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November 19, 2009

Reading Update & Resolution

I just read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

Yes, I'm far behind. It was published seven years ago. Yes, that's how long it took me to get past my now-entrenched contrarianism. Yes, I'm that bad: if a book is being hyped, then I simply won't read it. It takes something as deeply in-tune with all of my priorities and isshooz as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, to get me around the contrarian thing and actually reading the hyped boox.

And no, I didn't have an epiphany reading The Lovely Bones that caused me to realize that by being contrarian I was missing wonderful boox like this one. The Lovely Bones just wasn't that great. In fact, it's a perfect example of one of those boldfaced lie family melodramas in which everyone is a good guy, and everyone, even though they make mistakes, does it for the most noble and loving of reasons. The book proposes a universe in which there is an organized Heaven (which is problematic for me right there), in which Everything Eventually Is Okay, in which families always love each other, even when they fuck each other up (the serial killer's mother loved him, she was just crazy), in which dead people get a chance to fulfill their whatevers before they move on, in which the people dead people leave behind wait around and don't move on until the dead people are ready for them to, blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, and much was made of how this book, that came out soon after 9/11, touched a nerve in American society. You bet it touched a nerve: it told us exactly the kinds of soothing lies we needed to hear about death: that death is always meaningful, that lives are always meaningful, that trauma can be overcome (even after you're dead) and it's your fault if you don't overcome it, that you will live on after death, and that all of your fantasies about being loved and missed after death will come true, and then some.

Also, the whole literary writing style thing? After about the midpoint of the book, it seems the book wasn't edited that well, because there are whole paragraphs where you can't tell who the subject of the sentences is, or what's going on at all. But, of course, it's all Beautifully Written.

What I DID realize was that contrarianism isn't protecting me from this kind of drivel. Sturgeon's Law applies across the board, unless you're reading only canon classics and prize-winners (and even then.) What I AM missing is a big part of the public discourse on literature. I realize that much of the public discourse on literature is about drivel, and taking drivel seriously. But I do need to know what drivel is being taken seriously and why. So my new resolution is to read the biggest hyped books every year. I'll wait to the end of the year to find out which ones were the biggest hyped, but I'll read them. This includes the "literary" stuff (was The Lovely Bones considered literary?) and the Dan Brown/Stephenie Meyer stuff.



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I got enormously angry reading this book, exactly for the reasons you mentioned. On top of that, I just COULD NOT believe this crap was taken seriously.

Is this supposed to be good writing? How? Why? How is, say, Barbara Vine not literature but Lovely Bones is?

(Oscar Wao made me angry but for completely different reasons that had to do with "Holy Christ this book is so damn good, did it really have to be so sexist?")

Lovely Bones: mediocre writing, small boobs.

Oscar Wao: great writing, big boobs.

What does it mean?

That is an issue that troubles me for many different reasons. I tend to be winkingly complicit with people who celebrate big boobs, but of course that is part of the problem with Oscar Wao. When Oscar's mum develops and therefore turns overnight into an incredible beauty, you wonder how much aware the author is of what he's doing. Abigail Nussbaum (http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2008/07/brief-wondrous-life-of-oscar-wao-by.html) thinks that he is. I am not so sure.

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