As a would-be writer, I, of course, also do a fair amount of reading. One lesson I’ve learned is that a novel is far more enticing to read than any text-book, philosophical monograph, or non-fiction treatise. I read in the bus and train on my way to work. The free daily papers usually win the battle when they’re competing with things like “Liars and Outliers” by Bruce Schneier or “The Letters of Cassiodorus”. But if it’s a novel, even the evening sudoku sometimes gets forgotten.
At the moment I’m reading “Raw Material” by JJ Marsh. Now I must be honest: crime thrillers and “chick lit” are not really my scene. And I have enough perverse thoughts of my own without needing to feed on accounts of sexual depravity. But the book is exciting. It draws one in. Some rather realistic – if not particularly laudable – human exchanges reveal honest personal struggles concerning life’s bigger questions; the abstruse clues resonate with the covert detective in me; and the suspense is enough to cause me to miss my stop. From it I learn the importance of human interactions and the power of short, catchy half-sentences at strategic points. I’ve discovered I’m not JJ Marsh.
Another author I have been devouring recently is Wendell Berry (Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter, That Distant Land, etc.) Couldn’t be more different! No thrills. In fact whole chapters with hardly anything happening except perhaps an old man dying. But nevertheless fascinating. The characters with their complex but very realistic personalities, fears and aspirations; the almost visible, flourishing landscapes; the social tensions of a world in inexorable change – they are all so vividly portrayed that I’m frequently left gasping with wonder. I’m definitely not Wendell Berry. He’s a poet. He’s also a man with a cause.
And that’s the second reason why I’m so keen on novels: While captivating their reader they are uniquely able to communicate a message – surreptitiously but all the more powerfully. And, in addition to beaming my reader into the climate and culture of sixth century Elba, and into the turbulent heart of a confused teenager, I have a message I want to convey.
So Aquila is a historical novel. My historical novel.