In last week’s Monday Musing, I wrote about the ways in which I process and account for my dislike of particular novels. Inspired by my troubled impression of Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (although my continued love for his work is reflected in today’s choice of quote), I found myself contemplating the meaning that I attribute to books that I struggle to enjoy. I’ve often worried that the approach I take – as well as the fact that I rarely encounter a book with no redeeming features – delegitimises the authenticity of my reviews or somehow makes me ‘too kind’ to authors. It is certainly the case that we are in an era where harsh critique is fashionable. Social media has opened doors of immediate accessibility to creators and artists, with the universal ability to level our unfiltered opinions wherever we see fit. The idea that criticism is somehow ‘trendy’ is a view both mobilised and demanded through the unprecedented access that we now all have to the authors that we both like and dislike.
Criticism can be borne out of respect. This is place from which I direct every one of my reviews, whether positive or not. More fundamentally, however, my interpretation of literature emerges directly from my own encounters with the art form. Last week, I used the term “intoxicating salvation” to describe what so many of us experience when we read. There is an automatic deliverance from reality. My post on the science behind bibliotherapy backs up the idea that reading offers both a psychological and physiological reprieve from emotional distress, allowing us to channel our inner turmoil in a manner conducive to future emotional growth. Reading offers us an opportunity to test out coping strategies through the eyes of fictional characters. Our brain quite literally registers fictional experiences as though they are happening to us. It is an incredibly powerful dynamic. Far trendier than harsh and unbalanced criticism is, I believe, an understanding of the powerful impact of fiction on our wellbeing – and the respect that this recognition necessarily entails. As I continue to research this relationship in drafting my upcoming post on bibliotherapy for anxiety and panic (a subject on which I have a lot of personal experience), I’m reminded that the word salvation is not hyperbolic. Literature offers a literal deliverance from suffering that goes beyond the effects of ‘traditional’ self-care remedies. As we move into March, I hope that you are able to experience some of this intoxicating power for yourself.