Thursday, November 06, 2008


A few of you guessed at which book I evicted from my shelves. It's significant to me not because it was SO TERRIBLE but because it was the first time I remembered giving myself permission to just quit in the middle and start spending my time elsewhere. I used to pride myself on finishing every book I started, no matter how much I disliked it. I still have a few books I've been "reading" for, oh, a decade or more just because I can't quite admit defeat. Most of them are titles I chose because I thought they might make me feel smart (if you've read any Lawrence Durrell, you know what I mean). Still not smart enough, I guess. Or maybe I'm getting smarter as long as I'm still reading them? Anyway, there they sit, with bookmarks slid hopefully between their pages.

Anyway, the offending book was The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Many bright and interesting people love this book and it has won a bunch of awards. But I feel about it like I felt about A Confederacy of Dunces: Why read a book without a character I can, if not like, at least sympathize with? Why voluntarily spend my time in a place with a bunch of people who make my skin crawl?

The answer is, of course, because it might teach me something or because the writing is beautiful, or because there's a payoff at the end. And most of the time I'm on board with this argument. I loved Lolita, whose hero is a child-molester, for goodness' sake. But that's the genius of Nabokov, that he could make a pathetic excuse for a man also a funny and interesting hero of fiction, using language in a way no one before him ever had.

Someone told me that my family must be too happy for me to enjoy The Corrections. Maybe that's true. One more thing to be thankful for, I guess. And, incidentally, Oprah liked The Corrections but disinvited the author from her show because he dissed her. Say what you will about Oprah, but I would probably have done the same thing. Who wants to spend time with someone who doesn't want to be there?

I'm sure The Corrections is as grateful to be out of my presence as I am to have it gone.


jonniker said...

Most of my good friends HATED The Corrections. I ... I loved it. I don't know WHY I loved it, but I can assure you it was for unpretentious reasons. It just kept twisting into more self-destruction and it was so compelling, but so bizarre. I do not, however, think it was worth destroying one's life over, the way Franzen did.

Then again, I hated Lolita. HATED. I HATE IT. I hope I never see it again, seriously. I read the original AND the annotated version, hoping for some enlightenment. I hated it. I couldn't get past the subject, no matter how fascinating. I couldn't sympathize with anyone. I reviled Humbert and was unable to muster much sympathy for the petulant little Lolita.

I've been told this makes me heartless and/or unable to appreciate great literature. That may be true, although I DO acknowledge that the writing is incredible, made even more so by the fact that it was not Nabokov's native language. But still. SQUICK.

Blythe said...

I also loved Helter Skelter. I've wondered what it says about me that I can enjoy books about child molesters and mass murderers but couldn't get through a novel about a (gasp) dysfunctional family. I try not to think too hard about it.

(If every person who got icked out by Lolita (or - like me - bought Anna Karenina and then sold it back to the used bookstore after hauling it around the world and never actually opening it) were incapable of appreciating great literature, then we really ARE a country of illiterates. I think you've probably got many wise people in your corner on this one.)

B. said...

You know how I feel about Lolita... loved it, loved it and when I was done went back, read it again, and loved it even more.

I've never read The Corrections but now I kind of want to just to see where I fall in the equation.

Sandi said...

You and I have talked about this before because we had the exact reaction to The Corrections (which is why I didn't comment on your original post!). It too was the turning point for me to be okay with "not" finishing a book (I'm still trying to convice Geoff of this but feel he'll get there on his own eventually). I have also recently reduced my book collection. It was hard to part with them but feel my smaller collection says more about who I am now and what's important to me.

ChristinaG said...

I finished The Corrections, but could not for the life of me figure out what everyone saw in it. And my childhood was plenty dysfunctional, so it ain't the "too happy childhood" reason. (btw, I loved Lolita too)