The great beyond

In my home town we have a wonderful art museum called the Nelson-Atkins. It’s a venerable building, graciously styled, full of marble and other grand appointments that aren’t used any longer.

The museum has recently undergone an expansion that is quite modern and has received rave reviews from around the world. While they were busy expanding the museum, the curators also renovated parts of the original building.

The center hall of the original museum, known as Kirkwood Hall, was in need of some love. At the very top of its three-story space are old-style skylights that were cracked and filthy. Because repairing those and the surrounding water-damaged ceiling would require scaffolding and a lot of falling debris, the renovators built a sort of tunnel to get patrons through the hall while the work was being done.

So instead of a soaring, three-story space full of gleaming marble and light, we had to scuttle through a confined, monochrome hallway with low ceilings and bad lighting.

When I would pass through that hallway, I had palpable sense of the greater space beyond the closing white walls around me. I could only see what was immediately before me, but I could feel that something greater was beyond.

And that, my friends, brings me to my point of this post. I often get that same feeling when I’m reading good fiction. I sense that there is more meaning and nuance beyond the obvious story told in the words, but too often I can never get beyond the narrow hallway of my own imagination.

Getting into this great beyond is one of the reasons I like being in book discussion groups. I nearly always leave the discussion seeing that I missed an entirely different story in the book I read, but I’m also grateful to have found what it was I missed.

I know that many people read for the wealth of the plot. That’s fine. There is plenty of fine fiction out there to satisfy them. As I’ve matured, though, I find that such fiction is no longer satisfying to me. I want something meatier, and when I get that sense of a great beyond, I feel like I’m at least trying to read something that will satisfy me.

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One Comment on “The great beyond”


  1. Hmm. I saw mention of Nelson-Atkins and I immediately knew we’re from the same hometown! My mother loved the art museum. She dragged my brother & I there quite often. Personally, I preferred the Kansas City Museum, probably because I’ve always been far more interested in history than art.


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