My question is this, then: Can something be both “real” (in this literary sense rather than the more obvious existential one) and “fun”? I picked up a book by Lauren Willig entitled The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, one of the books in her Pink Carnation series, which was a very “fun” read–it has parallel story lines (one in contemporary England and one set in 1806) and had English spies (inluding one called the Pink Carnation, a la The Scarlet Pimpernel, to which there are numerous allusions), a royal kidnapping, and other exploits across the English countryside. While I skimmed it (due to self-assigned time constraints), I enjoyed the book and it reminded me that not every single word has to mean something. Sometimes plot has to be simply that: plot. It does not always have to be a metaphor for “meaninglessness in a universe with meaning.” On the other hand, however, while I enjoyed The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, I didn’t really learn that the answer is 42.
When I try to think of books that have been “real” to me, meaning I can identify with them and find something in them worth thinking about, they were not necessarily “fun.” In fact, sometimes they have been painful because they illuminate things inside me that are not flattering, but both the novels and the realizations that accompanied them have been important milestones in my development.