For novelists, and bedtime, war is not the answer

Once the young form of the literary novel had decided, 250 years or so ago, that it would do more than tell stories, that it was uniquely suited by its access to inward psychological development and boundless narrative to explore ‘human nature’ and that that would be, for many writers and readers, its highest aim, then you would have thought that most ambitious novelists would have looked to see what conditions of existence offered them the most extreme and therefore, presumably, most rewarding circumstances for their study.

War, surely, would have been the answer. If the writing of fiction had been undertaken by scientists, they would certainly have seized on the dramatic potential of armed conflicts for their experiments. […]

Artists, however, aren’t like that.

That is Sebastian Faulks introducing The Vintage Book of War Fiction, a book of extracts from novels set in wars of the twentieth century.

It’s an excellent collection but, as it happens, a poor choice for bedtime reading under any circumstances, most of all when you spend most of your day talking and writing and worrying about war, and especially when you wake in the morning, look out the window, and see only the twisted wreckage of a city pounded senseless.

Our bedside tables back in New Haven are an equally gruesome site. Jeannie’s is the worst. In the tall stack I’m quite sure there’s not a single book without at least one of the words “genocide”, “killers”, or “violence” in the title. What must the guests think?

I have just about reached my limit. Suggestions for (non-fiction) bedtime reading from blog readers are welcome. But no war, please.

5 thoughts on “For novelists, and bedtime, war is not the answer

  1. Well, I don’t know what you’re a fan of, but I’m really enjoying “A Farewell To Alms” by Gregory Clark. I don’t know if I entirely buy his thesis, but its a good read and I’m learning a lot. Lots of good statistics and anecdotes.

  2. “Godel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter. It’s entertaining and mind expanding.

    From the preface: “In a word, GEB is a very personal attempt to say how it is that animate beings can come out of inanimate matter. What is a self, and how can a self come out of stuff that is as selfless as a stone or a puddle? What is an “I”, and why are such things found (at least so far) only in association with, as poet Russell Edson once wonderfully phrased it ,
    “teetering bulbs of dread and dream” — that is, only in association with certain kinds of gooey lumps encased in hard protective shells mounted atop mobile pedestals that roam the world on pairs of slightly fuzzy, jointed stilts?”

    It’s definitely worth picking up.

  3. One book that I thought was great was “Maize and Grace” by James McCann. It is the history of how maize became the dominant crop in much of Africa. If you are going to read Hofstadter go for “I am a Strange Loop” first over Godel, Escher, Bach. I also liked “Our Band Could be Your Life” by Michael Azerrad, but that is pretty unrelated.

  4. The Prohpet by Kahlil Gibran, Sidharttha by Herman Hesse, Travels With A Tangerine by Tim McCantosh-Smith, Lamb by Chris Moore. Read the first two in school but have re-read them while here in Japan. Lamb is a pretty funny ‘account’ on the years that the Bible doesn’t cover on Jesus’s life. Travels With A Tangerine is good as the author follows Ibn Bhatuta, spelling is off, and his travel across north Africa.