Thursday, April 15, 2010

Keep these Books Well Stocked Away

I am struggling through a book right now that I don't like and would like to put down but I can't. Not because I don't want to (as stated above, I do want to), but because I feel like I'm not supposed to. Or shouldn't.

Why? Because the book received such rave reviews that I feel like I must be a moron or missing something for not liking it. I'm scared that someone will see it on my shelf and ask me what I thought about something that occurred more than one-third of the way through, and I'll have to admit I didn't finish it and thereby be branded a rube.

I do this a lot. I find that I "like" something that reviews or public opinion or preconceived notions tell me I'm supposed to like. For example, the Mercedes SUV. I don't like its look and I doubt it holds enough cargo to be useful as an SUV. But I feel like Mercedes made it so it must be ME. Obviously, it's my personal shortcoming that prevents me from liking it. So I like it.

Ditto certain books. I guess I'm not ashamed anymore. So, the book to which I referred above is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Time magazine named it one of the most important books since 1923. First off, I find it a little too self-aware and self-indulgent and overblown. It's like the 915-page, literary version of La Villa Strangiato by Rush. Which could be the point, but I'm not sure that makes it better (I don't buy the "it sucks because it's parodying things that suck in this world, not because it actually sucks - you're missing the point"). I also find that the dizzying use of endnotes - purposefully, per the author, designed to break up the flow of the novel - irritates me. For the same reason - i.e., I guess I'm too dense to realize that being irritated is exactly the point the author was trying to make, and I should therefore appreciate being irritated and not enjoying the book. Finally, I'm not terribly impressed by the imagery anyway. Maybe it's one of those "I'm so dense that I think I'm smart but I'm actually dumb" things, but a lot of the presumably clever material is boring. Like the fact that the new North American mega-country is named the Organization of North American Nations. To me the ONAN part was apparent from the full name, but every chance he gets, he puts the acronym in the reader's face. I get it.

Anyway, I'm laboring through it and it's frustrating me. Any others out there?


CG said...

I hate to say it, but I found hanging there with it was worth it in the end -- yes, it's self-indulgent in parts and the footnotes can get tedious, but he's an amazing voice, super creative, funny and not boring. It's also one of those books referenced a lot so it's nice to get those references and understand how much he has influenced other writers. Keep going...

Oh, and Happy Birthday!

Tripp said...

Thanks for the happy b-day wishes, but actually Harris posted that one!

Tripp said...

When you put it that way Harris, I would have to include the House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Endless footnotes in that one too, the footnotes are like a separate novel. In some places the text swirls, forcing you to turn the book 360 degrees to read it. Lots of smarty smart literary tricks. No thank you.

Also, I don't like the Confederacy of Dunces and A Prayer for Owen Meany, books much loved by many,

Anonymous said...

I agree on DFW. I've never understood the fuss. I've always wondered if the fact that he was clearly a smart, engaging, self-deprecating guy who was much loved by other authors has contributed to his books being a bit overrated. Acclaim from other writers is catnip to critics. For example, DeLillo hasn't written anything worthwhile since White Noise but don't tell Michiko and the rest.

Funny, I thought you were talking about Wolf Hall, which Laura also labored to get through.


Neill said...

Thanks HLK. I think that just spared me wasting my time with it. (and by 'my time' I mean that which I spend surfing blogs and stalking people on FB) I have had DFW's book staring me down for years now. Ditto steves comments on DeLillo. I've bought many of his since reading White Noise and have been really bummed with them. (note that I said 'bought' not 'read' since i only read back covers and dustjacket flaps)