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Fiction was utterly destroyed for me in high school where it was rammed down my throat, and when I was examined on finding deep meanings where the author may not have even intended or wanted. Biblical stories would be my pick if I had to move toward fiction, if you can even call it that.

Fiction was utterly destroyed for me ... when I was examined on finding deep meanings where the author may not have even intended or wanted

Post-structuralism[1] has its place, and I'm a big fan of it now, but I also hated having it pushed on me in high-school literature lessons -- that seems to be a very common experience, and one that really can damage people's enjoyment of fiction thereafter.

I'm not sure whether the problem's one of presentation ("find the meaning! it can be anything you like!"; "er, say wot, miss?"), or whether the average teenager just doesn't have the right intellectual frame to really appreciate the idea "meaning is a product of the interaction between text and reader, not a product of the text alone".

Back in high-school, I overcame my frustration at the perceived arbitrariness by approaching the task ironically -- "sod it, I'm gonna pick the most outlandish reading I can think of". The teachers seemed to think the results were great, which I found pretty amusing.

[1] I refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism#Destabilized... in particular.

Interesting. I suppose English teachers like total textbook responses to texts (things they tell their students to say) or totally outlandish stuff to shake them from monotony. I remember creating essays that were great (at least to me) but not scoring particularly well, I also used to think if the author of a text would be marked on response to that text, they'd fair pretty poorly too. It really is a long time ago. I read things my old English teachers write now in school magazines and they are hardly impressive.

Here's a suggestion. Read the story of David, all the way through, continuing into the early years of his son Solomon's reign. Pay special attention to Absalom's rebellion and the aftermath.

Then read "The Godfather" by Mario Puzo. Compare and contrast Solomon with Michael Corleone.

The Godfather movies are also outstanding, maybe better than the books. But they don't resonate the Bible story's theme of generational revenge quite so clearly.

I'm struggling to take what you've said at face value - that the high school situation you've described has destroyed fiction for you. Are you now unable to read without searching for strained deeper meanings for things? Does this also affect television and movies, reading out picture books to children?

Could it be that you've bought into your own fictional narrative? If so, then what you've said is true (the high school thing did destroy fiction for you, indirectly). But you have the tools within you to deal with that.

Being forced to churn through books I didn't enjoy destroyed fiction for me. Also, being forced to analyze things in certain ways also injected displeasure into the experience. I have trouble with fiction now either because I don't find it interesting, I don't need it, I don't trust fiction to inspire me or I don't trust myself to be inspired by it. I'm not sure, I'm not proud of it, but then again I'm not ashamed of it either. People that enjoy fiction have a charm about them, but I have enough of that anyway!

add: I don't watch TV, nor watch films generally unless there's something very special about them. I dream a lot, so that's my entertainment. The real healing component from dreams comes when remembering them part way through the day.. that unlocks their subconscious energy for conscious use.

High school and college literature classes dealt a serious setback to my readership too. Most (not all) of the books I had to read were worth reading, but like a fine beverage, many should be sipped and savored, not gulped and dismissed. What teachers seem to forget is that a student has a great many things on his plate, and can find it difficult indeed to set aside enough time to give a really good book its due.

Then they give you an assignment like, identify ten symbols in the work, and explain what you think they symbolize. Remember, there's no single right answer--symbolism and abstract meaning is a result of the interaction between the reader and the text. When I hear someone say "there's no single right answer," I hear, "...but there are an awful lot of wrong answers, and chances are, yours is one of 'em."

What I can say, though, is that once you get out of academia, give your mind a little time to refresh itself, and no longer feel the threat to your GPA if you interpret a book incorrectly, the enjoyment returns to reading. In some cases, you'll even go back to those books you had forced down your throat, re-read them, and enjoy them this time round!

But not "The Things They Carried." I don't mind being surprised in a story, but I get annoyed when the style clearly suggests one thing, and then in a pique of self-referentiality, the author tugs the rug out from under you and tells you that... well, I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't had the misfortune yet. (No, it's really a pretty good book, and I have to admit the author got me good.)

I plan on buying a new monitor soon. I think when I can read comfortably off a screen for long periods of time it will make it that little bit easier. Is there any equivalent to http://www.sacred-texts.com/ but for literature?

add: perhaps when I find something I like, I can then borrow it at a library for the full the effect. Is there a netflix for books worth using?

Interesting thread. When I learnt music theory (as an adult) the way I was taught is that there is a correct way to go about writing a tune to pass the exam, and that if you evaluate the tune through these criteria it will also sound good. And that you can then reuse these techniques to write more sophisticated and interesting music for other purposes.

I have liked the idea that you can do this creative thing, but come up with something which is validly good to an objective criteria. Somewhat like the market - something that makes money within the law has a certain fitness to it. Or code. There's different ways to go about it, but things that don't compile are broken.

It separates valid creativity from the mind poison of "all opinions are equally valid".

Stories are one of the most important things about being human. When we encounter a situation we have to think about, particularly if we don't have rational mechanisms for evaluate it, we fall back to stories. Fiction can be a great way to distil ideas, and create context for thinking about interactions between humans, and give us a foundation for interacting in real-world situations based on good examples.

But some are better suited than others. Fifteen years on I'm still trying to work out what the essence was of _The Great Gatsby_ and what his point was. You struggle to find a point that you'd make to an examiner, and there's never quite enough evidence to support it. I've decided that Fitzgerald books are a cloud of atmosphere. The author is just trying to communicate a picture of a setting, and in parts his feelings. I could now write a great essay about his brilliant mechanisms, and place that in the context of his times. But - as much as you might enjoy or hate the book, or identify with characters inside - there's nothing else there to share with an examiner.

Whereas Shakespeare is full of clear, valuable, timeless messages. He racks up evidence for the points he wants to make, the situations are timeless, and the soliloquays will keep you brave through the darkness. For a great article about Mandela and Shakespeare in The Australian recently, google for 'The Bard's role at Robben Island' and click through.

If you get a basic Kindle you can get a fair bit stuff cheaply. And there's lots of old books on amazon that cost 0.01 unit of your currency, plus postage. Better would be if you could find someone who you like and who likes books in a non-wanky way, and then they can lend books to you they recommend. Then you can have lunch with them and talk about it every now and then. A friend convinced me not to start an economics program, and instead do this for economic history, and it was a good experience.

Thanks for those insights and tips. As for "let food be thy medicine" I think it's possible to "let fiction be thy medicine." The trick would be to find the right fiction. What is the news but an interface into other people's stories at a time of relevance or interest to the wider community?

Incidentally, my great-great grandfather was an author whereby "he uses the novel as a forum for discussing the nature of Polish anti-Semitism, for defending his fellows against charges of usury and lack of interest in Polish national life. He does this by throwing the characters, both Polish and Jewish, into difficult and sometimes fantastic situations." http://goo.gl/JFBN2

So I suppose what I seek is functional fiction. Maybe I'll have to resort to writing my own fiction if I don't find anything worthwhile. Haha.

"Biblical stories would be my pick if I had to move toward fiction"

That's an interesting choice - why would you choose those? Historicity? Impact on Western culture?

Truly inspired text should inspire the reader to obtain insights they'd have trouble reaching on their own. And yes, getting in touch with archetypes can actually be healing to the psyche.

After reading any parts of the Bible I tend to feel as inspired as Randolph Churchill who, as described by Evelyn Waugh:

"In the hope of keeping him quiet for a few hours Freddy & I have bet Randolph 20[pounds sterling] that he cannot read the whole Bible in a fortnight. It would have been worth it at the price. Unhappily it has not had the result we hoped. He has never read any of it before and is hideously excited; keeps reading quotations aloud `I say I bet you didn't know this came in the Bible "bring down my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave'" or merely slapping his side & chortling `God, isn't God a shit!' "


Indeed, the Bible is both a narrative and an extended esoteric religious metaphor. Someone looking for insights, healing, gnosis and awareness of archetypes would do well to seek out more modern literature by Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof and Huston Smith.

Very good suggestions, and I've touched on them all. Ken Wilber mentioned that the best thing a person can do to promote enlightenment is to simply share their beingness, not try to push any agenda. I tend to agree. I find Alex Jones' QA sessions to be very interesting. But none of this is fiction.

add: AJ says he uses Linux personally and wants to get more deeply into it. He and Stallman agree open-source is the way to go because it's open, and any spyware or backdoors can be discovered. Keep Big Brother out. If AJ is out there getting Linux and Bitcoin (to a lesser extent) into people's minds, then that is a good thing in and of itself, I think.

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