I love complex and expansive novels. I love family sagas, and plots that mingle past and present, generation with generation. Some of my favorite books—The Blind Assassin, East of Eden, and Great Expectations—are big stories. Of course, these narratives take a long time to read, especially if you read as slowly and deliberately as I do. It seems each year the pace of life quickens, and I have even less time to read, even short novels. After a day of teaching, I’m exhausted. I lapse into vegetative state after 8:00 PM. From 8:00 until 10:00, I watch TV with one eye open, sometimes with neither eyes open. The reality is I have very little energy to read seriously during the school year.
So, how do I satisfy my craving? Well, I’ve started listening to books on my iPhone during my 45 minute commute. Suddenly, I’m transported away from the terrible DC traffic and into a great story. Of course, it takes time to get through a big book, but it’s worth it … at least I get to spend a little slice of every week day in another world. Also, I find that I’m drawn to TV shows with longer, more complex story lines, particularly Dexter or Breaking Bad or Damages. I’m really excited about Todd Haynes 5 hour HBO mini-series adaptation of James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce starring Kate Winslet.
Although we live in a culture that’s absolutely dead set on fragmenting our perception of the world into soundbites, I think many of us long for expansive narrative experiences. We want the writer or filmmaker to weave a thread through the fragments and give a sense of wholeness. We want to be reassured. Even the darkest stories—if not comforting in character or theme—can have a reassuring structure. If there’s a beauty of form, we feel satisfied—even inspired. In my case, the grander the story that greater complexity of structure and a greater potential for beauty.
I just yearn for more time to spend with these sorts of stories.