When I was younger, I used to read a lot of books. When it came to fiction, the best way I could describe my tastes was, "Good plus bad equals good." No one ever asked me exactly what I meant by that and I was grateful they didn't ask since I was never entirely sure. The statement came out of my gut somewhere and made sense at that level even if it lacked the concreteness and edges that reason might provide.
There was the "good stuff" -- happy times, love, success, etc. -- and there was the "bad stuff" -- sadness, anger, failure and the rest -- and each had an imperative place in good fiction, a place that would not be true if one or the other were overlooked. Willa Cather, Leo Tolstoy and Isak Dinesen were authors who could make me feel I had read something true.
But even when I asked myself what constituted the good that arose as a result of the good and bad, I was stumped. Why didn't the equation come out good+bad = shitty? Was it a matter of wishful thinking, some hope that a sturdy goodness lay beyond consoling belief and cranky days? I really couldn't say, but something stubborn in my mind insisted ... you can't skip over the bad stuff; you can't skip over the good stuff and that's the only way to discover a meaty, happy ending.
Nowadays, someone will probably leap up and wax wise or paradoxical about there being no difference between good and bad, but that doesn't impress me much: Thaddeus Golas' "When you learn to love hell, you will be in heaven" is good advice but no one wants a life chock full of good advice. It's like living on a diet of fortune cookies. Advice is what is handed out in the realm of good and bad, but true good does not rely on any sort of advice: It just is ... like the sky.
Oh well, I still don't know what I was talking about in the days when I read a lot of books, but it still feels as if the equation, whatever it means, means something and blooms unbidden.