Friday, February 26, 2010

The Exception Proves the Rule or Why I Read Just About Anything

Some things I hate:

  • A book where the main characters don’t have names
  • A book that doesn’t use quotation marks

Some things I am not crazy about:

  • Little to no punctuation
  • Huge block paragraphs that go on forever
  • Apocalyptic/Dystopian books
  • Books that hit you over the head with allegories

But no rules are absolute. Immediately before September 11th, a (now ex-) boyfriend gave me a copy of Blindness by Jose Saramego, which remains one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years. And it hits every one of the above black marks. And not only did I tolerate these “shortcomings”, but in the end I thought that they all made perfect sense and in fact the book wouldn’t have been as phenomenal without them. Overly stylistic books usually hold their readers’ at arm’s length which I don’t like, not to mention they seem to be saying “look at me! I am so much smarter than you!” Normally, I am of the opinion that not only does making something more difficult not show how smart you are, but sometimes it can be harder (and take a smarter person) to write something simple.

In Blindness, the characters, one by one, are struck blind suddenly in an epidemic that sweeps the city then the country and so on. One woman seems immune but pretends to be blind to stay with her husband and help him through the quarantine and ensuing disaster as chaos reigns and society implodes. As obvious an allegory as Camus’s The Plague, it manages to not be derivative of that novel at all. Like Metamorphosis, there is no explanation, no set-up; instead it just happens and the repercussions are the main storyline.

This book is a great example of why I read so broadly and why I constantly try to expand my literary horizons. If you say “I only read mysteries” or “I always hate horror novels,” you will miss out on some wonderful books you would have loved, if you’d just given them a shot. So when people look at my list of books and they’re shocked that I read a book about worms (The Earth Moved) or a memoir about being undercover in The Hell’s Angels (No Angel), or a book about a scientist and her parrot (Alex & Me), I always nod and say, I read widely. It was convenient when I repped independent stores, as they weren’t always bookstores. I could talk to a gardening store about Flower Confidential or an aquarium about Cod. One science museum that was having trouble coming up with a list of adult books to go with their Grossology exhibit was initially thrilled but eventually disturbed when I recommended Stiff, Driving Mr. Albert, and Maggots, Murder and Men, all of which I had read. One thing I love about books is that there’s a book for anyone. If I run across a person who “just doesn’t read,” I start rubbing my hands together (usually on the inside so as to not freak them out) and think, “you just haven’t had the right books. I will find them.” I got an ex-boyfriend back reading again when I got him 10 books on sailing. Another guy who as far as he could remember had never read a book for fun I brought back to the fold with High Fidelity. One date was truly shocked that I had read both Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer and The Blind Side (years before the movie, I read it still in hardcover.) I can always come up with a point of commonality. My one big area of weakness currently is genre fiction (romances, mysteries, horror, thrillers, sci fi, fantasy.) I have read books in all these categories at one point or another, but they just didn’t grab me enough to think I needed to read more, even if I enjoyed the ones I read. And I do currently have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to comics, although I did read 2 graphic memoirs in 2009. Rarely has stepping out of my comfort zone disappointed me, and I encourage everyone to give it a try.

1 comment:

avisannschild said...

This is a fantastic post! I don't read outside my comfort zone that often (although I think I have a fairly broad comfort zone). One of my recent discoveries is comics, which I only started reading last year. I really want to know which graphic memoirs you've read!

Blindness is now on my wishlist. Did you see the movie?