30 Oct 2011

Smart Women Aren’t Afraid of the Dark

3 Comments Book Club Notes, Personal Thoughts, Uncategorized, What You Should Read


Reading groups sometimes avoid certain books because members complain that they are ‘too depressing.’  Book-club-worthy novels are then summarily rejected as a result of this knee jerk response. Certainly, no one wants to sign up to be ‘depressed.’ But, the bottom line is that much of what merits a book club’s attention is dark, provocative, and upsetting, and notable authors often plumb these depths because that’s where the heart of human experience lies.

Smart women understand that it is possible to override the emotional connection to a book by hyper-engaging the intellect. Consider just a handful of noteworthy novels and their corresponding themes: A Lesson Before Dying—racial injustice ending in electrocution; Lowboy—mental illness ending in suicide; Sophie’s Choice—Nazi persecution forcing a mother to sacrifice one of her children; and The Things They Carried—war stories ending in piles of corpses and ruined psyches. Despite this radical reduction of important novels to their skeletons, each one is extraordinary and leads to a dramatic expansion of the reader’s experience far beyond everyday encounters.

And what of the scores of classics by authors ranging from Leo Tolstoy to Virginia Woolf and Henry James to Edith Wharton?  Certainly, each of these authors created a character or two that haunts the reader for a lifetime. And what of Melville’s poor Bartleby, for whom the narrator exclaims, “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!” Whose life wasn’t changed by these words?

Has your reading group avoided certain titles because of the dark underbelly of human nature? If so, you might reconsider your position. Let us know what titles you have avoided or which ones you undertook and were grateful for even when met with resistance.

And, Happy Halloween…remember Smart Women Aren’t Afraid of the Dark!

written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.

3 Comments for“Smart Women Aren’t Afraid of the Dark”

  1. Reply Jose Peralta says:

    Yes, yes, literature (like life) is full of characters like Bartleby the Scrivener, figures
    who, because they take us to a dis-comfort zone, eventually make us better human beings. It works like most healing practices, which, when applied to the problem area, often feel like a problem themselves (medicine tastes bad, leg braces hurt, etc.). These literary versions of medicines are like catalysts that in fact latch on to our own moral or personal “tumors” or unhealthy growths, and they start working on our condition the moment we read and think a little bit about them, while holding the book in our hand. Ideally, we should let these figures do their catalyst work to expedite out natural process of healing or understanding … to convert us to sanity, or to a more focused form of madness, if that is our bend!

  2. Reply Joan Leader says:

    What a FABULOUS article, essay, whatever! Lisa, you hit the nail on the head…I read “A Lesson in Dying,” years ago and I can still remember the depths of emotion that book
    triggered for me… Keep giving us things to talk about, think about, read about! Continued success, special woman! And smart too!

  3. Reply Joan Leader says:

    Oops, just realized the book was called “A Lesson Before Dying.” Oh well, I was

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