Friday, March 21, 2008

Fiction that Matters

Recently, I asked a group of writers, "Can fiction truly change a persons life?"

I had been thinking about the written word, the power of thought, and how we've shared it over time. I suppose the fact that I'm diving back into New Messenger Literature in English again (a happy anthology that begins with Caedmon and ends with the the 1960's (Alice Walker and the gang) has got me thinking. It's the sort of tomb that shows up in University bookstores and is used as a doorstop by English professors, but I like it.

And when I wander down it's pages, I'm reminded that fiction has always been an instrument for which thinkers and lovers have laid out their ideas for the world to see. Politics and religion, science and philosophy, the nature of God and humans all debated in the pages of those who brought the word to print.

From Chaucer's nearly endless and unique poetry, to Alice Walker's stripped bare first person narrative (if you write in first person POV you must study Walker's steady hand), From Barrett Browning's naked love, to Robert Lowell's stark testimonies of the American Civil War - it is our stories that change the world.

One life at a time.

I was at the book store yesterday. I pursued the fiction shelves (there were several), looking for the book that would change my mind, my feelings, my world.

I bought four books yesterday. None of them fiction.

My examination of the offerings on those wooden shelves made me feel - hmmm. Vaguely bored.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for entertainment. I think it's important and I can think of several times in just the past month when I've sought out the fun and ease of something entertaining. A fluffy movie, a quick read book. Ahh, the oasis of it.

But, I've found a hole in the shelves. The books that resonate a measure of movement, of pushing forward, of calling the masses to look up, look over, look beyond.

They are out there.

My point is, they are getting more difficult to find.

I recently heard that there are somewhere in the vicinity of 200, 000 books published each year. I'm thinking those are North American stats. And they cover the gamut of subjects, uses, genres and mediums. Still, that's a lot of books.

So, where are the heroes of fiction?

I'm asking a real question.

I'm asking you.

Where have you found your heroes of fiction? Which books have changed your mind, made you turn around, made you look up, made you pray, made you hurt?

Made you believe?

I'm waiting with open mind and heart to hear from you.


Anonymous said...

Many of the works of Mark Twain, Charlies Dickens and other great authors were satire. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin demonstrated the problems of slavery. I believe there are a couple of reasons why we don't see this type of thing today. First, the publishing industry is overloaded with authors and self-publishing is taboo, so it is difficult for a satirest to receive recognition. Second, we have such a "can't we all get along" attitude today that anyone with an original thought in his head is thought evil. Third, today's authors must be able to show that their work will sell, whereas the old satirests often had contracted blank pages that they were required to fill. Fourth, today's fiction is not aimed at the influential people. It used to be that only the influential people were able to read, but today, fiction is aimed at people who appear to have time to read. There more reasons, by I will cut it short.

Bonnie Grove said...

I wish you would say more.

*nudge nudge*

I wonder if I see in you a fellow subscriber to The Wittenburg Door?

Anonymous said...

I have just read this blog for the first time and I'm very new to the whole electronic communication scene in all its forms. I read, but I'm picky. Like you, Bonnie, I see gaps in fiction . Now and then I try a book and then feel let down. One modern hero comes to mind. I feel she is presented well. And possibly because in some ways her character seems a lttle too close to home. Jamie Langston Turner's Margaret Tuttle ('Some Wildflower in My Heart'). I admire J L Turner's character development. In this same book I admire Thomas, and Birdy. I also like Marilla in Anne of Green Gables and the sequels, for the same reasons I liked Margaret Tuttle. Due to circumstances these women became hard and bitter in their outlook. They lost the ability to feel the love that was hiding inside them, and to trust the love shown to them. But they found the ability to change, to let love and grace in.
I think many modern Christian authors of fiction are afraid to let their 'heroes' be too real. They can't let them swear or lust or lie or be petty. Yet in my experience all Christians (including me) fall into some or all these and other sins.
The books I have mentioned are not great literary works, but I think they are more than fluff. There are others but I can't think of them at present. I do see some change in run of the mill fiction. Another modern book I liked was 'Courting Trouble' by Deanne Gist. The heroine makes serious mistakes and hurts herself and others and though there is a happy ending it is not of the usual romantic type.
I have to admit I like endings that are hopeful and have some happiness, and if even the content of a story is too dark I don't deal well with it. ( I read and liked Uncle Tom's Cabin... but it kept me awake many nights.) Dark and heavy stories haunt me. So I have struggled with many classic literary works. My father is a man who could be a protagonist in a classic tradgedy. All his life he has made wrong choices that have led to his downfall and his estrangement from his children and therefore his grandchildren. My heart breaks for him and for his children and grandchildren. We have all lost something precious due to his megalomania, abuse and alcoholism. Having such ongoing heaviness in my real life makes it hard to add heaviness when I'm reading for entertainment, and as you say, Bonnie, an oasis. I think it's good to have something that falls between heavy and fluffy.
I hope we see more of it because I believe there are a lot of people who are like me... they want a little fluff, but with a bit of substance. Maybe fruitcake as opposed to cotton candy.
I am writing fiction (not published yet) for that reason. After all we were told as children "a spoonful of sugsr helps the medicine go down" And it did... and does. If we can write fiction realistic heores who have real character flaws then the hard lessons they learn about God, themselves and others will go down with the "sugar"


PS I can't figure out how to italicize here... hence the Q marks

Janice Cantore said...

Heroic fiction? I read your bit and it really made me think. One book that changed my life was Christy, by Cathrine Marshall, and not that book itself, but I was so intrigued by the writing, I had to find out about the author and her non-fiction work "Beyond Ourselves" touched me deeply.
I do, sometimes, and I hate to say it, pick up a Christian novel, get disappointed by chapter three and put it down never to pick it up again. My time is precious and I won't waste it on something that does not keep my attention. Hero/heroines are too predictable, plots stale, and all I can pray is that no one says that about my work. I read the post by anonymous, some points I agree with, some I don't. There is a lack of "real" characters in Christian fiction. I read a wide variety of stuff, mostly mystery/suspense, secular as well as Christian, but I will only buy authors I know and trust to not disappoint me.
Forgive me if I've rambled and gotten off point. An author that come to mind as consistently good and real is Francine Rivers. I can't remember the name of the trilogy she wrote, but I read it early in my walk and it inspired and uplifted me, which is what I think Christian Fiction should do. Did I miss what you wanted entirely?

Bonnie Grove said...

I've read Some Wildflower in my Heart, and one thing I liked about it was how "unpreachy" it was. It was much more about a real persons journey toward Christ than it was someone's idea of what they would want a person's journey to Christ to look like.

And I liked that the end of the book wasn't the end of the story, but the beginning of new hope that would, in the future, work itself out into something different than what it was now.

I agree with having real characters with flaws, but I also think we need more writing that respects true human process over time. I think there are many people out there who, like me, are lurching and stumbling toward something bigger than themselves, something great - like God.

Bonnie Grove said...

I'm glad to hear there is someone else out there who will put down a book she's not enjoying.

My mother thinks I'm crazy. If she doesn't like the book, she makes herself read it to the end.

I will put it down. Unless it is horrible, I'll keep it around and try again at a different time. I find that my mood and state of mind when I start a book can sometimes interfer with my enjoyment of the book.

It's interesting that the writing itself can inspire. I'm reading Donald Miller's books and, truthfully, his thoughts and subject matter are rather elementary, not the gripping stuff at all, but his writing is fantastic. I'm more inspired by the words he uses than the topics he's writing on.