The older I get, the more difficult it is for me to read “serious literature”–nongenre fiction. I find it full of people whose problems seem to me ones that could be easily solved by a bit of rationality, a soupçon of imagination or thinking outside whatever box society or they themselves have put them in, and application of the maxim “It’s not all about you.”

I have always been interested in psychology, and quite good at it in an amateur way, but I would be a terrible therapist. After two or three sessions, all my professional knowledge probably could not keep me from slapping the client upside the head, and, like Cher’s character in Moonstruck, shouting, “Snap out of it!” Here’s your problem, here’s what you can do about it, now go and do it or not, but don’t come back to me.

Or maybe not. I’m usually able not to do that to my friends and acquaintances who confide in me. And they do confide. When I was 14, my boyfriend said, “If everyone was a body part, you’d be a shoulder”–because everyone, even my mother, leaned on me and cried on me. (My mother told me when I was an adult, regarding this, “You were always such a certain little thing.”) I have a strong component of what some women complain is a male characteristic: tell me a problem and I immediately start trying to solve it. I try to control that since becoming aware that some people just want to be listened to, but for myself I have usually not told people my problems unless I would welcome their suggestions.

My spouse and I are far from perfect people and we have flaws and problems like most, but we often agree that people make things unnecessarily hard on themselves, and others, by failure to use the three tools listed in my first paragraph (rationality, imagination, it’s not all about you, repeat as needed). We humans are puny little creatures, and the universe has so many ways to make us suffer, to kill us–why do we do it to each other?

So when I try to read nongenre fiction, I often want to throw the book across the room–the reading equivalent of Cher’s slap–by the third chapter. Yes, these books often reveal the human condition, near-universal truths about us puny creatures, and that’s why I can’t read them. At least with real humans, should the right situation arise, I can say some kinder version of “Snap out of it!”

 

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