Show Me How You Do That Trick

Knowing how a magician does his tricks means that you will never be able to enjoy the illusions in the same way you once did.  It isn’t real magic for you anymore, it is artifice.

I like reading fiction.  I like being entertained, moved, instructed, surprised.  Sometimes I don’t even read the chapter titles because I don’t want to guess what’s coming.  Letting go is part of my willing suspension of disbelief.

I have intentionally avoided analysis, the purposeful breaking down of art into its components.  My husband tried for years to talk to me about movements and influences, hows and whys, contexts of art – and I have not been ready.  I have said things like, “Why does everything have to be so hard?  Can’t I just read the story?”

And of course I could.

But there are ways to appreciate a good show that are closed to someone who swallows everything whole.  It’s a secret club and if you don’t know the handshake you can’t say, “OHHHH.  I see what you did there,” with the magician winking in your direction.

And my willful ignorance limited my ability to criticize intelligently – I could say little beyond whether or not  I liked something or somehow intuit its merits.  I could not tell you why or how.

Some times growth happens against our will.  Whether I wanted to or not, whether I recognized it or not, art feeds the soul, the intellect; and a steady diet of a particular kind feeds it in a certain way.  You are what you eat.  This week I’m mostly coffee and goldfish crackers.

Or to use another metaphor, you are being grown in a particular direction whether you know it or not.  Espalier.

As an adult in a “free country”  there is an element of will and it can be argued that I have grown in the direction I chose or into which I was naturally inclined to grow, which seem like opposites but really are just facets of the same jewel.

However it was, I woke up one day and realized that I was somewhat different than I had been a few years before and I wanted to know why.  What had I been eating?  And how can I get more out of it?

So I read How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.  It is highly respected, intelligent, chockfull of useful techniques and ways of seeing, and it was helpful to me in my reading of non-fiction.  But, I didn’t like it.  Because why does everything have to be so hard?  Can’t I just read the story?  The book is good, great, correct, terrific – the problem was me.  I still wasn’t quite ready.  I was recognizing my need to be led in a particular direction, but I was still fighting the bit.

But what if I were toying with the idea of BEING the magician?  Then I’d have to understand the tricks and the how would become interesting.

Writing convincing fiction requires analysis.  It requires knowing what the pieces are and how they fit together.

I’m in the middle of reading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, and it has done two three things for me already.

  • I have been reminded how woefully inadequate my education has been and how little reading I’ve actually done.  If it weren’t for homeschooling my children, I’d never have read Beowulf, or The Iliad.  and there are dozens of other references that I just don’t get because I haven’t read broadly enough.
  • And it has already helped me to understand why certain books have appealed to me or not.  For example, I knew I felt mocked when I read Cold Comfort Farm, but now I know why; it is a kind of metafiction.
  • It is making my husband excited to have conversations with me about art!  Love.  🙂

And just for fun.



2 thoughts on “Show Me How You Do That Trick

  1. Pistachios says:

    Thankfully, learning about how to deconstruct a book and read between the lines hasn’t spoiled the magic of reading for me. I definitely feel like I appreciate good books more because I have an understanding of the “tricks”. But, yes, a lot of the time I just want to read the story and immerse myself in the experience

  2. Sara McDaren says:

    I’m still conflicted. I can’t unsee something once I know it’s there. It makes it harder for me to enjoy some less well-written things that I’d really like to enjoy because the story is good, but the writing is mediocre. and the really good stuff is work for me; I have to exert myself to really understand it. That’s OK, but sometimes I just want a good story. 🙂

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