Thursday, January 19, 2017

True Love and Literature

I remember it well--that first glorious rush of certainty that at last--at last--I had found the perfect book, a book I could only adore. I was about ten, and the book was Andre Norton's Ordeal in Otherwhere, which you can currently find in the multi-book collection Warlock. Ordeal in Otherwhere had everything: a female heroine who was not a toxic little wuss. A meerkat familiar. Glorious witchy dragon-lady sorceresses. Challenges bigger than the usual girl-lit ick of makeup and clothes and who you were going to date. Dreams. Sensa Wonda. Heady stuff for a girl who wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up, and whose early reading material included Greek myths. Of course, I promptly forgot both the name of the author and the name of the book, and spent the next ten years reading through every book that seemed like it--and came to love the whole genre in the process.

Cover, Warlock, by Andre Norton Source: Amazon Books Some stories take you that way. You are barely a paragraph in and you already know you're in good hands, carried along by writers and, in film, with performers and production teams you dare trust. Your standards and expectations may change as you get older, but you still know that rush of excitement when you begin to read and realize that you're in the presence of competence and charisma. Your favorite may not be my favorite, and mine may not be my sister's--but we still know it when we encounter it. The sting, the sizzle, the sense of falling into the zone, where the story is real and your heart and mind are committed for as long as it takes.

Of course, we all know what it's like to fall out of the zone, too. Fast or slow, logical or puzzling, sometimes a writer loses us. We may know just why. (Zippers on Regency dresses! Hot chocolate in medieval Europe! Men who have nothing better to do the night before battle but comfort their sobbing lovers!) We may never know. (I am still trying to make it through several books recommended by trusted friends, and failing to bond. They are well-written books--I just don't give a damn.)
Here's the thing--loving a work of fiction is collaborative. It's what the work itself brings to you, and what you bring to it. When it works it's true love. When it works, it becomes a landmark in your heart, for days, for years, for decades. You can read the map of your own life and growth in your favorite fiction. There's the stuff you grow out of--sometimes with a gasp of relief. I am so very glad I only loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull for a matter of a few months in my mid-teens. There are books that become permanent features of how you think and understand fiction itself: I will never get over the point at which I realized the complexity of Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, spending much of a week taking it apart and putting it back together, realizing how scene after scene satisfied multiple purposes within both the logic of the plot, the logic of the theme--and the rigorous logic of the thesis. I had been taught that level of reading before--but never accomplished such a complicated analysis solo, without prompting or teacher support. It changed my idea of "skilled writing" forever more. We become fluent in fiction over time, finding out what our own personal zone is like--what we ourselves respond to.

We all have favorites, too. I love R.A. Lafferty--I could write a love song to his short stories, and entire rhapsodies to The Reefs of Earth. I love Connie Willis--almost any Connie Willis. But I also love David Weber's Honor Harrington, pretty much all of Bujold's characters and stories, Sharon Shinn's fascinating different fantasy realms, each distinct, each with a magic unlike anything else I recall seeing. I love Tanith Lee's Night's Master, and still love Asimov's Foundation--and his Daneel Olivaw novels. I love Ready Player One. We live in what I honestly think is the true Golden Age of the imaginative arts. They have become the fictional language of our culture. Whether we are talking space opera or horror novel, comic superhero or dashing vampire leading man, hot modern urban witch or futuristic starship captain or a major in the space marines, we tell our stories in the language of "what if," because for many of us the language of gritty realism wasn't big enough to say what needed saying.

Cover, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline Source: Amazon What have you recently fallen in love with? Are there any new writers or film-makers who have stolen your heart away? Or old classics you either never read before, or only just fell in love with, that rattled you to the core? Let us know what has caught your mind and heart, so we can help you share and promote the good stuff. Because, in the immortal words of Princess Bride: Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world -- except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe.

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