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?