Friday, January 13, 2012

Want Ad: MWF Seeks Self Assured Novel for Long Term Relationship

Sometimes I wish finding a great novel was as easy as placing an ad in the classifieds. Wanted: Hunky page-turner for trips to the beach and possible late night trysts.

Recently, I tried my hand at writing a want ad for the kind of novel I am looking for. It was a hopeless mess. But one phrase kept coming to mind:
Self-assured. I need that.

I have a hard time making sense of the world. I struggle with what other people seem to grasp so well, so quickly. Small talk is nearly impossible for me. When someone asks me a question like, “How have you been?” I over answer. Worse, I tend to ask questions that make people screw up their faces and shrug their shoulders at me. My mother tells me that I’ve never seen the world the way most people do. She says this in a proud and delighted way, which makes me feel better about it.

Imagine my delight upon opening a novel and discovering within mere paragraphs a mind and imagination I could relate to. I was a kid of maybe 9 or 10, and Judy Blume had done me the favor of writing a novel called Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great. A story about a girl who over invents herself (lies) in order to be noticed and liked. I don’t remember the story as much as I remember the thought I had when reading it, “Finally, someone who speaks my language.”

It wasn’t Sheila the Great talking my language, it was Judy Blume. And without knowing it, I had fallen in love with the introspective novel—those titles we refer to collectively as literary. I searched them out. And, having found them, I searched for myself in their pages. I didn’t approach novels in order to get lost in them. I was hoping to be found.

That’s what it’s all about in a way, isn’t it? Looking for bits of ourselves that had been somehow scattered to the four literary corners of the world. Not that we knew that, not for the longest time, but when we discovered this fact, didn’t we shudder feeling exposed and excited? It was a bit like being spied on. And it was beautiful. And ugly. Or at least as ugly as we believed ourselves to be at the time. Now that we’ve read more, we know better than to call ourselves ugly. Warty, maybe. Flawed. Sometimes broken. But literature won’t leave us self-loathing. It teaches us that self-loathing is merely one of a million options for how we can choose to live.

The novel of self-discovery is one that offers neither the rose-colored glasses nor the fog of despair, but the adjustable lens of a telescope. Through it we can bring a distant moment into sharp focus and see it for what it is. The reality of the thing. But the grace of it is we can blur the lens too. Take in small frames of truth, only as much as our eyes can hold at one time. The novel will wait for us. We will go back to it, thumb its pages, reread that bit near the middle. It’s not asking us to judge, only to look, and in looking, see, and in seeing, understand.

Understanding is where grace shines. It pries into the cracks forming on the surface of our doubt. It whispers words so softly we can only guess at their meaning. It rolls us over so we can see things from another angle. And it never once tells us what to think. It only asks that we do think.

How could I condense these thoughts into a want ad, 20 words or less, seeking my perfect novel? What would your want ad read?


emma said...

Bonnie, I had no idea you were this type. I went through my entire adolescence not knowing who I was/am. I felt I never fit in. Not until I was 37 years old and took a psychological test did I find I was and INFP, which is not the most common personality type. Later, friends called me an abstract thinker. I now know that's not an insult. When I was around 45 years old I began to like who I was and the abstractness of me. This way of thinking and understanding takes us to another plain .... not always a comfortable place in the culture in which we live .... but a place I like to be, and a place that informs my fiction as I write about strange and wonderful and abstract characters who see the world differently. Thank you for your words.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Wanted: A book that moves my spirit, challenges my view of the world, makes me care about something valuable. A book that redeems.

23 words. Sorry. I'll pay the extra buck. :)

And, Bonnie, I over answer "how are you?" as well. At least now I know that I'm not alone!

Bonnie Grove said...

Emma: It's so encouraging to hear how you are able to embrace who you are and channel that into your writing. I think that is a hallmark of good writing. We must be transparent, honest, and utterly true to ourselves in order to write something as difficult as a novel. Thanks for the encouragement!

Susie: I'll collect that dollar. :)
It's good to be among the socially awkward.

I wonder what you mean by "moves my spirit"? Do you mean that in a spiritual sense? Or in a general sense? How can a reader know if her spirit has been moved? Is it a call to action?

Marian said...

Wanted: Hilarious (laugh-out-loud) insightful novel. Must be clean. Mean-spirited need not apply.

Megan Sayer said...

Wanted: illustrations of otherwise unnameable emotions. Romance uneccessary. Honesty essential.

Ten words, how's that?

By "unnameable emotions" I don't mean things that are best not discussed, but the subtle nuances of our humanity, the things we don't talk about because we don't know how to - don't know how to find the words for - that are actually more common than we realise.

MK Jorgenson said...

I've started thinking lately about what kind of reader I am, what I'm looking for in a book...mostly because I've been having a tough time finding something I really like! I've been stuck in a world of educational theory and biography because I simply can't find a novel that grabs me.

I'm still working through what I want in a novel...suspense is important, but not a lot of gore or sex. Quirky protagonists are good. Humor is extra points. A dash of romance without too many mentions of tears, heartstrings, staring into souls, etc. Fast-paced action but still a decent amount of character growth. It's not really that much to ask, is it?

I didn't count my words, but hey, neither did you ;)

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Moves my spirit. Okay. In a spiritual sense, yes. As in "I love Jesus more because of this book" or "I have a new understanding of what it means to be a follower" or "this novel evoked an emotion" or "I need to chew on this thought/concept/etc.".

I really think that a "movement of the spirit" is different for each person. However, it seems to me that when a spirit is moved there is a desire to change, to grow. The thought that "I can't go back to how I used to be".

Does that make sense?

Bonnie Grove said...

Marian: I love laugh out loud books. I'm a fan of Adrian Plass who wrote: The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass age 37 3/4 which made me laugh so hard. Years later, I met him and we had dinner together (with my hubby and another friend) and I spent a great deal of time in tears of laughter.

Megan: Unnameable emotion is a good term. I agree that one reason we read is to expand our emotional vocabulary.

MK: Your wondering will lead you to some interesting places, I think. I hope.

If you find that perfect recipe, let us know!

Bonnie Grove said...

Susie: Certainly that was the experience Rick had reading The Robe all those years ago. They are powerful, but I think, rare.

I agree, the novel that helps us look up, look around and feel connected to the world in a more substantial way is one worth reading again and again.

April Mae said...

Emma, you are not alone - I am also an INFP who has been largely out of step with the world around me for my entire life. My mother-in-law (who never liked me) referred to me as "different" - which was fine with me. My neighbors refer to me as "The Artistic One" - which isn't always meant as a compliment, but I don't care.

Apparently, you have been able to find an outlet through writing fiction - but I have never ventured into such an undertaking because I have always been too afraid to let anyone see deep inside me. However, ten years ago I began to write poetry as an outlet and have allowed myself the freedom to use a little "poetic license" from time to time. I admire those of you who feel free to write stories and imbue them with meaning and also work to create characters who are relevant to real-life readers.

I am very picky about what I read and because of this, I only lasted two months in my neighborhood book club. I prefer books of substance which take awhile for me to chew my way through and I like characters who allow me a glimpse into their soul. However, I don't think advertising for a book "of substance" which offers a "glimpse into the soul" would get me many results since it is too nebulous and subjective.

Patti Hill said...

Wanted: Novel of sublime beauty that demonstrates its power to change with humility.

Bonnie Grove said...

April Mae: I understand what you mean about being picky about what you read. It's a personal picky, not necessarily saying that the books you pass over aren't good, only that they don't reach the spot inside of you (me).

But I suspect you're right, advertising for a book like you are looking for would likely get you bombarded with overwrought material. :) Thanks so much for your honest and insightful comments.

Patti: Zowie! I want that book too! Perfect.

BK said...

Wanted: Relationship exploration not limited by romance, that explore how decisions a person/group of people make affect large chunks of the world, ie. epic writing.