Fear and Reading

(I’m starting a regular feature–I break from whatever else I’m reading to read the fiction and poetry in The New Yorker, and write something–sometimes a brief tangent, sometimes something more full and formal–here).

Reading The New Yorker, June 27, 2011 issue.  Fiction: Gravel” by Alice Munro.  Poetry: “Weather Report” by David Huddle and “From ‘The Split'” by Susan Wheeler.

I almost stopped reading Alice Munro’s “Gravel” partway through, but not for the reasons I suppose most people stop reading something partway through.  I can’t bear reading about children dying.  I avoid reading anything where that is the subject, and when I start reading something where that seems to be the subject I frequently just stop.  It’s not death itself that I cannot read about (my lit students might complain that we dwell a bit too much on the subject), and I don’t avoid thinking about my own death: it’s only the death of children that I can’t take reading about or thinking too much on.  I did finish this story, however, as I was deep into it before the subject became obvious, and because the style of the telling made it tolerable to read.

Is there some reason I should force myself to confront these realities through literature?  I can’t see how.  I know what I fear, I know what almost undoes me to think on too much, and I know what sorts of things exist in this world–I don’t see why reading about this subject is any sort of necessity for me.  It can do nothing but hurt to read about this subject, and while I’m not unwilling to hurt myself through reading, and can see reasons for the effort of hurting oneself through reading, on this one subject, I just don’t believe it’s worth it for me.


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