CAUTION: FRANK, MATURE DISCUSSION AHEAD
People. Between my lectio divina and my lectio ficta*, I think I’ve stumbled upon one humongous reason why Catholic fiction is not flying off the shelves. Let me see if I can put it into words.
This should be good, since, admittedly, I’ve put precious little into words of late. So, by “should be good,” I mean, “might be pretty bad.”
I used to finish every book I picked up. It seemed good form. Funny how having kids forces one to become picky with how one spends every blessed drop of time. Hence why, as I admitted during last June’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk , I’ve returned Kristin Lavransdatter, Anna Karenina, and not to leave the boys out, those krazy Karamazov kids back to the library unfinished. Now, I adore Hugo and Dickens, so you can’t say that I balk at thick books just by virtue of their thickness. Once kids came along, however, if I don’t care deeply about your story within the first chapter, I’m probably going to put it down.
I picked up a book** recently that I gave more than that first chapter, because it was a fun concept. I put it down around a third of the way through. Why? Because it was written in a world that totally ignores a dimension of the human experience that I know exists because I have willingly experienced it–but is considered cumbersome to the current culture at large… so cumbersome that most people either act like it doesn’t exist or they don’t even know it’s there.
I’ve been struggling to come up with an adequate metaphor. Let’s try this: it’s like someone wrote a book in which we don’t ever need to breathe. I’m not talking about an author keeping out descriptions of breathing because they have no bearing on the story. No. But imagine an author writes a space opera in which humans go zipping from planet to planet with no actual life support system. Human characters just go swimming through the vacuum of space, no protection from radiation, no oxygen, no water source, no, um, waste disposal…
Most readers would be all like, “You’re kidding, right? Reality isn’t like that.” We can only suspend our disbelief so far before the story becomes untenable…
… unless, that is, the reader has already written off the necessity of life support before picking up the novel.
Time to drop the metaphor. In the novel I put down, there was a lot of sex.
“ERIN!” you gasp. “YOU SCREAMING HYPOCRITE! WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN READING!?!?”
Chill, mes amis. There literally was nothing graphic in there, which is why I got as far as that first third in the first place. Anyway. By “sex,” I mean there were a lot of genital relationships of various types alluded to on every page. All operated on the assumption that there is a complete lack of any transcendent dimension applicable in those relationships. There was only a historic past for these characters and a panting present. There was no future. There was no eternity.
Now, either you know exactly what I’m talking about or you think I’m rattling off nonsense.
For those of you who know what I mean, you know there’s certain entertainment that just leaves you a teeny bit empty inside, even if you found it, well, entertaining:
- the show that displays violence like it’s no big deal, completely ignoring how murder shatters the murderer’s soul
- the movie that tries to tell you that a violent sexual relationship never destroys the characters’ trust in each other, the world and themselves, because, hey, there’s no magic wand like “consent,” and there are no such things as regrets when you’ve waved said magic wand
- the song that sings the praises of date rape and ignores our current reality of sexual harassment
If you’re in the “Erin is rattling off nonsense again” camp… dude, I have no idea how to reach you. Seriously, I don’t. If I knew, I’d have tried it by now. If you are convinced that the most transcendent thing about utilizing your genitals for your well-deserved pleasure is the c-word (which is “consent,” in case you thought it was something else)… what can I say?
If you’ve already written off the need for life support simply because you’ve never been in space, how can I convince you that that vacuum will kill you, whether you acknowledge it or not? And why would you want to read any books that tell you, “Hey, you know, if you don’t acknowledge biological reality, you’re probably going to die?”
I mean, who wants to pay cash money for that kind of downer?
Of course, I kind of like you and don’t want you to die. Still my not wanting you to die has nothing to do with your consent, so you can write that off, too, cantcha?
If you’re in the latter camp… I love you, but I gotta be honest. You look like flat earthers. You look like science deniers.
Today’s lectio divina for me was the short reading in Lauds. In it, we’re charged to tell prisoners to escape prison, to tell those in darkness to step into the light. So. Latter camp? You consented to your prison? You asked to be in darkness? I don’t care. Come out. Get light. There. My work here is done. For now.
Speaking of which, there might be some reality I’m missing. Maybe I should give Tolstoy another chance.
If you want to give some reality a chance that you’ve previously been shy of considering…
Catholic Reads: reviewed Catholic books to be had on the cheap
The Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval
Virtue Works Media: Books, movies, etc., all rated for their virtue nutritional content
Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body
If I haven’t listed it here, Carolyn has at her place, so go to there.
And, of course, there’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk, starting again in February 2018.
Speaking of which, Happy New Year!
*That’s supposed to be Latin for “fiction reading,” as opposed to lectio divina being “divine reading.” I am not a Latin scholar, however, so… you know. It’s probably wrong.
**In compliance with this blog’s review policy, since I can’t give this book at least four stars, I’m not going to name it. SO QUIT ASKING!
Interesting. I think there is probably a large segment of people, including people who will identify themselves as Catholic on a survey, who simply have no transcendent worldview or no moral code beyond tolerance, consent, and the golden rule. Maybe we’ve underestimated the size of that segment who are used to being entertained without other views impingeing on their plea
Cut off. Sorry – impinging on their pleasure, whether that’s in books, movies, TV, games, social media, etc. Unless they are active in a faith community or live in a faith-filled family, their tether to anything outside of a secular worldview has been cut. What it doesn’t explain is those who readily devour religious nonfiction but still eschew fiction – unless they’ve completely compartmentalized their faith.
My best guess on that last? People who are willing to hold transcendent views are inclined to eschew anything that entertains, period, because they’ve subscribed to the idea that, in order to be truly counter-cultural, they have to reject the idea that there is any pleasure on this side of death. There should be no pleasure, only pedagogy. How to tackle *that* problem? I have even less of an idea. Sure feels like we’re spinning our wheels, doesn’t it?
Yep. Hand me the sand bags. Or kitty litter. Need traction.
Erin, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post. This was an answer to a prayer I had this morning. Thanks! Happy New Year!
Thanks! And your comment was an answer to my repeatedly asking God of late, “Do I really have anything useful to say out here, or should I continue shutting up?”