Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can Fun be Real, or Vice Versa?

I'm asking this in all seriousness--I tend to get bogged down by my own quest for intellectual excellence, resulting in a rather-stop-and-go progress on my novel. Unfortunately, I usually ask myself, "But what does it mean, what does it mean?" Jack Skellington-style as I stare in frustration at a blank page/screen. I find myself concerned with creating something "real," meaning something that others will be able to identify with and that might help them as they struggle with issues that I struggle with daily.

My question is this, then: Can something be both "real" (in this literary sense rather than the more obvious existential one) and "fun"? I picked up a book by Lauren Willig entitled The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, one of the books in her Pink Carnation series, which was a very "fun" read--it has parallel story lines (one in contemporary England and one set in 1806) and had English spies (inluding one called the Pink Carnation, a la The Scarlet Pimpernel, to which there are numerous allusions), a royal kidnapping, and other exploits across the English countryside. While I skimmed it (due to self-assigned time constraints), I enjoyed the book and it reminded me that not every single word has to mean something. Sometimes plot has to be simply that: plot. It does not always have to be a metaphor for "meaninglessness in a universe with meaning." On the other hand, however, while I enjoyed The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, I didn't really learn that the answer is 42.

When I try to think of books that have been "real" to me, meaning I can identify with them and find something in them worth thinking about, they were not necessarily "fun." In fact, sometimes they have been painful because they illuminate things inside me that are not flattering, but both the novels and the realizations that accompanied them have been important milestones in my development.

Can a book, then, be both "real" and "fun"? Or are the two mutually exclusive?


Daniele said...

I think it depends on what "real" point you're trying to get across to your readers. I think that if the point is "meaninglessness," the probability of creating a fun book is somewhat less than if the point were, for instance "the inherent goodness of human beings even in the face of destruction." To this day, one of my favorite books is The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy. I read it when I was 8, but the themes surrounding family, war, and the inevitability of growing up still hold true when I reread it at 23. (Also, I think it's a very fun book.)

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I suppose I would classify Candide as both "real" and "fun," but it was also a satire, which makes the distinction a little different, I think.

Part of the problem is that my "real" point isn't really the happily-ever-after that normally gets celebrated in books. I truly feel that we cannot expect our jobs to bring full satisfaction to our lives--we're lucky just to HAVE jobs, let alone ones that make us feel perfectly content. That's not necessarily a very fun topic.

Oh, and the meaninglessness line is from my favorite show ever, Wonderfalls.

Aaron (a theology graduate student): "Meaninglessness in a universe with no meaning? That I get. But meaninglessness in a universe WITH meaning? What does it mean?"

Jaye (former student of philosophy): "It doesn't mean anything."

Sharon (lawyer): "Meaninglessness in a universe with no meaning? Are you people high?"

Daniele said...

You've also said that you're indulging your inner emo a bit at the moment. This may not help you to write a "fun" book (at least not if emo literature mimics emo music in any way...but that could just be me assuming that everyone else listens to emo music when they want to feel depressed too).

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