The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Sparkfest! Part 3

            Today I offer my final topic for Sparkfest!.  Follow the link to find entries from other participants.

Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

            I was enthralled by science fiction in my earlier reading days.  I still recall in third grade having read a Robert Heinlein novel, the name which eludes me now, which sparked my imagination about the possibilities of literature.  The sci fi adventures of Tom Swift were a steady diet of reading that I consumed, along with the mysteries of the Hardy Boys.  

            Later, when I was in junior high school and had money of my own to spend, I joined the Doubleday Dollar Book Club and began reading a wider range of literature.  Taking advantage of the special introductory offers, I soon had memberships in the Science Fiction and the Mystery Book Clubs as well.  I was now buying books on a monthly basis and my library was expanding at a rapid pace.  

            Then, there were the books and other literature that we had to read for school.  The standard English curriculum usually provides a decent overview of literature that is considered great or essential reading for a college bound student.  I read, or at least gained an awareness of many of these works of literature.  Compared to other students where I attended school I think I was probably pretty well-read.

          After I started taking literature classes in college, my world view changed dramatically as far as literature.  My introduction to Southern Literature opened my eyes to a different way of writing and thinking than what I had previously been reading.   Now I listed my favorite authors as being Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Cormac McCarthy among others.   I could relate to many of the things about which they wrote.

         When I was attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in the early 1970s, my creative writing professor Robert Drake introduced me to the author who would have the biggest affect on my world view and the way I wrote.  The author was Flannery O'Connor.  She had an accessible style that made her works easy to read, but her themes and stories were unique, almost like a Southern Gothic version of the Twilight Zone writing that had influenced me so much when I was younger.  O'Connor had written the types of things that were similar to what I had begun to write at that time.  I began to see that there was a place for literature that dealt with Christian issues without being overtly Christian literature.

          I like reading a good message, but I don't want it to be in my face.  A good story with a Christian theme can be told without the author preaching it.  O'Connor's stories are usually about people who are not especially good and sometimes pure rotten, but she raises questions that make the reader think.  I can read her stories repeatedly and always see a profundity in her message--a message which is not always immediately evident.  O'Connor entertained me with her stories, but provided me with mental nourishment which gave my mind something to chew on after the story had passed.

         Flannery O'Connor's writing made me realize that substantive religious writing didn't have to be a glowing feel-good story from Sunday school class.   Nor did writing stories with religious themes require scaring the reader with hell-fire preaching.  Sometimes a story can merely cause a reader to contemplate ideas that have universal application and to realize that many of us may have similar questions that may not always have the easiest answers.  Fiction should entertain, but it should also enrich us in some way.   Flannery O'Connor showed me that good fiction should have hidden layers and subtleties that make the stories stick with us long after we've read them.

         Are you a fan of Southern Literature?   Do you think fiction should contain a message that stimulates thinking?   Do you prefer a story that is obvious or one with underlying messages?    What was your journey as a reader like?



  1. I agree 'hidden layers and subtleties' are a must! Sounds like you had a rich background of book reading to inpsire you. Great entry Lee :O)

  2. I enjoy Southern literature. A couple of my favorite novels take place in the South. I don't think fiction should always have to contain a message; sometimes reading fluff is fun (and necessary, depending what your day was like LoL). But I do prefer a great story that makes me think and wonder. I like underlying messages so I can come to my own conclusions!

  3. Lee, what a fantastic post. So much to chew on, here.

    'I began to see that there was a place for literature that dealt with Christian issues without being overtly Christian literature.'

    I have been a Christian all of my life but always with a sense of cultural displacement. My very progressively-minded Catholic cousin has plied me with literature since we were both in college and O'Connor was certainly among the authors about which he tried to engage me.

    Yes, certainly, I think stories should stimulate thinking, and feeling, about the wider issues of life and individual and collective development, but true, too, that people don't read novels to get sermons.

    Such a delicate tightrope-- and one which I suppose can only be managed with grace.

    Have a super weekend, Lee.

  4. I don't believe I've read much Southern literature. And outside of good triumphing over evil, I don't need a message in my books.

  5. BOID ~
    I've had a couple readers of 'Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends' ask me to include a way to link my posts there to Twitter and Facebook, etc. I tried but couldn't figure out how to do that.

    I see by the little row of symbols at the bottom of each of your blog bits that you've learned how to do it.

    Would you teach me?
    Thanks, McBrother!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  6. Madeleine -- I try to read a wide variety of literature.

    Laura -- I believe that all writers try to convey some message even if the writing seems to be pure fluff. Message is one of the main functions of writing, but it doesn't always have to be deep and shouldn't be too in the reader's face.

    Suze -- Thanks, I hope to have as great of a weekend as the week that has just passed. I agree that the graceful approach is the best. It's good to allow a reader to reach their own conclusions and not just be knocked over the head with propagandizing.

    Alex -- I guess the message of good triumphing over evil is one of the most common themes in literature.

    Stephen McC -- When I get back home I'll try to address your question. I think it was pretty simple, but I'll have to look again to see what I did and I can't now.


  7. BOIDMAN ~
    OKie-dokie. Thanks, dudecycle.

    Yak When Bak.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  8. Lee-

    I don't know if I can think of an author who changed my world view (certainly not a fiction author), but I've read a few on Ron Paul's books and one by Alan Keyes, and they both have certainly given me a lot to think about and made me rethink how I view the current state of the US.

    Hey, if you think of it, can you e-mail me with your mailing address? I have an extra copy of my cousin's jazz CD (reviewed on my blog in early July) and if you were interested, I was going to send you one.

    My attempt to give away CD's failed miserably-people were not coming back to check their comments so no one responded. Or they thought I was a creepy guy trying to lure them out in the open with the promise of free music.

    I thought you might enjoy this, and since you already know my mail is safe to open...


  9. I thought your post interesting to read, I have not read any southern books, but I do try to read as often as possible.
    Hope you're enjoying your vacation.


  10. I know you've written about Flannery O'Connor before. I like the idea of a "Southern Gothic version of the Twilight Zone." I am a fan of Tennessee Williams and love doing my Blanche DuBois impression, even if no one else does! Julie

  11. I absolutely adore Flannery O'Connor. The summer before my senior year of college, when i would tackle my senior writing project--a book-length collection of short stories--I read her complete works.

    My favorites, "Good Country People" and "Revelation." I can still hear that girl in the waiting room (Mary?) saying, "Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog!"

  12. I hadn't read O'Connor until earlier this year (don't know how that happened!), and loved her writing, especially the short stories. As far as Southern Lit as a genre goes, it's like anything else--some good, some bad, some amazing. The sense of place always comes across easily in Southern Lit, and I really like that. For quick reads I like straight-to-the-point type books, but for true enjoyment, I like the more subtle. Great post! Happy trails from a Campaigner!


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