What’s so bad about being happy?

I have been in the dumps since yesterday, and I know why. I spent a while in a rocking chair trying to get my youngest son to nap against his wishes. I’m between novels right now. I’m still withdrawing from the last one and not quite ready to throw myself into another, so I spent that time reading a few short stories, and now I’m depressed. The stories were certainly good, but they were also bad. They dealt with “issues,” and they did it well. But I already thought about those issues, and they neither broadened nor deepened my understanding. All they did was remind me of unsolvable problems- human suffering and depravity, loneliness, destructiveness and cruelty, helplessness of the weak or innocent, evil. Reading about these things won’t make me more able to deal with them. It only makes me depressed on what is otherwise a really nice day. And then it makes me impatient with my kids when they’re acting like kids and refusing to clean up an enormous mess they made, because I’m mopey and grumpy and that’s not a good place to be as a parent, and the day gets even worse. These stories made me a worse mother! Okay, okay, my reaction to these stories made me a worse mother in the immediate few hours after I read them. But really, does that have no relevance to their merit? Someone with no kids and plenty of sleep, whose bad mood will affect no one else, who has perhaps not already thought about these things (but who of us hasn’t, by a certain age?), and whose understanding of the world will be deepened by these stories- for that person, they may have tremendous merit. For me, they were just an effective way to ruin a day.

After reading these miserable stories, I read an article by some literary folk in which they distinguished between mature and immature readers, where mature readers select material that is deep and meaningful yada-yada. The immature readers select material that is happy and escapist and makes them feel good. I get the distinction in material, because there’s no denying it’s there. I don’t particularly appreciate the judgement of the readers, implicit in “mature” and “immature.” Not long ago, I was reading Crime and Punishment and online fan fiction in parallel. Depending on how I felt that day, I would decide which one to read. Without both of them, I wouldn’t have read either of them. In fact, when I’m reading “serious literature,” I often have another book that I’m also reading, for the times I don’t feel up to the heavy stuff. I need the fluff to make my way through the swamp, and if we didn’t have both types, I would have a habit of watching TV for recreation instead of reading. So I ask those literary folk, what’s so bad about being happy? How about we read what we want and let others read what they want and withhold judgement on their maturity or immaturity or intelligence or stupidity based on their choice of reading material? If all that serious fiction hasn’t taught us how to tolerate other people’s different tastes, what has it taught us?

Okay, tirade over. I’ll be quiet now.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: How to Stop Writing Fan Fiction and Start Writing Original Fiction by Claire Violet Thorpe | The Write Stuff

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