Reading Gaps: Mine, and Yours?

Because of all the time I spent trying to promote my new literary-trivia book during the past six weeks, I ironically managed to read only one novel (Jorge Amado’s interesting Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands).

That’s not a good thing for a literature blogger. πŸ™‚ Also, the near-total absence of fiction negatively affected my mood (as did the various new outrages from America’s mean-spirited Republican leaders). Novels can be fun, relaxing, exciting, educational, and/or take you to “another place.” Suddenly, for the first time since a previous reading gap a couple of decades ago, I wasn’t getting much of that.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, to quote Joni Mitchell.

But I’m now getting back to reading more fiction again — starting with Fanny Burney’s 1778 novel Evelina, which I’m in the middle of. One highlight of that often-funny book is the hilarious way English and French characters fling insults at each other. But there’s also deeper stuff about a woman’s place in society, the complexity of relationships, family, country life vs. London life, and more.

It’s fascinating to experience any kind of life at that time through the eyes of a female author. I’ve read and enjoyed a number of 18th-century novels — Voltaire’s Candide, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, etc. — but, up until now, none by women, for the simple reason that there weren’t a whole of published books by them back then. Rigid gender roles, sexism, patriarchy, and all that — which of course persisted into the 19th century, yet we thankfully still got Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, Louisa May Alcott, and other revered 1800s female authors.

One can definitely see the 1752-born Burney’s influence on Austen, who took her Pride and Prejudice title from a phrase in Fanny’s Cecilia novel. Other interesting facts (outlined in a chapter of my literary-trivia book): Burney wrote four novels and eight plays, kept a journal for 72 years (from 1768 until her death in 1840), worked in the court of King George III from 1786 to 1790, and underwent a harrowing mastectomy in 1811.

The next novels in my queue: Donna Tartt’s first book The Secret History (I loved her third novel The Goldfinch and mostly loved her second novel The Little Friend) and then Dream Palace by Amanda Moores, who happens to be the wife of a very well-read regular commenter here — jhNY.

What have been your experiences (if any) with reading gaps? Why did you read little or no fiction for a period of time? How you did you feel about that? What got you back to reading fiction?

Here’s a review of, and a video interview about, my new literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

Speaking of books, fellow WordPress blogger M.C. Tuggle has written a new “modern fantasy” novel titled The Genie Hunt. I haven’t read it myself, but if you want to learn more about it, click here.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column, about my congressman’s awful vote for Trumpcare, is here.

If You Were Trying to Convince People to Read Fiction, What Would You Say?

Most people who follow this blog are avid fans of literature. But we all have family and friends who don’t read any or much fiction — unless they stumble across a Donald Trump speech. πŸ™‚

Everyone has their own interests and time constraints, so I never harangue the book-averse for not reading more novels. You’re probably the same way. But what if you hypothetically took aside people who don’t read literature and tried to convince them to do so? What would you say? What arguments would you use? (And I don’t mean threatening to smack them with a hardcover copy of War and Peace.) This column will consist of my hypothetical talking points, and then I’ll ask for yours.

I would tell the book-averse that reading fiction is fun and entertaining — as well as relaxing in some cases and exciting in other cases.

Educational, too. You learn about different locales (in the U.S. or abroad or even outer space), you learn about different cultures, and you learn about different time periods. You also learn about things that are a little harder to pin down — such as the variety of human emotions.

Literature can also be comforting. There’s something soothing about letting your mind go to another mental place, and about realizing that people from thousands of miles away or centuries ago might have similar thoughts as you. Part of this can involve learning from history so we’re not doomed to repeat it, to paraphrase the famous phrase attributed to George Santayana — whose writing included fiction.

Not soothing but also very important is how literature can take us OUT of our comfort zone and challenge us to look at things in a different way than we’re accustomed to.

Can you get all of the above from, say, watching TV programs or movies? Some of it. Yet images on a screen SHOW you things; you don’t use your imagination as much as you do when seeing things only in your mind’s eye when reading.

On a more prosaic level, reading fiction will give you interesting things to talk about (at parties and elsewhere) — including lines like: “Harumph — I just saw yet another film not as good as the novel it’s based on.” πŸ™‚

And reading literature means you’re monetarily supporting some very creative author minds. Not to mention helping independent bookstores, if that’s how you roll when shopping for fictional works.

When hypothetically trying to convince people to read literature, it wouldn’t hurt to urge them to start with popular page-turners — and then hope those readers eventually throw some older or modern classics into the mix.

I realize much of what I said in this piece is obvious, but…okay, okay…books are also good for propping up the legs of uneven tables. Unless you use a Kindle, which might not do as well in that table-leveling capacity…

What would you tell literature-avoiding family members or friends to try to get them in fiction-reading mode?

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I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.