Thursday, August 9, 2007

The "Oasis" style of fiction

A few days ago, I took my son for a wander around our town library, just to find something new to read. I love all sorts of books, but I'd been pretty much through the non-fiction shelves on education and personal development and travel. I just felt like a bit of fiction. I spent quite awhile perusing the shelves but it was one of those days, for both Logan and me, when nothing seemed to "pop out". We went home with not much to show for the time we spent there, but I did notice an interesting fact about the books on the shelves.

This is it. There seemed to be mostly two main "types" (for lack of a better word) of fiction book there at the library that day.
1) The "Intellectual" or "Arthouse" offerings. This includes those we've come to know as "Classics" as well as the prize-winning contributions. You know, winner of the 1994 Booker Prize, or Runner-Up of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, or Highly Recommended on Australian Book Council for 2006, or something like that. I've read, enjoyed and studied many of these sort of books over the years and still count some English, American and Aussie classics among my favourite books. But there come times when we don't necessarily feel like being educated by what we read as much as entertained. When books have been reviewed, essayed, raved about, picked apart for symbolic content, and examined closely for political/socio/religious overtones, I don't always feel like taking them to put my feet up with a cup of tea for a good rest. And that is just what I felt like doing that day. Sometimes the tired brain of a homeschooling housewife needs to be calmed, not stimulated.

2) The "Formula" or "dime a dozen" offerings. There were oodles and these and they seem to be at the other end of the spectrum. You know the type I mean. The heroines are high-spirited rebels with careless beauty! The heroes are all dark, swarthy, stern, often rich and stand-offish and many have deep, dark secrets in their pasts but hearts of gold. And then there are the wimpy ex-fiances, who often turn out to have shady characters. These stories are countless. There are historical ones, romantic ones, Gothic ones, more contemporary ones, but they're pretty much the same. Plots predictably involve battles for inheritance, and many of them give far more detail about their characters personal lives than we need, or even want, to know. And I think, "Come on, puh-leeze! Sure, my brain needs to be relaxed but not put to sleep."

So I started thinking that there's a sort of chasm between these two styles of fiction that needs to be filled. Books which make us feel that we are richer and happier for having read them, but we don't need college diplomas to get the full benefit of what they're all about. They ought to have fresh, surprising plots and characters who we genuinely love and admire because they are more like us and the friends and family we rub shoulders with each day. Books that normal people like myself can love and enjoy. I hadn't given it a thought until last Monday, but that's the sort criteria I'd like to try to set myself whenever I work on one of my own novels for Apple Leaf Books. I've come across several others that have captured my imagination. But I want to think of something to call them. They are like half-way points in the desert between the intellectual and the formula options that are so prolific. So for lack of anything better to call them, I think they something like an oasis for searchers like me, who don't consider myself either particularly smart or particularly dumb.


  1. We've been fortunate to have an excellent library system where we live. I can always find something I didn't expect, like "Expect the Unexpected."
    LOL. I'm so funny!

    Have you read "The Alchemist" yet?

    Peace and Laughter,

  2. Let's call them Balanced Books, or Oasis for the Normal. I'm just being silly, but I know what you mean. You can't even count on the category of Contemporary Christian anymore. Too much fluff out there.

  3. Well said! Perhaps that's why I prefer nonfiction over fiction - I'm not a "formula" reader and I have to be "in the mood" to read a heavy classic. If there was a happy medium, an "oasis", I'd probably read fiction more! Just today, I was looking around our bookshelves, trying to figure out what I'm in the mood for next. My dh suggested Dava Sobel's "Longitude" - have you heard of it? I'm still thinking ...

    Enjoy whatever you're reading - it beats doing housework!


  4. I so know what you are talking about. Maybe that is why I stopped reading books. Or maybe that I don't even have time to shower some days... :o) I don't like to know the plot before I finish the first chapter.

    The same can be said for movies. But there are good books out there and I normally end up reading them to the boys for our "read-aloud" time during school. Someday I am going to make a "list of books we like" on our blog. Andy reads so much we may not have room. :o)

  5. You make your point so well that I want to pat you on the back and say "Well Said!! Here, Here!!"

    I completely agree. I don't like books that get preachy on me, I don't like books that make me feel like I"m losing IQ points. Oasis is a perfect word for it- because it would be an oasis for the reader.

    What you commented on my blog about having two different types of kids is so true (even if my sentence is not). Mini-Me wants to think about everything first. What's it going to be like? Who's going to be there? What will we do? G is typically gung-ho unless he thinks he's going to be bored.
    And to toss in two that are way younger, it makes for an interesting mixture. Going out, sometimes just isn't worth it. *LOL*

    You are a blessing!

  6. I think that's why I got into historical fiction. Even when you know how it ends, it is fascinating reading. I started with the Middle Ages and found out I was learning and at the same time being thrilled with page turners: Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII and his court - you can't make this up!

    I do recommend Khaled Hosseini's latest: A Thousand Splendid Suns. Enjoy your books!