A few days ago our editor, Joseph Bottum, observed with a shake of his head that none of the many Junior Fellows at First Things in recent years reads novels with any regularity.
I had to confess I was no exception, thus perfecting his despair. “The dominant Western literary form for the past two hundred years” he said “but you all say, ‘Nope, we’re done with that.’”
Why is this? I can’t speak for anyone else, but, for my part, I just don’t get drawn into fictional narratives the way I did as a child.
I turned towards the philosophical and historic in my mid-teens, which gave me Plato’s kind of impatience with lying poets. At some point I found that I had to force myself to turn the next page because I really did not care in the least what happened to imaginary persons. The only narratives I now read with easy pleasure are travelogues, histories, and biographies, packed as they are with the red meat of the real.
But I’m making a good-faith effort to regain a taste for novels. I’ve started with Jane Austen, hoping that the goodly helping of edification will help me painlessly transition from my addiction to propositional truths to a healthy appreciation of the formal properties of a well-wrought story. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and am now in the middle of Persuasion . She’s quite as wise, perceptive, and delightfully ironic as everyone says, but I’m still having the hardest time staying interested in the plot.
Are there any other philistines out there who can relate to my struggle?