Last weekend, I started reading Alexander McCall Smith's Corduroy Mansions. I know, Alexander McCall Smith's work is not considered literary perfection, but that is why I'm reading it. I've read a few books from the Ladies Detective series, and I have to admit they're addicting. You know from page one that nobody's going to die, or be kidnapped, or be tortured. Nothing awful will happen. His characters are fun and his stories are quirky. Which is exactly how I imagine him to be. He appears to be a friendly guy who is always in the midst of a belly laugh. Since I crave good belly laugh, I dove into the book.
The timing of this book couldn't be more perfect. I usually read serious, award winning books - The People of the Book, The Kite Runner, Someone Knows My Name, March, The Poisonwood Bible, etc. These books are amazing. I get lost in their worlds, I feel for their characters, I can't put them down. However, they all revolve around some horrific event that results in severe trauma on everyone. By "everyone," I am specifically speaking of me. These books haunt me for months, even years, after I read them. Images are frozen in my mind and I lose sleep thinking about the characters and their experiences.
In the therapy world, the experiences I have as a result of reading these books is called secondary trauma. It occurs often with people who deal with trauma on a regular basis, but I never used this term to describe readers. In fact, in the literary world it's called good writing. As a writer, I know it is essential to put your characters through the worst experiences possible. It is vital to a good plot and when done well, it sucks readers into the story and keeps them engaged until the end. However, making characters suffer through unspeakable horrors is not only hard on the characters, it is also hard on me, the reader.
There are times when my emotions need a break. So, with that, I say - Hello, Alexander McCall Smith.