The Challenges in Writing a Philosophical Novel

A while back I did some Googling to find out whether someone out there had written a book similar to mine, and in my research I came across Charles Johnson’s novel, Faith and The Good Thing. Too good to be true. He too makes use of the most powerful centerpieces in Plato’s works: The Allegory of the Cave and The Divided Line in the Republic, and Diotima’s Ladder in the Symposium. To name a few. 671564(See this for more on the meaning of Diotima’s Ladder.) I wondered how he turned these theories about the relationship of reality, truth, and beauty into a story that people would be able to appreciate as fiction.

I’ve always felt that Plato’s ‘harmony of the soul’ would make for a great story, if only I could figure out the right angle. I know the phrase sounds antiquated, but if we change the language a bit, we’ll find a remarkably current philosophy of lived experience, a nuanced one that doesn’t ignore all-too-human truths, and, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t ignore the  world we inhabit. But it’s true that Plato’s more concerned about the inner workings of our minds, and for him this needs to be understood before we can make sense of the world. We have complicated emotions and desires that can really mess us up, in so many ways, even intellectually, and we might not realize it. But Plato also says that these are an integral part of us, and necessary for attaining knowledge. Without desire, there’s no impetus to do much of anything, much less study philosophy. And yet, philosophers tend to think of emotion and desire as something that ‘gets in the way’ of reason, if they bother to discuss it at all. Plato plunges headfirst into the mess of the human psyche, and leads us to ask: How do we make sense of ourselves as creatures with noble ideas in a world that doesn’t seem to live up to our expectations? Should we lower our expectations, give ourselves a so-called ‘reality’ check? What if we get it wrong, and don’t realize it? What if  transcendent ideas actually are real? What makes something real anyway? How can something be said to be not real?

I think Plato has meaningful answers to these questions. My challenge is to turn something as technical as the Divided Line into an engaging story, to bring these questions back to life.

I was surprised to find that Charles Johnson and I came up with the same idea—we both independently thought to create characters that represent segments of the line. (Of course, he did it first.) My “Faith” character is also a religious young woman who represents picture-thinking on the line. Johnson’s characterization makes perfect sense to me, obviously, but it might not make sense to those who don’t know the intricacies of the allegory.

But that doesn’t matter. Faith’s plight as a religious young black woman whose mother dies, leaving Faith to roam the earth (well, Chicago) in search of “The Good Thing” makes for an intriguing story. She wonders what The Good Thing is, and so do we. Faith becomes a prostitute in order to survive, constantly searching, constantly changing as she encounters dodgy characters, each of whom represent other aspects of the divided line. She’s moving up the line or ladder, but from her original standpoint as a fairly stable innocent figure (representative of right opinion), moving up to higher levels of knowledge and sophistication is dangerous. Plato would agree, and the events in the novel exemplify what would otherwise be a yawn-inducing epistemological threat. Johnson has shown that the theoretical has serious, material consequences. Plus, there’s an element of magic to the tale, which lends an epic feel to the novel, a bit like John Gardner’s Grendel, (Gardner was apparently his writing mentor.) There’s a surprising merging of science and witchcraft, of art and reason, of myth and truth, and these create a thematic tension that sustains us throughout.

All of these elements make the philosophy come alive, but Johnson may have lost a broader audience was when he had characters dropping references to philosophers/philosophies that the average reader might not understand. What worries me is that I didn’t even notice that these references were problematic until I got feedback from my book group. So much about this novel was, in my opinion, brilliantly successful. Members of my group all agreed that the writing sparkled. And yet, these references were enough to make erudite people, some of whom are professors, dislike the book as a whole. The online reviews echo this complaint. Yet I missed it, so eager was I to make my comparisons and theories. This was an eye opener for me.

My takeaway from The Good Thing:

Don’t reference without clearly explaining. Better yet, don’t reference without being prepared to integrate the point into the plot and theme in such a way as to make the idea come alive on its own, with no need for you to call attention to the reference. OR—reference with such a light touch that readers who won’t get the reference won’t feel that anything’s missing.

Don’t make the characters wooden in order to drive home a theme. Give your reader time to figure out what’s being exemplified, and don’t worry if the philosophical theme isn’t crystal clear from the get-go. Don’t worry if it never becomes crystal clear. If you stick too closely to the archetype, you lose that breath of life that makes fiction fiction. Johnson juxtaposed his children’s fairy tale narrative style with a dark subject about modern life to make his archetypes worth following. But what he did is hard to do. And while I don’t know what segments of the Divided line all his characters represent, I got his overall interpretation well enough to let those details go.

Be funny. Yeah, easier said than done. But humor makes readers more likely to forgive you your heavy ideas. Johnson did just this, and it worked. He had a way of spinning out yarns that I’m incapable of. But there are more ways to be humorous than telling jokes. Consider goofy ordinary things that people do, and bring those into a heavy philosophical moment, grounding that scene in the mundane. Consider the setting and how that can contrast or illuminate the point in humorous ways. If all else fails, just put a dog or a baby in the mix. Interruptions can do double duty by being both funny and revealing, especially if your characters react in different, revealing ways.

 

Don’t be tempted to put all your philosophical ideas inside heads. This is sort of the default for philosophical fiction: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. It’s a kind of info dump when you think about it. When I don’t know how to convey some idea, I tend to just stick it into dialogue and run with it. Or I have someone thinking about the idea. But that’s lazy of me. Try conveying those ideas with no dialogue, at least as an exercise, and see where that leads. You might be surprised.

Don’t be too brief. If you want an idea to resonate, make it resonate. Don’t whittle it down to nothing out of fear of being boring. More than likely, you’ll make it boring by scraping away the meat of it. There are other ways to deal with dense material than to strip it down to a Cliff’s note. And if you want to let readers get their geek on, but you’re worried you might still be putting out too much info, put the diagrams and equations in an endnote. That way everyone can have their cake.

That said, brief nuggets of wisdom can work well.  Especially when repeated in a certain thematic rhythm. Johnson used a few snappy lines to crystalize various ideas, and the repetition of those lines gave a sense of movement in its own right. Also, these gave a sense of finality: “Don’t be interrupting to ask if the tale is true. Was it Good? Was it Beautiful? All right.”

Use subtext. The best of all possible worlds is when material conflict converges with ideological tension. When one character has something to hide from another, he or she might speak in generalities—in our case, in dry philosophical terms—while really being concerned about something much more mundane, which is, in a sense, more important. Make that mundane worry crystal clear for the reader, make it clear that this worry is bubbling beneath the surface of what’s being said or done, and you’ve virtually given yourself a free pass to go wild with theoretical musings.

For instance, when Faith meets Tippis, one of those dodgy characters she encounters on her travels, he takes her to a bar and drowns his sorrows in pontifications: “Everything you want is an object for the satisfaction of drives developed in childhood, and you, in society, are an object for others, hardly ever yourself…” and so on. This doesn’t feel like a lecture in the context, because they’re at a sleazy bar, and we know Tippis is eager to use Faith as an object for his sexual gratification. Faith realizes this too, and now we wonder how she’ll react to his professed philosophy. We also get a sense of just how pathetic Tippis is, and can feel sorry for him in this sense, just as Faith does, even when she’s powerless to stop him.

Give those ideas relevance by making them a stake in the game. If you can make the philosophical idea a necessary feature of your plot, you’re golden. If the protagonist doesn’t figure out the mind-body problem in time, his lover will literally lose her head. Well, maybe you can tell me how that might work.

By the way, tomorrow I’m going to the Tucson Festival of Books to see Charles Johnson do a workshop. Maybe I’ll get to thank him in person!


Any ideas on how to write a philosophical novel? Or a novel about ideas? What tricks or tools would you use?

Submission

This post is a little break from phenomenology and AI, but one I’ve been meaning to write for some time now. I read this novel, Submission, by Michel Houellebecq, without knowing much about the author or the controversy surrounding it…I did this on purpose. I wanted to read it on its own merits, then do my googling later.

Spoiler alert…I give the alert, but this isn’t a plot-driven story. Knowing what will happen shouldn’t ruin it for you.

The novel is about a Muslim party taking over the French government. The fusion of religion into French education and culture is central to the themes explored here. Is this fusion a good thing? Bad? The author leaves us in the dark.

We stay in the first person POV with Francois, a Sorbonne professor and expert in Huysmans (whom I’ve never read, apparently an author of the decadent period who later becomes religious). Francois is the embodiment of everything we dislike about the French. And yet, the novel gripped me, despite the fatiguing je-m’en-foutisme of the narrator. Here, the protagonist’s ennui isn’t the point. Rather, it’s part of the point, but only as a reflection of society, as satire. You get that right off the bat, which makes staying in Francois’ head tolerable. Besides, I found myself laughing at the protagonist at certain points, but maybe that’s a reflection of my sick sense of humor. Humor works, however, and I felt pulled along.

The narrator is too aloof and self-centered to give us much perspective on reality. He seems to be a representative of a whole, either academics in general, French academics in particular, or the bourgeois…I don’t know. He basically bumbles about, mostly in his own head. The politics are talked about, but they remain in the background for most of the beginning. This background—revealed to us in dialogue and little details—keeps the tension going throughout Francois’ cliché existential crisis. The author doesn’t take his protagonist’s lack of raison d’être too seriously, and that helps to elevate the novel to a political and moral realm.

Francois does try to become religious earlier in the tale…sort of. I see this chapter as a character-reveal—Francois tries to mirror his own protagonist’s life story—but more than that, comic relief. Before the absolute Muslim takeover, Francois goes to Ligugé Abbey (where Huysmans had taken his vows) in an attempt to etch out some meaning for his empty existence. Only, there were a few things in the way on his path to heaven:

The modern church, constructed within monastery walls, had a sober ugliness to it. Architecturally, it was reminiscent of the Super-Passy shopping center in the rue de l’Annonciation, and its stained-glass windows, simple patches of color, weren’t worth looking at, but none of that bothered me. I wasn’t an aesthete—I had infinitely less aesthetic sense than Huysmans—and for me the uniform ugliness of contemporary religious art was essentially a matter of indifference. The voices of the monks rose up in the freezing air, pure, humble, well-meaning. They were full of sweetness, hope, and expectation. The Lord Jesus would return, was about to return, and already the warmth of his presence filled their souls with joy. This was the one real theme of their chants, chants of sweet and organic expectation. That old queer Nietzsche had it right: Christianity was, at the end of the day, a feminine religion.

All of this might have suited me fine, but going back to my cell ruined it: the smoke detector glared at me with its little red hostile eye.

He quits the monastery because he’s not allowed to smoke in his room. He can smoke outside. I’m reminded of my time in France…I once saw my Plato professor light up a RYO cigarette in the hallway just outside his classroom, right next to a sign that said “No Smoking.” I consulted with a few students who were also smoking in the hallway. I received a few shrugs and snickers before I decided to light one up myself. I found it thrilling and tried to hide my excitement; they took it as a God-given right. Francois would commit suicide if he had to live in California.

And when Francois says he’s not an aesthete, I don’t know whether I believe him. He does eat microwave dinners (ethnic mostly), but he never fails to mention what kind of food and drink is being served, not even when he can hear bombs going off in the distance. And yet, on the other hand, this non-stop food fixation could simply be French, not foodie-French. Just typical bourgeois French. It’s hard to say, being an American and coming at it from my perspective.

With his food fixation comes a similar sex fixation. His relationships are pathetic and sad, yet it’s another aspect of his life about which he is blasé. Sex, however, is central to his being, it defines him, even when he gets nothing from it. He did once have a sort-of girlfriend, a Jewish student. Out of concern for her safety, she leaves with her family for Israel. He tries to miss her, but in the end he doesn’t.

I’d like to share with you what I consider the most disturbing passage in the whole novel, but one that sums up our protagonist’s character. Francois has just fled Paris, just lost his position at the Sorbonne, and is now unsure where his life is heading. He arrives at a gas station:

The parking lot was deserted, and right away I could tell something wasn’t right. I slowed to a crawl before I pulled up, very carefully, to the service station. Someone had shattered the window, the asphalt was covered with shards of glass. I got out of the car and walked inside. Someone had also smashed the door of the refrigerated case where they kept the cold drinks and knocked over the newspaper dispensers. I discovered the cashier lying on the floor in a pool of blood, her arms clasped over her chest in a pathetic gesture of self-defense. The silence was total. I walked over to the gas pumps, but they were turned off. Thinking I might be able to find some way of turning them on behind the register, I went back into the shop and stepped reluctantly over the body, but I didn’t see anything that looked like an ON switch. After a moment’s hesitation, I helped myself to a tuna-vegetable sandwich from the sandwich shelf, a non-alcoholic beer, and a Michelin guide.

This distance and lack of empathy is meant to be utterly shocking. However, Francois isn’t portrayed as a bad person, but instead a sick person. His only real relationship, the only one which evokes feeling in him, is the one he has with his favorite author, Huysmans (which amounts to self-love, really). When his father dies, he feels no grief. He’s estranged from his family and this matter is treated in a minor way, as a matter of course, yet it plays a huge role in the novel since it contrasts sharply with the cultural upheaval that follows. It’s once again: modern, independent, free-but-morally-bankrupt man vs. family-centered, hierarchical Islam.

 

Francois ends up finding his raison d’être. He converts to Islam, despite having no religious feeling. In the end, what seems to matter most is not the particular religion he converts to, but having something—anything—to live for. Hence, the submission of modern man. Here we’re reminded of Sartre’s Roads to Freedom series: The protagonist decides to fight against the Nazis not out of moral feeling, but just to have something to do with himself. To give this stance more philosophical credence, you might say he overcame the burden of freedom…you might know the popular phrase—condemned to be free…well, all that, & etc. I tend toward the first interpretation (not a big Sartre fan.)

Of course, there’s a huge difference here: Francois does have a choice, his “submission” is not coerced in any strong way, there are no Nazis at his doorstep, and we know that. But when the moment comes when he must make that choice, we also know his true desires. Francois will submit…he holds no ideals precious, not even humanism, which sits vaguely in his psyche as a sort of cultural embellishment which can easily be discarded. He’s allowed to retire if he chooses not to convert, and he’ll receive a more than fair pension. On the other hand, if he converts, his salary will increase, his prestige will increase, and he’ll be allowed to have multiple wives, all of whom will keep him well-fed and well, um, taken care of. His number of wives goes up in proportion to his salary, which goes up in proportion to his prestige, which has already been chosen for him. He doesn’t have to decide or work much for any of this: it’s been determined that he’s a three-wife sort of guy. He can choose his wives or a matchmaker could do it for him. Francois’ life has altered and, from his point of view, for the better.


 

What Google taught me about the novel:

Submission was published the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack, the same week that Houellebecq himself appeared on the cover of that magazine. To make things weirder, I was reading the novel when the Paris attacks occurred. To make things even weirder—I was reading this passage when I first heard the news:

“That’s the first fighting we’ve had in Paris,” Lempereur remarked, in a neutral tone. Just then we heard a new round of gunfire, this time quite distinct, as if nearby, and a much louder explosion. All the guests turned toward the sound. A column of smoke was rising into the sky above the buildings. It must have been coming from somewhere near Place de Clichy.

“Well, it looks as if our little soiree is breaking up,” Alice said.

This passage came early in the novel—before the creepy gas station scene—but you get hints of that same eery blasé distancing from virtually everyone surrounding Francois. Notice the last line of this passage. Alice’s comment is the epitome of insensitivity. Which leads me to think Francois stands for an entire group, as a representative.

The questions that come to mind are: Is the novelist implying something sinister and racist against Muslims in general, or is he putting down European ‘modern man’ as morally and spiritually bankrupt? I’m not sure, but I suspect the latter, especially given Francois’ fair treatment in the end if he’d decided not to convert. That’s the wonderful thing about the novel—it lends itself to interpretation and discussion. And it’s a quick read, nothing like Sartre’s lumbering Roads to Freedom, although it seems to feed off of those themes in a fresh way. Submission’s breezy, short chapters make certain unsavory aspects of this novel work, at least for me. The pacing might feel a bit slow at first for those who are used to dramatic openings, but the humor—sometimes risky and grotesque, sometimes light, sometimes dark—keeps the serious and disturbing elements in check. I found myself not really liking the protagonist, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to. His mundane, mostly food-based fixations were well done—a light touch, just enough to provoke a chuckle here and there. The voice is not what I’d call academic, although it seems that way at first. Later you learn that this Sorbonne scholar has a dirty mind, and why we have the phrase, “Pardon my French.”

Last but not least, here’s a photo of Michel Houellebecq which appears as a cropped version on the back jacket cover:

images.jpeg

“Je m’ennuie.”

 

Why Contemporary Novels Lack Substance

I recently finished a novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, and I can barely remember what happened except to say it had the general message that racism is bad, mixed race identity confusing. This message has been delivered a thousand times already. It seems to be enough to raise the same question over and over without adding anything new. But people praise the book. It’s supposed to be really good. And it was well-written, but shouldn’t there be more to a novel than “well-written”?

I don’t mean to pick on this particular novel. Disappointment with most contemporary novels is a pattern for me, and I wondered if it was my fault. Erikleo recommended Colin Wilson’s book, The Craft of the Novel, after I had made these complaints in a previous post. I have to say, I found Colin Wilson’s open and thoughtful critique of all authors great and small right up my alley. He raises the bar…and isn’t afraid of disparaging James Joyce or claiming that “The Lord of the Rings must be regarded as one of the most successful works of art of the twentieth century.” This pomposity would be irksome under normal circumstances, but in the context of our lax intellectual standards in fiction these days, I found it refreshing in its decisiveness, even if he turns out to be wrong. He insists that successful novels should have meaning and, more specifically, ideas. He summarizes the novelist’s goals at the end of chapter four, As for Living:

1. The aim of the novel is to produce wide-angle consciousness. Everyday consciousness  is narrow and limited; the novel is one of the most interesting compensations that man as so far devised.

2. The novel is substitute experience. Most of us have an appetite for a far wider range of experience than our lives afford. To some extent, the novel can provide it. It can even provide forms of experience that would have been impossible in reality.

3. The novel is a form of thought-experiment. Like the thought-experiments of the philosopher, its aim is to teach us something about the real world.

4. Ideally, the aim of the novel is not only to produce wide-angle consciousness, but also three-dimensional consciousness—something allied to the opium experience (the sense of relaxing and opening up), but with an unimpaired sense of reality—a recognition of the enormous and fascinating complexity of the world.

5. Unsuccessful novels are thought-experiments that have failed to ‘come out right’, like a calculation that has gone wrong, or a laboratory experiment in which the experimenter has made some crucial error.

6. The aim of all these thought-experiments is the exploration of human freedom.

Freedom? Thought experiments? This sounds like the language of philosophy. Indeed, Wilson says, “‘Describing reality’ and ‘telling the truth’ are only secondary aims, the novelist’s credentials—his authority for demanding the reader’s attention. His real aim is to understand himself, to grasp his own purpose…” In other words, writing fiction is a philosophical journey. 

Wilson seems aware of the usual platitudes that come from writer’s workshops. You can succeed in doing all the things the workshops tell you to do (show don’t tell, keep consistent POV, use only relevant details, don’t describe physical appearance by having characters gaze into mirrors, avoid omniscient unless you’re awesome…) and still fail because you don’t have ideas. “Most of the writers who have landed in blind alleys—from Flaubert to Beckett—have done so because they placed too much faith in artistic intuition, and too little in thought.” I think this is still going on. Would-be writers go to school and study writing. But what will they write about? They are told they already have things to write about, that everyone has something to say, it’s just a matter of saying it right. I disagree. This Mr. Rogers attitude has made writers intellectually and conceptually lazy. Workshop junkies would be better off stepping outside the ring for a moment to expand their horizons.

Wilson’s not advocating a cerebral novel with lengthy soliloquies or sermons. He’s saying it’s not enough to hold a mirror up to the universe. “A writer needs to have some idea—no matter how vague—of what he would actually prefer.” The mirror should be held up to the author as well. So many novels simply tell the story of a bleak and meaningless universe, a general sense of dissatisfaction, author nowhere to be found. Many would argue that the author is always there all along. I can see this point; we like to say that journalists, even when they take every step to be impartial, can’t help but reflect themselves in their selection of details, that Objectivity is impossible. However, novelists shouldn’t strive to be journalists. Even if the author is “there all along” holding up the mirror to the world, he’s still trying to hide, to make no claims, and this is boring. I suspect that if authors are forced to come out of hiding, they might take it upon themselves to have something to say.

I also suspect that omniscient has gone out of style because it puts the narrator-author too much in the foreground. (Here I’m not speaking of the clever omniscient of Jonathan Franzen, for instance, where it pops in from time to time, but stays for the most part in 3rd person limited and never makes sweeping claims). The topic of omniscience could be an entire post, so I won’t go into it here.

But this concept of expressing a positive idea of oneself is itself a bit vague. Wilson insists we must tell the story of a search for freedom, but here does not explain what freedom is. The most I could find were statements such as this:

Freedom is the same for all human beings, but the maze inside each of us is different. The novelist’s aim is to reach the freedom at the end of his own maze.

Lovely prose, but what does it mean?

Next post will be on the meaning of freedom. I give you all time to ponder that. Heavy topic, I know. My philosopher readers will have a lot to say and I can’t wait to hear it, but I hope it won’t be too intimidating for the fiction writers out there.

What do you think is the aim of the novel? (Not necessarily a philosophical novel this time, but all novels.) What do you think makes a novel meaningful? What’s your favorite novel? Why?

The Philosophical Novel

I’ve been trying to think of all the truly philosophical novels I’ve read, and I must admit, I’m coming up short. Very short.

Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is always the first to come to my mind. I consider this truly a philosophical novel as the concepts are illustrated by the story, inextricably integrated:

“Why does my action strike them as so horrible?” he said to himself. “Is it because it was a crime? What is meant by crime? My conscience is at rest. Of course it was a legal crime, of course the letter of the law was broken and blood was shed. Well, punish me for the letter of the law…and that’s enough. Of course, in that case many of the benefactors of mankind who snatched power for themselves instead of inheriting it ought to have been punished at their first steps. But those men succeeded and so they were right, and I didn’t, and so I had no right to have taken that step.”

It was only in that that he recognized his criminality, only in the fact that he had been unsuccessful and had confessed it.

He suffered too from the question: why had he not killed himself? Why had he stood looking into the river and preferred to confess? Was the desire to live so strong and was it so hard to overcome it? Had not Svidrigailov overcome it, although he was afraid of death?

In misery he asked himself this question, and could not understand that, at the very time he had been standing looking into the river, he had perhaps been dimly conscious of the fundamental falsity in himself and his convictions. He didn’t understand that that consciousness might be the promise of a future crises, of a new view of life and of his future resurrection.

Raskolnikov holds the philosophy of Nietzsche, Thrasymachus, and Callicles—might makes right. In other words, moral law is upheld by the weak for the weak as a mere social convention. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with killing someone for no reason, it’s just a matter of having the ability to get away with it.

So Raskolnikov kills his landlady for practically no reason; he steals a few items, but this effort is feeble…he picks through her pouch and throws the crosses back on her corpse, a symbolic gesture that has no pragmatic purpose and could compromise his deed. Then he’s forced to kill another, to escape getting caught.

His punishment comes to him from within, just after this killing. As he’s running out the door: “…it is very possible that he would have flung up everything, and would have gone to give himself up, and not from fear, but from simple horror and loathing of what he had done. The feeling of loathing especially surged up within him and grew stronger and stronger every minute. He would not now have gone to the box or even into the room for anything in the world.”

He can’t understand why he feels what he feels because his moral philosophy (or lack thereof) contradicts his emotions. He becomes ill, the deed sits like a poison in his body and soul. Eventually the sickness is too strong to bear and he recognizes the “fundamental falsity in himself.”

Without this “might makes right” philosophy in the character of Raskolnikov, the story simply wouldn’t be what it is.  It’s Dostoyevsky’s conviction that moral conscience exists in us, whether we want it or believe in it. As Socrates argues in the Republic, “…the just is happy and the unjust miserable” (354a).

Only Dostoyevsky brings Socrates’ argument into a detailed psychological illustration that far surpasses dry argument in its ability to persuade. The power of fiction drives a clear concept, elucidating it, making the ‘dry’ argument even clearer. To me, this novel perfectly encapsulates the fusion of philosophy and fiction and demonstrates what the marriage of these can do, how far such an alliance can go.

I yearn for more of these novels. I used to read only classics (that is, if I read fiction at all) but since I’ve started writing fiction I’ve felt compelled to read contemporary stuff, mainly so I don’t sound so damned ignorant in my writer’s group, but also so I can get a sense of what most people are reading, a sense of our culture.

I’m finding even really well-written contemporary novels somewhat empty. If I start listing the titles of those novels I’ve read that I think fit this category, I’m sure to have people up in arms. I like to think I’m not being nostalgic…I don’t feel the same way about movies, for instance. I think we’re producing way better movies nowadays (and I’d like to talk about Her in my next post…it’s fantastic and I urge you all to watch it.) I would like to read a novel—not necessarily philosophical—that has substance. I want a higher standard. I don’t want to read an award-winning novel and put it down thinking, “Well I could have gotten that wisdom from a few paragraphs of X non-fiction book.” I want the close emotive connectedness of the novel—it’s persuasive power—put to good use, a necessary handmaiden of an interesting idea. Anyone else feel the same way?

I hope I don’t sound like a snob. I see the need for a “beach read,” but the novels I’m complaining about are classified as “literary” and awarded great critical acclaim.

Besides, why can’t we expect more from a beach read? Why can’t a novel be easy to read and substantive? In fact, I hope my novel turns out to be a beach read, in this sense.

So what do you think?

What makes a novel philosophical?

What makes a novel worth reading?

Do you read fiction? If not, why?