One of my reading goals this year is to read Neil Gaiman’s series The Sandman. I determined to get past Preludes and Nocturnes, which disturbed me years ago & scared me off. The following is a simple explanation why. . .
What I’m about to say will open me up to mockery, I’m sure, but the sentiment is essential to my experience as a reader. I respect the power of books that disturb me & sometimes I consider reading them as a challenge. The best writers are those who allow themselves to see every part of the realities they are describing and translate that vision in writing. I feel readers shouldn’t shy from the opportunity, either.
I’ve written before about how visceral physical descriptions affect me. Passing out from imagining the Ancient Mariner drinking his own blood to wet his parched throat to scream is one thing. But other times, some kernel of emotion or insight haunts me. In my senior year of college, I took a course in Russian Lit. As we studied Dostoyevsky’s novels, I vividly dreamed every suicide & willed death he wrote. (The worst was Stavrogin’s. I woke up in cold sweats.) I threw up the first time I read Faulkner’s “An Odor of Verbena” because I felt like I was suffocating along with Bayard.
I respect these written works because I believe that one criterion of good art is how it disturbs someone, how it trespasses against the meager boundaries of my perception. This is why I determined to finish Sandman–because there is something of substance trying to knock down my mental walls. I just have to believe I can process it.
I finished Preludes and Nocturnes for the second & third time last Saturday. Now, each time I get up in the night to feed my mewing cat, I can see John Dee in my mind’s eye, sitting on my couch, waiting for me to acknowledge him. This time around, I do.