Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Do "real" books have to be depressing?

Last week The Washington Post ran an interview with Kurt Vonnegut, author of such American classics as Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. The article quoted Vonnegut as saying that all great books are about "what a bummer it is to be a human being."

Ah. This was one reason majoring in English didn't further my writing ambitions. Intellectually, I get much of modern "great" writing, but emotionally...it just doesn't speak to me. Or when it does, it depresses me. I really don't like being depressed all the time.

So, can great books be happy? Can they be uplifting and inspiring--or does being "happy" immediately disqualify them from being "great"?

6 comments:

Sharon Schulze said...

I don't know if a book being "happy" disqualifies it from being great, but personally I look for a great book to make me feel--happy, amused, intense emotion . . .

It's probably a matter of personal taste.

I admit it wouldn't be my first choice to pick a book that is depressing. That's something available (at times) from day-to-day life.

I prefer to look at life from a glass-half-full viewpoint (not a cockeyed optimist, but always hopeful). If a book was mainly a downer, it would have to really give me something else--in a big way (a big emotional payoff)--to make up for that aspect.

JMHO, of course.

Alfie said...

As far as I'm concerned, for me to consider a book 'great' it has to be, at the very least, 'hopeful.' I can live without 'happy' and still put it on my keeper shelf. But, obviously, my opinion doesn't match Oprah's. A couple of years ago, I decided I needed to read some of those she recommended. Wow. Talk about depressing. All but one (or maybe two) of the one's with her name all over the front were things I got through and not only felt depressed, but wondered why I'd wasted my time for that result. Maybe I just 'chose' the wrong ones??? But great? Not in my book.

Alfie

gailbarrett said...

I once read or heard someone call "classic" books with the requisite sad endings "formula moroseness." I love that phrase. And that's exactly what it is. If the book isn't morose and depressing, it isn't considered somehow worthy of being a classic. Baloney! I wish I could remember who said that phrase. And why are sad endings any truer than happy endings, anyway?

JoAnn Ross said...

Okay, I tried to post this and it disappeared, so if this turns out a repeat post, I apologize in advance.

Anyway, it seems to me that it's time for Vonnegut to take a lit 101 course because if he's talking about Western writers, which I suspect he is, he's either forgotten about or dismissed Daniel Defoe, Jonathon Swift, Moliere, James Fenimore Cooper, Victor Hugo, George Bernard Shaw, Henry Fielding, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Dickens, Mark Twain, O.Henry, and, of course Shakespeare. And those are just off the top of my head.

There was a time, during my lit major days, when I became much enamored with the Russians and stopped writing for several years because I knew I could never be another Tolstoi. Then one day it dawned on me that the world already had Tolstoi. They didn't need another one. Nor did they need another Dostoevesky tackling the existence of truth and God.

Sometimes people just want to be told a story. And that's what I love to do. Tell stories that even when the subject matter may be dark, readers will hopefully feel uplifted when they come to the end of my books. And realize how great (not a bummer!) it is to be a human being.

Candice Gilmer said...

Joann Ross said "Sometimes people just want to be told a story. And that's what I love to do. Tell stories that even when the subject matter may be dark, readers will hopefully feel uplifted when they come to the end of my books. And realize how great (not a bummer!) it is to be a human being."

I couldn't agree more!

Anonymous said...

I do NOT agree that great books have to be sad and depressing. But I never liked Vonnegut anyway. I do love one of his pupils though, John Irving. Take ciderhouse rules. Many heavy issues, like orphans, illegal abortions and so on. Yet there is so much hope and beauty. It is not a bummer to be a human being. And reading uplifting literature makes it even less so.