Real Fiction

Exploring the nexus of reading and writing

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The Outsider

Starting one’s journey toward self-realization

This is one of those rare books by a contemporary author, or author of any era, which helps one understand the works of celebrated writers, philosophers, and a few artists, in this case, by putting them into perspective with each other and within a conceptual framework that gives the reader an overall comprehension of their respective contributions to man’s understanding of himself.

Another book which I found to be similarly helpful, although different in tone and approach, is one by philosopher and academic Philip H. Rhinelander.

I have long admired the written work of Colin Wilson and have also listened to him on taped radio interviews which, unfortunately, I have lost through being so peripatetic.

I believe the first book of Wilson’s I read is The Mind Parasites, around thirty-five years ago. Since then I have read many more of his books, having lent some out indefinitely, it seems. The ones I have managed to retain, in addition to The Mind Parasites, are:

The Outsider, first published in 1956 when Wilson was 24, rocketed him to fame, yet I hadn’t read his most widely known book until recently. Here is a synopsis:

…an insightful work of literary and philosophical criticism—a timeless preoccupation which perhaps garners more mainstream attention than his subsequent writings on the occult and crime. The book is structured in such a way as to mirror the outsider’s experience: a sense of dislocation, or of being at odds with society. These are figures like Dostoevsky’s “Insect-Man” who seem to be lost to despair and non-transcendence with no way out.

More successful—or at least hopeful—characters are then brought to the fore. These include Steppenwolf and even the hero of Hesse’s book of the same name—and these are presented as examples of those who have insightful moments of lucidity in which they feel as though things are worthwhile/meaningful amidst their shared, usual, experience of nihilism and gloom. Sartre’s Nausea is herein the key text—and the moment when the hero listens to a song in a cafe which momentarily lifts his spirits is the outlook on life to be normalized. Wilson then engages in some detailed case studies of artists who failed in this task and tries to understand their weakness—which is either intellectual, of the body or of the emotions. The final chapter is Wilson’s attempt at a “great synthesis” in which he justifies his belief that western philosophy is afflicted with a needless “pessimistic fallacy”—a narrative he continues throughout his oeuvre under various names… [Source].

Colin Wilson (1931 – 2013)

The Outsider has been and will continue to be, especially valuable to me because in it Wilson discusses many of the authors and their works I have read, some mentioned in the pages of this journal, including:

In no way have I given you the essence of The Outsider in this brief discussion. It is a very important book to start one on one’s journey to self-realization or to help the older of us to make course corrections toward realizing our fullest possible potential.

I can say that engaging in armchair philosophy might be helpful, but insufficient. One must act.

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A Pile of Books

Some already read, some yet to read

I have just finished reading, for the second time in as many months, Julian Barnes’s Arthur and George, a novel based on incidents in the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of “Sherlock Holmes.” This book will be discussed at the next monthly meeting of the book discussion group I attend. The reason for my having read it twice is–after the first read, I immediately forgot almost everything about it because of all the other books I had read in the interim. And, perhaps also, my short-term memory at age 71 ain’t what it useta be.

The husband of one of my fellow book readers and discussers suggested some science fiction books when I admitted to him I used to be an avid reader of such. I haven’t yet read the three now in my possession: The Reality Dysfunction, by Peter F. Hamilton; Blood Music, by Greg Bear; and, Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks. My father used to bring home pulp science fiction (“Amazing Stories,” “Galaxy,” etc.) and I read them all. Great covers, too. I stopped reading science fiction after reading and rereading one of the greatest of all: Brian Aldiss’s Galaxies Like Grains of Sand.

A fellow I met at one of the regular Friday lunch meetings of the Stockholm Writers Group, a journalist, suggested the author Lee Child to me, especially his “Jack Reacher” novels. This fellow was impressed with a little sketch I had written for the luncheon (we get an assignment for each weekly meeting), thinking I might have the talent for writing a thriller, something I have thought about. I read Die Trying and Killing Floor. Here is my reaction to them, from an email letter I sent the journalist:

I read ‘Die Trying’ and ‘Killing Floor.’ He’s good, and I do see a pattern common to both:

1. Just wandering through town and getting in trouble inadvertently
2. Good looking gal and he hook up, but he always leaves
3. A very, very bad guy to defeat, a psychopath or an associate who is a psychopath
4. Somebody you trust is a mole or betrayer of some sort (at least one)
5. Don’t get Reacher angry with you or you will die
6. Other people (the bad guys) kill good people very awfully, sometimes involving torture
7. Lots of detail about firearms and ordnance and related subjects

I generally enjoyed the plot and action, although occasionally wanted the action to proceed without so much detail. I thought certain plot elements very clever and well thought out (the mountain of 40 million dollar bills to be bleached).

I couldn’t write so much violence and mayhem, nor have so physical a main character. My guy will be more of a mental warrior, a clever manipulator (there are elements of Reacher that match this). My guy may not appeal to as wide an audience, if any. We’ll see. I give myself 3 years for this first novel. I’ve got other things cooking too.
(End of letter)

Next up is a BIG book, Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson. The owner of the book store where I bought it said her mother loved the book . It was a bit difficult for me to stay with during the introduction of all the characters, some of whom never directly connected. But all were drawn to and affected by the Vietnam conflict (“war” was never declared by the U.S. Congress as provided in the U.S. Constitution). The main character is a CIA agent and his characterization was very compelling, reminding me of some of the novels of John le Carré, especially those involving the character George Smiley, although I hasten to add the CIA character was not a master spy as was Smiley. What is brought forth, very well, is the shadow world of espionage, and how it confuses the mind and morals and one’s sense of reality.

So many books; so little time.