Elster's World

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


I haven't really posted recently. I've been swamped at work (where I do the majority of my blogging - at least on slow days) and I don't seem to have much to write about. The creative juices have been on vacation; Florida I think. They never really leave me a forwarding address. But as they say, a stale blog is an unread blog so here goes nothing (literally).

My new blog discovery, Brownsvillegirl (http://ilovejewfood.blogspot.com/ ), wrote recently about how she hates fiction. She hates writing it for her writing classes in school and she even hates reading it.

Got me thinking. Why would someone hate fiction? What could be so bad about something I love so much? Which got me thinking some more. Why do I love fiction so much? Couple of reasons. Bear with me, it's all I have for this evening.

1. Escape. - Nothing can take you out of the "real world" like a good book. I know, I know. Waste of time, say the naysayers. Just like television. The dreaded boobtube. What's the point? Blah Blah Blah and all that jazz. Look, everyone needs to blow off steam. Anyone who claims to be productive with 80 to 100 percent of their time is either full of it or living a seriously impaired lifestyle. It's like the person who claims their lives are "perfect". No one's life is perfect. If thou protest too much, thou is lying.

But I digress. The point is, there is time in everyone's day for a little escapism. Maybe it's right before bedtime. For me it's my forty five minutes each way to and from work on the train. I can't do work on the train, it makes me queasy. So I get my fiction done then. Right now I'm going through the collected works of James Lee Burke. If you haven't read him, your missing out on a real treat.

Sometimes we just want to be someone else, or see the world through someone else's eyes. Some people want to read medical thrillers, some horror, some romance (wince), some drama, whatever. To each their own.

2. There's Beauty in it. Art and music can be beautiful. So can liturature. Words can break your heart just like the perfect sad love song. Certain authors can describe mundane events in ways that will make you chill over. I secretly dream to one day be able to craft sentences that make people see the beauty/anger/sadness/hatred/love/despair in the words on the page. Come to think of it, it's not a secret dream after all.

3. Practice for the Future Fiction Writers of America. There is a particular sports journalist who writes for ESPN.com. His name is Bill Simmons. He's a funny, solid writer. Good grasp of his field. Anyway, he says people email him all the time and ask him how to get gigs as sportwriters. He always asks them, what are your favorite sports books? What styles do you like? He writes that he is amazed by how oftewn the answer is "Uh, I dunno". Well, he asks, how can you know what kind of writer you will be if you don't soak up all the greats, see the styles that are out there, and eventually use a mixture of those styles to create, eventually, your own. This is true of all writing. How could you develop your own style if you don't know what's out there?

Ok, that's enough. You get the point. Besides, this is a throwaway post anyway. I don't know if people have as strong an opinion about this stuff as I do. I suspect most people read fiction for straight entertainment - pass the time reasons. That's cool too.


  • Yes, Elster, there are some of us who feel strongly enough to respond. :) I would like to respond to your questions and/or responses, not in a defensive manner, but just to explain this phenomenon of "not liking fiction."

    I love reading and almost as much as I love that, I love writing. Escape is necessary for even someone as perfect as myself (hehe) to maintain a healthy, normal lifestyle. But what we choose for escape varies. To read about other's stories is an intensely enjoyable experience for me--Ruth Reichl (writes about her life and food), David Sedaris (his life and insanity), MFK Fisher (her life and, yeah, food)--but I don't necessarily read about made up people. One of the differences between a true story and a fictitious one is that the true story can be as absurd as the writer wants because they can always fall back on the, "but it's true!" whereas a fiction writer cannot and will always have to tie things around or bring extra explanations. That is something to consider when thinking about what there is to appreciate about non-fiction.

    The beauty in writing you speak of is just that--beauty in words and sentence structure. That is just why I love writing so much. To give you an idea, here is the opening of the second essay I wrote for my essay workshop class last semester: The sun was shining brightly off the snow outside the kitchen doors as I watched my mother take a sip of her coffee. She placed the mug back on the table and cut herself a piece of the cake sitting between us. I poked at the chocolaty part.
    Guess what? That's all non-fiction! But I got to use words and images and syntax to portray what I wanted to.

    As for your third reason, I have to say that I completely agree with you. I cannot stand when people speak of the novels they're working on and say, "um--Harry Potter?" when asked what their favorite book is. This is why I read Reichl and Didion and some great fiction writers (Bellow, Roth, Austen, Bronte, Updike, Wharton, etc.).

    I just find that my efforts at writing fiction are futile because I am not good at developing and writing plots. That is all I have to say.

    Oh, and that it is highly enjoyable to see someone else as passionate about writing defending it. :)

    By Blogger BrownsvilleGirl, at 9:13 PM  

  • Wow - a first response from the INSPIRATION for this post. Fantastic. And for the record, the purpose of this was not an attack on you, which I think you clearly understand.

    And yes, I guess all of my arguments can be used for non-fiction as well as fiction. The people who really get stuck in my craw are those who don't read at all. The er...Harry Potter? crowd, as you put it.

    I'm not one who pushed hos beliefs off on others. You wanna read non-fiction, be my guest. Just keep reading. And more impoertantly, keep writing. I want to read your professional work someday.

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:23 PM  

  • Well-said post, Elster. Good to have you back. Only things to add are that I think there is a difference between fiction and literature. You describe the latter; those who go for the beach reads are into the former.

    And I second the Brownsvillegirl rave - great blog (even if she doesn't like fiction)!

    By Blogger MC Aryeh, at 12:12 AM  

  • I don't think anyone would compare literary fiction to watching TV, be it from a religious point of view or a wasting time POW.
    Reading requires some conscious effort while watching TV does not.
    I think everybody would agree that reading, even fiction, is more productive than sitting in front of the television.

    By Blogger Pragmatician, at 10:14 AM  

  • Mc - Well written fiction CAN BE literature. Read James Lee Burke and tell me he doesn't combine the two.

    Prag: What is so called "literary fiction? Wasn't Dickens just a serial writer who got paid by the word? Most of the classics were works of fiction set for theior times?

    By Blogger Elster, at 10:51 AM  

  • Oooh MC, I feel the love! Thanks.

    By Blogger BrownsvilleGirl, at 7:23 PM  

  • BVG: Mc's site is also worth checking out.

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:15 PM  

  • I love fiction, readeing and writing it.

    By Blogger HaJew, at 4:41 PM  

  • I have thought a lot about reading and writing and fiction and non. I once heard a panel discussion by memoir writers and one of the authors said that it's a fact that more law suits have come in response to fiction than to memoir. The line is thin. Fiction is full of truth and vice versa. One of the best books I read in the last year was the Glass Castle. Another great one was My Friend Leonard. In each of these the authors remember their lives. But they have to have recreated certain dialogues and details. How could one remember exact quotes or scenery from age four? But that's not a complaint.
    I love a strong voice. Sometimes it can be fictional. In The Curious Incident of the Dod In The Night Time he does an amazing job of speaking in the voice of someone who is not him. People often assume that in fiction the voice really is the author, but it's not. The thing is that in non fiction voices are created as well...

    By Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann, at 4:49 PM  

  • Elster, my dear, I'm not ignoring you. I just have been devoting all my email time to Soulmate. Between checking 120 pages of 7th grade essays and painting various rooms in my house, things have gotten hectic. Ask 2Ts, I'm not visiting anyone's blog right now. Besides, you've seen how short the posts to my own blog are. (I think this comment is longer than the last two posts).

    Still a fan,

    By Blogger AnySara, at 5:22 PM  

  • Welcome new posters. Thanks for your thoughts on what I actually figured would be a post few to no people would care to opine on.

    Sara: Sorry for my momentary lapse of reason. Being the hubby of a teacher i know that Summer Sara and School Sara do not share the same amount of free time. All is still copacetic...

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:08 PM  

  • Elster,

    glad to have a post to read my friend. you should know that you have al oyal reader in the tailor here.

    A few things. Lt's reel things in efore we get the elitist thing going to much, all the way around. whether you want to talk about fiction, non fiction, historical fiction or even yes, Harry potter!

    I happen to love harry potter and you know what? It serves numerous functions. It serves the function of escapism as you mentioned for fiction. ad with all due respect to BVG, and there is much due to her intelligence in content, form and style, fiction can creat the solid, stble detail oriented world that non fiction cn, it depends on the ocmmitment of the author. Harry potter is an example of this. Harry potter also happens to, in my opinion, demonstrate a keen insight into adolescent/human psychology and behavior. The characters are so well thought out and their thoughts explained as much as their actions help us look inside ourselves to question how and why we make the decisions we make and the actions we perform.

    In my opinion, the purpose of any written work is for someone to appreciate it and hopefully enjoy it. Ihave read more than harry potter in my life, i like everything from james patterson which is popcorn fiction to Ayn rand which is deep philosophy/purpose of man (a big fan until she turned out to be an opicurus).

    Point is, reading is goos and whatever it is you like, go for it beause it is good for the brain. your writing is good for my brain so keep it up, besides, it helps keep my mind off shidduchim :)

    By Blogger The Real Neo, at 6:54 PM  

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