Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Defining Light

I gave myself a full holiday weekend, and now I actually feel all rested and ready to go. Normally, I designate Labor Day weekend as time for chick lit and chick flicks, but I guess I wasn't in the mood for that this year. I watched the latest Terminator movie on HBO, which hardly counts as a chick flick (it's not even a love story like the first one was), and I was reading a biography. But I did clean my house and I spent some time with friends. Today, I'll read my book proposal straight through, out loud, and then tomorrow it goes to my agent. It's cool and rainy, so it's the perfect day to curl up on the couch with the laptop.

In all my griping about wanting something "light" to read, I realized that I haven't really defined what I mean by "light." I saw some of the recommendations in comments, and a lot of those don't seem light to me no matter how funny they are. So, I've been thinking about what it is I do want in a book that would qualify to me as "light."

Mostly, I think it boils down to escapist reading -- something that takes me away from the real world to a place that is in some ways better or more special than the real world. Life may be more difficult for the heroes than it is for me, simply because they are heroes and more is asked of them, but they're in a place I'd love to visit. I don't want to read about a world that's darker or more difficult than my world is. I've heard from editors defending the dark trend that people read the darker stuff to make their lives feel better in contrast, but that doesn't work for me. Reading about a dark, scary, depressing place where lots of bad stuff happens only makes me depressed. It doesn't make my life seem any better or easier in comparison. I guess I spent too much time in my pre-teen years dreaming about finding Narnia at the back of my closet, but that's what I'm looking for in light reading, a trip to a place that's better or more interesting in some ways than my own world, where there are people I wish I could be or wish I knew. If the book has a real world setting, like in contemporary or urban fantasy, I'd prefer to think that the world is actually more magical and wonderful than I realized, not that it has some underbelly that's even darker and more sinister than I realized.

Which leads me to another factor -- I like aspirational fiction, stories that give you something to look up to. That means heroes who are better than normal people and who by their actions make their worlds better. I want there to be a real difference between the heroes and the villains. The heroes may have flaws and make mistakes, but they're basically good. They don't dabble in darkness and don't use methods that make them look like villains. They may make sacrifices and suffer, but that comes about because they've chosen to take on something difficult for a good cause. They aren't victims of the world who just have bad stuff happen to them. If I want to read about Job, I'll read the Bible. I don't want a hero who would be the bad guy in another story or who is only the good guy because he's the main character.

Under the aspirational umbrella, there's also the idea of hope, that the heroes' actions can really change things and make things better. It's not a case of "life sucks, and then you die" or "nothing ever gets any better." The hero can change the world and make things better for everyone, or he at least can improve his own situation by achieving his full potential. He may start the book living in a crummy apartment in a bad part of town, but I'd like him to end the book in a better place. I'd also prefer not to wallow in depravity with the villain, with so much emphasis on how evil and warped he is, portrayed in loving detail.

I'm okay with snark and sarcastic humor, but I want humor that goes beyond that. If all the humor comes from the fact that the character is a bitter smartass, it's not that funny to me. Not all "light" has to be funny, either. It can just be an overall tone. I just like the idea of a sense of fun, excitement and adventure instead of wallowing in misery. As I'm fond of saying, having magical powers should be kind of cool, not a miserable curse, and shouldn't people with magic have an advantage instead of being stuck in the miserable underbelly of society?

Not that I want a steady diet of light. I just want options. Sometimes I'm up for something more serious and dramatic, but generally, I want books that make me feel better when I'm done reading them, where I don't feel like I need to take a shower and bleach my brain after reading them. I've got a very vivid memory, not totally photographic but close, so anything I put in my brain will stay there. I can recall word-for-word (or sometimes the mental images the words generated) passages and scenes from books I read once in junior high that really disturbed me, and these things pop back at the strangest times. That makes me very, very careful about what I choose to put into my head, and I don't want a lot of darkness swirling around in there. If I'm going to have to relive the stuff I read, I want it to be stuff I enjoy reliving.

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