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Dave Astor

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It Ain't Heavy, It's a Book Break!

Posted: 02/ 2/2012 2:59 pm

People who love novels almost never stop reading them. But some of us need to occasionally take a brief break from "heavier" novels, including cherished classics and the best of modern literature.

In other words, escapist fiction is a nice substitute once in a while!

At least four of every five novels I read are in the "heavier" category. These books might be written like a dream, highly original, very long, intellectual, complex, nonlinear, painful, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, topical, and/or various other things. They are mature, grown-up books -- even the ones with some humor.

But just like one needs to rest after a healthy bout of vigorous exercise, one needs to sometimes "rest" with a book that's fun and absorbing while not necessarily being much more than that.

For example, my recent reading included grown-up novels such as Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews, and Madison Smartt Bell's All Souls' Rising. I had differing opinions of those books -- the first was magnificent, the second excellent, the third very good -- but all took something out of me. So it was a relief of sorts to follow that trio of titles with Robert Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, which is more than fluff but still a relatively easy read.

Actually, The Age of Innocence (1920) is also an easy read in a way because Wharton is such a wonderfully clear and lucid writer. But that iconic novel about a thwarted love affair is so poignant and melancholy that it leaves people shaken.

Joseph Andrews (1742) is a picaresque and compelling book about the adventures of the pure and innocent title character in a hardly pure and innocent world. But it's an 18th-century novel -- meaning it has many long paragraphs, various digressions, some now-archaic language, etc.

All Souls' Rising (1995) is an at-times gripping historical novel about the late-1700s slave revolt against brutal white settlers in Saint-Domingue (renamed Haiti in 1804). But the graphic violence it depicts, the numerous characters a reader needs to keep track of, and the book's 500-plus-page length make for some rough going.

So The Cat Who Walks Through Walls -- despite being an uneven late-career effort for Heinlein -- gave me a literary breather. It's a sci-fi book starring a bantering couple who face constant danger, experience "time loops," meet people with multiple identities, and interact with sentient computers. Also, the 1985 novel is set in the future -- which can give a reader some relaxing emotional distance from what's going on. While there are convoluted and depressing moments in Heinlein's book, it's escapist for the most part.

But now it's time to happily return to some "heavier" novels. My next two will be The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble and Freedom by that eBook lover (ha ha!) Jonathan Franzen. I haven't tried those two authors before.

Do you like to occasionally read escapist books to take a break from more serious fiction? If so, which "heavier" and "lighter" novels were involved when you last did that?