I just read a review of the Newest Darling of the New York Times (article is here: http://tinyurl.com/394lgdo).
This may very well be a fascinating and well-written book, but I couldn't get past the turgid prose that described the book. Any book that can be discussed in such terms tells me that (1) it will be a struggle to read and (2) will probably be depressing and (3) will probably end up being talked about for months to come. The kiss of death came for me when the reviewer mentioned David Foster Wallace, another literary wunderkind whom I have tried to read and failed. Perhaps this commentary of mine will come off as an 'intemperate blog entry' but I have the advantage of anonymity so I'm not too worried.
None of the characters sound like people I would like to know. The conflict sounds mildly depressing. What is prose that is "visceral and lapidary"? It sounds dense, whether it is nor not. Maybe I just have a quibble with the reviewer, but that review meant that I wrote off the book. No way would I read it.
And that was when I realized that I have probably never read a book that was loved in a NYT review. I also don't read Oprah books. I thought about this for a while. Heaven knows, I'm not lazy. I'm a published author, I work full-time besides writing almost full-time, I have a busy social life. Laziness is just not in my genetic makeup -- ever. I have 5 college degrees, 2 of which are in literature and 2 of which are in computer science. I got those degrees while working full-time. Trust me: I ain't lazy. I've read and analyzed British and American fiction and I know how to do it. I know Good Literature when I read it.
I finally crystallized what bugged me about this (and about other aspects of our society. That's why I set up Blog-Think-Do, my other blog). It boils down to this:
I want to be entertained. I don't watch a lot of TV (maybe an hour a day) and I go to the movies about once every two months. I don't like passive entertainment, but I do want to be entertained when I have the time. I don't want to be taught. I don't want to be led. I don't want to join other people on their journeys of self-discovery. I live in the real world. I go through self-discovery every day. I can't toss my job aside and globe-trot, nor do I care to read about those who do. Nor do I want to read about people who "struggle to balance the equation between their expectations of life and dull reality, their political ideals and mercenary personal urges." I *live* that, Mr. Reviewer. I'm *there*. I don't want to use my meager free time to read about people involved in the same struggles that I undertake.
I want to be swept away. I want a tidy mystery to occupy my mind. I want a romance, either historical or otherwise. I want real people I can identify with and I want to watch them as they encounter interesting issues and/or people and deal with them.
What do I consider 'great fiction' or 'keeper fiction'?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Family Man (Jayne Ann Krentz edition)
The Bond Street Burlesque
The Man with a Load of Mischief
Jack the Bodiless
Why? Because they have CHARACTERS I like, they have a SETTING that is unusual or well-drawn, they have a CONFLICT I can relate to and they have a RESOLUTION I like. The books are usually short, succinctly written with little florid prose and lots of dialog that shows me who the characters are.
I've rambled on enough but I have one last speculation: I wonder if those books were reviewed by the NYT and if so, what the reviewer said. You know, based on that review, I might have passed on those books, too.
Maybe I just need to quit reading book reviews. Now *that's* food for thought!