved this one: the language, the development of the characters, the arc.

That is perhaps my only bit of interesting random thought (I've been sick on and off since last Thursday): why don't I like novels anymore? I mean, I simply lose patience with them after about 10 or 15 pages. Regularly. I can't decide if it's because I have a short attention span. It's certainly not that I shrink from intellectual pursuits. Or it might be that it's because I've become a cynical, jaded person, unable to empathize appropriately with others. Which would prevent me from appreciating characters in a novel. I just find myself so often thinking: why do I care about this character? I just don't care what happens to them.

The only novels I've really, really liked in the last few years have been Cormac McCarthy's novels, and stuff by Annie Proulx. Their prose style appeals to me. I like reading their sentences.

Maybe it's just that I'm too into poetry. Can you get so into poetry that novels cease to hold any appeal any more? With a poem, I can read it and re-read it and think about it and carry it with me--it doesn't have to have pretension to profundity to hold my attention. There has to be something about the language in a poem that captures my interest--something that compels me to pay attention to the language itself. In part, I don't care much what in the matter of sense or theme or content is delivered to me via the poem--I don't care for meaning to be fed to me. But I want the language to feed me.

And that is what a lot of people who are smart, yet don't like poetry don't seem to understand. They want to read the poem, reach its end, and feel that they've walked away with some kind of content or meaning that they can put in their heads or backpacks or handbags. They want to feel that something of value has been handed to them. Something they recognize. They don't want the unknown; they don't want discovery. Which is why reading novels published recently, especially the typical bookgroup choices, can be so tedious. There's so much set-up, so much verbiage, so much straight-forwardness, so much delivery, and too little discovery. The language serves as a vehicle for content and meaning, not as a vehicle for discovery, for reflection, for intimacy.

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