During the years of my marriage to a volatile man in a starkly real culture, every day of my life felt like a sweeping novel or an intense play. I stopped reading altogether. Catharsis was unnecessary—something, it seemed at the time, for people who lived life vicariously instead of just lived. Literature along with many other aspects of my previous culture was depressing, lacking the edginess of life’s exterior struggles. To get lost in a good book was like coming down from being high on life.
When the marriage ended, I returned to my more sophisticated way of life. However, the power that literature once held for me was gone. No one I read, including some of the Russian authors who previously had opened doors to life’s passionate drama, held my attention. I fell into reading as escape. Mysteries alone were gripping enough to have me turning page after page, oblivious to the fact that I was, indeed, reading rather than living the story.
Which leads me to my favorite novel. It’s not a classic, nor likely to be read and discussed for its literary qualities. It’s main character does not grow (much). Its plot is not intricate and inspiringly crafted to leave its reader in awe that among us are giants and geniuses, able to capture the human condition in ways that only people with the highest levels of sophistication can readily appreciate. The characters, not the author or the title, are meaningful to me.
So why, then, is it my favorite? Because it takes me into a setting too dangerous for an outsider to visit. It introduces me, sympathetically, to the psychology of characters usually not treated by literature—people at the lowest end of anyone’s social spectrum—people who live the life I lived when I lived on the edge—people who expect to die and die young—people whose situation has no solution, whose circumstances color every aspect of the setting, the characters, the plots, the deadly climaxes of daily life. And the main character is, like me, an observer perched on the fence between a more leisurely culture that has time for literature and the real world in which all of us would live if we lost a few of the props from the setting of our lives.
My favorite novel is the mystery I’m reading right now. It’s called “H” is for Homicide by Sue Grafton. I’m with her gumshoe, Kinsey Millbone, in gangland LA, undercover but beginning to empathize with the felons who surround her. I hope to escape with her back to marginally less dangerous Santa Teresa (Santa Barbara) and get a scrap of a paycheck to pay the rent on my garage apartment behind the house of my elderly best manfriend. I’m hoping to live long enough (I’m confident here because I know that the author has published novels at least through the letter “S”) to go to sleep some night soon in my loft bedroom looking up at the stars shining through my skylight and within distant earshot of the pounding Pacific. I’m eager, if I escape, to get on to my next case, which, undoubtedly, will be easy to file under the letter “I”.
Causes Yuma Michaels Supports
NDRC, Southern Poverty Law Center, Greenpeace