There are five things that societies do: They reproduce; they produce food; they organize themselves in terms of law; they organize themselves in terms of belief; and they make art. Four of them are about conformity, and in these, everything would go more smoothly if people just would shut up and do what they're told. But in art it doesn't work that way.
Most of my childhood revolved around wondering when we would be blown up by the Russians. I couldn't stand the news, I knew that if the missile were launched, mortality would arrive in half an hour, so I spent a lot of my childhood feeling that I was 30 minutes from being dead.
I was depressed, but that was a side issue. This was more like closing up shop, or, say, having a big garage sale, where you look at everything you've bought in your life, and you remember how much it meant to you, and now you just tag it for a quarter and watch 'em carry it off, and you don't care. That's more like how it was.
A reader's tastes are peculiar. Choosing books to read is like making your way down a remote and winding path. Your stops on that path are always idiosyncratic. One book leads to another and another the way one thought leads to another and another. My type of reader is the sort who burrows through the stacks in the bookstore or the library (or the Web site — stacks are stacks), yielding to impulse and instinct.
The novel as a form is usually seen to be moral if its readers consider freedom, individuality, democracy, privacy, social connection, tolerance and hope to be morally good, but it is not considered moral if the highest values of a society are adherence to rules and traditional mores, the maintenance of hierarchical relationships, and absolute ideas of right and wrong. Any society based on the latter will find novels inherently immoral and subversive.
I wrote the Dickens book because I loved Dickens, not because I felt a kinship with him, but after writing the book it seemed to me that there was at least one similarity between us and that was that Dickens loved to write and wrote with the ease and conviction of breathing. Me, too.
Giving his lecture for the third time freed Dr. Lionel Gift from paying much attention to it. He had a naturally expressive style of delivery, hones over the years in elementary-econ lecture halls. He knew, without even thinking, to address the middle rows of the hall, but to occasionally "shoot" the listeners in the back corners. He knew how to make eye contact and solicit the attention of those who were thinking of other things.
Why are we reading a Shakespeare play or 'Huckleberry Finn?' Well, because these works are great, but they also tell us something about the times in which they were created. Unfortunately, previous eras and dead authors often used language or accepted as normal sentiments that we now find unacceptable.