Books: Theory Number 1

Today’s post comes from NorthShorer (Clyde).

I lifted the following from my second novel:

He took out the two novels, Jon Hassler’s Simon’s Night and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which he brought to occupy the many hours he would pass in the chair. “Hulger, maybe truth about old age is best told in fiction.”

Hulger held his pout; his tail still said J’accuse.

Clair had read both books, Simon’s Night a few times. He brought them for their shared theme of old people who have drifted out of the central river current into the slack water. Dropping both books onto the rock, he opened his journal to write. “Fiction comes in four categories:

1) Stories of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things to face extraordinary challenges, which seems to be the grist of most current movies.

2) Extraordinary people facing ordinary challenges.

3) Ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, which Hitchcock preferred.

4) Ordinary people facing ordinary challenges, which I prefer, but which is not in fashion in popular fiction.”

Assuming this is proper grist for your thoughts, which type(s) do you read most often?

33 thoughts on “Books: Theory Number 1”

  1. welcome back clyde…and with a blog entry too
    how nice

    i am a regular guy doing extraordinary things kind of guy

    me and hitch

    hey should we be taking all hitchcock movies off the air and out out the vaults at turner classic movies

    tippy hedrinbaccused him of sexual impropriorities several times

    we could eliminate about 40% of all authors actors and celebrities right now and get to work on office environment and america at large

    al frankenstein book is a good one. i wonder what he will be writing next

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        1. Copied off Internet, adjusted, printed by me.
          This is Mr Tuxedo’s wand, although he has the real deal, bought at Olivanders. He was selected out of the group to come up and be the one to slect his. A thrill indeed.

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  2. I guess I would go for category 3, but I don’t read fiction very much. Most of the fiction I read is by famous authors that get turned into movies. Otherwise, I just prefers the facts, man.

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  3. I’m not sure the fiction I read falls into categories. I’m currently reading a splendid novel by Ann Patchett. My next will probably be a novel about Abraham Lincoln, specifically his grief about losing his son. I like mysteries and cop procedurals, but haven’t recently found any good ones. I enjoy Henning Mankell so much I re-read his Wallander novels.

    I read a lot of biography and memoir. I recently read a book about poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (a remarkably randy minx), an autobiography by an escapee from North Korea and a biography of famous expat friends of Scott Fitzgerald’s. My next biography will be a sad book detailing the miseries of one of my guitar heroes, John Fahey.

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  4. I like to read category one most of the time, but am writing category three–ordinary folks facing extraordinary challenges. But I read all sorts of fiction (as well as plenty of non-fiction, although not nearly as much as I did ten+ years ago).

    Chris in O-town

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  5. I feel like an ordinary person charged with doing extraordinary things, but I doubt Alfred Hitchcock would find my life to be good film material.

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  6. I used to like category 4 the most, but now i read mostly category 3 stuff (although it doesn’t remind me of Hitchcock) – with a few category 4 thrown in. Category 4 is best for my bedtime reading. I find it difficult to stop reading at a reasonable hour with some of those category 3 books. My current category 3 books are the first three James Herriot books. They are so fun.

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  7. I admit my categories are so ill-defined and free floating as to be meaningless. I was trying to come up with something as a guest blog without whining about something or other. Did not really think it would work . . .
    What occasioned this in the novel itself is the main character living through an ordinary event in a rather uncommon way. Aging, loss of independence, being out-of-tune with current culture–there are ordinary experiences for people of my age group.
    What has made me think of this issue is three fold:
    1. Scan any magazine or book about writing fiction and it will tell you that all fiction should be category 1 or 3, that category 4 is just too boring for any real human to read. That nobody wants to read about people whose lives are not in peril. That explains why nobody has heard of L. E. Winder or Jane Austen, to name a couple.
    2. A once active debate on what history should be taught in schools; pretty much category 1 is about all there is. (History is the story of famous dead white men.) Ordinary people living ordinary lives in the past is only fodder for history in living history places.
    3. How all of this affects publishing and movie- and TV-making.
    I am not objecting to what people chose to read; just interested in the question as a cultural dynamic.

    I love Harry Potter, which is about as category 1 as it gets.

    Lots of questions could be asked about how media portray ordinariness in modern America and how that impacts politics and other aspects of life, which is not the same as my lousy questions.

    ljb’s comment re Harriot as category #3 is interesting. My father loved the books and TV show because it was for him solidly category 4, meaning it portrayed the daily life of farmers between the wars, which was his life. All is in the eyes of the beholder. To combine two threads: if we wrote a novel about junior high girls coping with sexual assault, abuse, rape, improper touching, how ordinary an experience would it be, or is it? How ordinary is it for girls to be damaged by such events? I confess that this is a topic on which I best not comment because it is too too close to me. And does that really disqualify me? But I do have every reason to be believe it is far more common than we are willing to admit, except for those who think its commonness makes it acceptable.

    I suppose I should not post this comment, but why waste my last hour.

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  8. These days I read whatever each of the two bookclubs I belong to…mostly. So this month it is one ordinary folk facing extraordinary challenges (The Buried Giant by Ishiguro) and an extraordinary folk chosing to face an extraordinary challenge (Will Steger’s North to the Pole). Otherwise I have been dipping into Scandinavian mysteries…what category would that be? But I guess the bookclubs tend to the category 3 most of the time when we read fiction.

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  9. I’ll go OT again today. It’s all about the concerts for me this week.

    First concert at 7:30 tonight. I’m as ready as can be. AND I fixed a stubborn snow machine and I cackled gleefully at that. So it was a good day. Plus it was a fun learning experience.
    This one doesn’t have “dip-switches” so I didn’t have to make that mistake twice.
    In my head, I’m already home with a drink in my hand. 🙂

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  10. A lot of my reading falls into category 4. Much of the fiction that deals with ordinary people and ordinary challenges is written by women and read by women, and is often about women. (Olive Kittridge, for instance.) Saying that it is not in fashion in popular fiction isn’t really true, in my view; or if it is, it’s mostly true for male readers. Laurie Colwin, Anne Tyler, Amy Tan, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Grace Paley, and any number of well-known women authors inhabit this territory.

    Category 3 makes me think of all the books I’ve read that take place during WWII. There seems to be an inexhaustible well of stories of ordinary people coping with a monstrous war as best they can.

    Nice post, NorthShorer, and it’s wonderful to see you back on the blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been saying for years that I like stories about women’s lives, which is true, but I was so taken with Kent Haruf’s stories about the two old bachelor farmers (Plainsong, Eventide…), that I’ve revised and feel I’ve expanded to both genders…

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      1. A part of my Theory #2 was going to be about reading books by writers of the opposite gender. I, too admire Olive Kitterridge, although I would not have given it the Pulitzer. I like reading about women but I sometimes struggle to read writing by women, except for those of high distinction, such as Katherine Ann Porter. I think it is a prejudice. As a writer, I almost prefer writing about women. What doe that say? I think I am conflicted.

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  11. For no particular reason, this:

    Among rocks, I am the loose one,
    among arrows, I am the heart,
    among daughters, I am the recluse,
    among sons, the one who dies young.
    Among answers, I am the question,
    between lovers, I am the sword,
    among scars, I am the fresh wound,
    among confetti, the black flag.
    Among shoes, I am the one with the pebble,
    among days, the one that never comes,
    among the bones you find on the beach
    the one that sings was mine.

    ~ Lisel Mueller, “Night Song”

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