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Treat Yourself to a Good Old-Fashioned Novel

'Tis the season for reading! Many people have done their holiday shopping early this year or simplified or opted out of a lot of the usual hustling and bustling of this time. Here in Michigan, we're still in a high risk pandemic situation, and now there's a new variant circulating in the world that might render our exciting new booster shots less effective than we had hoped they would be. We are all in need of safe comforts at this time, and what could be safer or more snuggly than an immersive adventure tale full of purely fictional drama and peril that has nothing to do with the real storms outside of our windows right now? 

It doesn't matter much whether you cuddle into bed with a luscious, thick hardcover object of beauty or a sleek ebook reader. The benefits of reading anything that engages your mind, but especially fiction and most especially literary fiction, are vast and well-documented. You can read all about it in Harper's Bazaar, BBC Culture, and Healthline.

My favorite authors are Louise Erdrich and Isabel Allende, for their fully engrossing, rich, emotional stories big on world-creation, intense drama, and complex character relationships.

Although I will never master the art of writing at their divine level, I have been inspired by them and many other authors to spend several years researching and writing a grand and deeply psychological adventure tale of my own, Leirah and the Wild Man, a historical coming-of-age dark thriller set in the early 11th century. You can read the first couple of chapters for free using Kindle's "Look Inside" preview and, if you like it, you can download the whole ebook for just a few bucks. A handsome hardcover edition is also available through most booksellers. 

Escapist fiction doesn't have to be light or fluffy or nice. Sometimes it is ironically most comforting when our entertainment is dark and gripping, when it acknowledges and reflects our difficult emotions while effectively distracting us from serious real-life concerns.

Right now I am re-reading an old copy of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I remember that when this book first came out, I was too young for it. Although I recognized its mysterious wisdom and exquisite writing style (and therefore kept it on hand as a gift to my older self, as I did with a collection of Alice Munro's short stories--thank you, self-aware juvenile self!), I found it unrelatable, incomprehensible, and therefore boring at the time. I don't believe I even finished it. Reading it now feels like Jesus is  holding my hand, and I'm not Christian. It's an anguished, dumbfounding, yet deeply peaceful gaze into the eternity of unanswerable questions, sort of like almost any one of Louise Erdrich's many novels but in a minor key. It silences my overthinking while opening my heart. It is a profound volume full of transcendent pain, but it is gentle.

The novel I myself have created and sent out into the world is neither. I would describe it as much more "fun" and less gentle, sometimes brutal, but with an arc of redemption. I am not sure I would go so far as to call its ending "happy" in a Hallmark Christmas movie sense, but it is bloody ecstatic.

Whatever sort of fiction does it for you, read some this holiday season. Whether it's old books or new books, long books or short books, dark thrillers or romance, indulge in it. Let it move you. Take a break from binging on TV and stretch your brain and heart over the curve of an engrossing character arc. The practice will relieve stress and serve your mental, emotional, and physical health.

Shamelessly, I must conclude this post by pointing out that if what you're into is a wild saga of morally complex criminals murdering their way down the Danube River about one millennium ago, there aren't many options, but there is a good one. Help yourself to a free sample of Leirah and the Wild Man if you like, and then choose your own adventure.

Happy reading!

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