I studied English in college. I did lots of reading, and I was lucky enough to go to a university (and choose classes) that mostly emphasized the best that literature has to offer.
Sometimes I feel judgmental when I review a book negatively because it's profane or immoral or depressing. After all, there are people in the world like that, who go through those things, right?
This week, I came across the following quote from a blog post that rang true for me (except that I'm Mormon, not Catholic).
"But for me, you don't make me feel edified and empowered, you just make me feel confused and icky and bummed out. I don't like it. As Catholics, we believe in happy endings. We believe in the happiest ending of all. So stories that end with their characters still stuck in the miry clay feel hollow and unfulfilling and only partially true to me. " —Kendra Tierney, Catholic All Year, "An Open Letter to Breaking Bad and Flannery O'Connor "
Yes, that's it! I feel "icky" after I read something that highlights the worst in life. And no wonder! I believe that God created us to attain our best, and that "icky" feeling is God's nudging that this is a place I don't need to be.
Here is a much older quote by one of my favorite authors that I came across a few years ago:
“For every bad man and woman I have ever known, I have met . . . an overwhelming number of thoroughly clean and decent people who still believe in God and cherish high ideals, and it is upon the lives of these people that I base what I write. To contend that this does not produce a picture true to life is idiocy. It does. It produces a picture true to ideal life; to the best that good men and good women can do at level best.
"I care very little for the . . . critics who proclaim that there is no such thing as a moral man, and that my pictures of life are sentimental and idealized. They are! And I glory in them! They are straight, living pictures from the lives of men and women of morals, honor, and loving kindness. . . .
"Such a big majority of book critics and authors have begun to teach, whether they really believe it or not, that no book is true to life unless it is true to the worst in life.” —Gene Stratton-Porter, Gene Stratton Porter: A Little Story of Her Life and Work
While I recognize that hard, evil, and disturbing things happen on this earth (and I'm not trying to bury my head in the sand and pretend they don't happen), I've decided that I'm going to spend most of my time reading literature that uplifts and inspires me. If it's too profane, too depressing, too disturbing, even just over-the-top fluffy, I'm not going to waste my time on it. I only have so many hours to read, and I want to spend them well!
That doesn't mean that I'm going to stick exclusively to classics and non-fiction. Although I love both, I also read for relaxation and escape, and sometimes after a very full day of child-wrangling, house-cleaning, and general running around, I'm not quite up for Dickens, and I'm okay with that.
I've been realizing in the past few years how much the books I read as a child have shaped me. The books I read as a child have made me braver, smarter, more resourceful, more respectful, more grateful. They're like old friends I can come back to any time I need them.
Now I'm an adult, and the books I read still influence me. So many books for adults are insidiously naughty, if not vulgar, foul, or downright pornographic. I don't want mainstream adult content to shape my adulthood, so I can guarantee you that the next book I finish will be chosen carefully to leave me standing a little taller, working a little harder, prioritizing a little better, or seeing life a little more clearly.
I welcome your comments on this subject: I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I still don't feel that my thoughts are quite complete.