Sunday, April 24, 2011

How Disturbed Can We Be?

Our guest blogger this week is Linda L. Richards who hails from British Columbia. Besides being a terrific author, she's also an expert on the arcane art of publishing e-books. Check out her latest release, Mad Money, now available as an e-book at Amazon and Smashwords. I highly recommend it!

And now, take it away, Linda — and thanks for stopping by!

Several years ago, on the 35th anniversary of The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, I reviewed the book, glowingly. It’s a classic and I adore it. But one of the reasons I adore it is that it disturbs me in a very real way. There’s no gore and no physical violence that I recall. It’s not a crime novel. It’s about a mean old woman looking back at a mean and ill-lived life and so it’s out of the norm. Which is what I said in this review. That people aren’t always comfortable with being shown less than pretty pictures. To a lot of people, art needs to be about kittens and soft touches and sunsets. They know how to process the feelings those things evoke. But when disturbed by something, they read it as something different. Not something good. And, in my review, I said, “The Stone Angel is a disturbing book.”

I got a lot of mail about that review. Many people took what I said to mean that I felt The Stone Angel was a bad book. Which is never what I said. Disturbing and bad are in no way synonymous.

So what happened to us as a culture that we ended up thinking that? That we need protection from that which doesn’t caress? More: that words or images that are not easily recognizable as conventionally pleasing and beautiful should be suspect. That if we have to hunt for the beauty — if it’s not on the ground at our feet waiting to be stepped over — it isn’t really beauty at all.

My job as a writer does not include making sure no one is either offended or distressed. (In fact, that sounds like a sure-fire recipe for making pabulum, does it not?) And it has nothing to do with writing crime novels, but writing in general.

I’m not suggesting that there is a should here anywhere. Fiction should provoke thought. Or fiction should make one feel or think a certain way. But, at the same time, fiction isn’t required to fulfill a certain social or political scorecard. I mean, it’s all right if a novel does those things but, as a reader, I don’t have to stand in line for my turn at it, if you follow.

There are a lot of books. There needs to be: there are many kinds of reader. We have different tastes, thank goodness. We need many different books to satisfy them. Some of those books will make us reach for a Kleenex. Some of them will help us realize our own place in the scheme of things; or give us the impression that they have. Some of them will make us want to throw them against a wall. And there’s room for all of them — for all of that — thank goodness. There’s room for all of those types of books, and more besides.

Linda L. Richards is an author, editor and journalist. She is the editor of January Magazine, one of the most respected voices about books on the Web, is the author of several novels and on the faculty of the Summer Publishing Workshops at Simon Fraser University. In addition, in June she will teach a January Magazine-sponsored residential intensive on publishing your own e-book. Her website is and you can find her e-book intensive at


Vicki Delany said...

Food for thought, thanks Linda.

Anonymous said...

But what if you do want my art to be beautiful. Is that so bad?

Rick Blechta said...


That's fine. Linda is only saying that good fiction should make the reader feel something. She doesn't really say it should be this or should be that.

There is plenty of room in this world for beautiful things!