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Would I want him as a friend? Probably not. But I like his book.

     An interesting discussion took place last week at Readers' Rendezvous.

     This is a group in the church which meets every two months to discuss books we have all been reading.  We read fiction, memoirs and the occasional literary nonfiction selection.    Last week we discussed Cactus Eaters by Dan White.  It is the story of White's journey along the Pacific Crest Trail with his girlfriend.  It is fun and funny to read.  For some in our group it was also off-putting and  irritating.

     Why the negative reactions?  Because Dan White describes his own behavior and it is often not very nice.  He fails badly in offering compassion toward his girlfriend ... who sometimes  was the one who saved both of their skins, but who developed some physical problems along the way which kept her from completing the entire trail.  Dan showed himself lacking in sympathy and sometimes sense, while oversupplied with selfishness and preoccupation and a few other "me first" attributes as well.  

     Our group discussion centered around the question:  Do you enjoy reading the story of someone you don't like very much?  Would you read another book by the same author because he is interesting or funny ... despite the fact he sometimes fails the Decent Guy Test?   Some of us will never read another book by Dan White.  Others of us would do so for sure.  

     I fall in the second category.  In fact, I favor both memoirs and works of fiction which portray far-less-than-perfect people that I end up liking anyway.  I admit:  if they get TOO irritating I will put the book aside.  But I consider the "clay feet" of main characters a positive attribute in the literature I read.  That's why I believe anyone who works with people should read lots of fiction --- it's a good way to learn about people in all their complexity, imperfection and lovableness.  It's also a good way to spend time getting to know someone with whom you don't have to be in a relationship in real life!

    The same goes for the people in the Bible, after all.  Many of the figures we revere and from whom we are still learning valuable lessons are shown in the pages of our scripture to have been flawed and at times infuriating.  Even Jesus got mad once and knocked over other peoples' tables!  He occasionally called names ("Brood of Vipers" comes to mind) and he wasn't always sweetness and light to his mom.   

     Connecting with the experience of negative behavior and learning to understand people who make mistakes or persist with genuine flaws --- these are factors in all the enduring relationships of our lives.    This is literature's gift to us:  to let us know people we will never meet ... and might choose not to meet even if we could.  



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