Friday, January 20, 2006

Novels and Novelty

From Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth:
The experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days and even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not ‘real’ and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel becomes part of the backdrop of our lives, long after we have laid the book aside. It is an exercise of make-believe that, like yoga or a religious festival, breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies, so that we are able to empathise with other lives and sorrows. it teaches compassion, the ability to ‘feel with’ others. And, like mythology, an important novel is transformative. If we allow it to do so, it can change us forever.

For me, that’s also a reason I prefer novels to short fiction; I want to be immersed for longer—and more fully—than even the best short fiction tends to allow.

And now, on to the novelty! I'll be away from the blog for the next week or so, so I've lined up a couple of guest bloggers. Bob and Vince are going to write about other books I've read lately, but haven't blogged about. Enjoy!


  1. "like yoga or a religious festival, breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies"

    I'm trying to think of any religious festivals which might break down space or time and extend my/our sympathies. Good Friday? All Souls' Day?

    Oh, she must mean Kentucky Derby Day. Yeah, that's it.

  2. I'm not religious but I do respect the power of the form. I'd say Good Friday and All Soul's Day are good examples of crossing barriers of time, space, and condition.

    A certain Friday every year for millenia for a certain population of people has been Good Friday. If one celebrates it, one celebrates it in the knowledge of that history. The sympathy it extends is sectarian, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

    And nights like Halloween or Walpurgisnacht are days traditionally understood to open up the barriers between the living and the dead. Even if you don't believe spirits rise on those nights still you may participate in festivities that put you on to those themes. On that same day, every year. Interrupting linear time with cyclical time.

    "The dreams of reason breed monsters" not the least of which is the expectation that if the magic available to us through ritual and festival is to be real it must be unaccountable by rationality. If you're convinced magic is that which is unaccountable by rationality and that reality is that which can be accounted for by rationality, why be surprised by your constant disenchantment?