Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Judgment: 3 Titles

(Tearing herself away from CNN & her beloved Keith Olbermann momentarily to work on overdue stuff...)

I read and enjoyed three books lately but the contrast among them is instructive and tells me a lot about the limitations of my laid-back critical method.

I really do believe that readers must take a novel on its own terms. It's important that we figure out what a novel is trying to do and only then judge it. Not only is it important to read this way, it is central, for me, to the pleasure of reading. It's simply a lot more fun to pick books judiciously and then read them whilst thinking of them as good.

But when I think back over Matthew Eck's The Farther Shore, David Leavitt's The Indian Clerk, and the book I'm in the midst of now, Anne Enright's The Gathering, it's clear to me that there is a good, a better, and a best.

Eck's book was fine. Competent and interesting. Ultimately, it had fewer flaws than Lara Santoro's Mercy (about which I'll have more to say later), but it was less innovative and taught me less. (Both are novels about well-meaning bumbling whites in Africa.

Leavitt's book was very good indeed, if a bit too academic. It was slow-going for me at first but then I got into it and sailed through it and hope to have more to say about some of the truly amazing things I found there some day soon.

But it's only the Enright book that has me calling my mom and reading paragraphs aloud, that has me laughing aloud, that causes pain and creates joy. I'm really enthusiastic right now about The Gathering. And I really started out skeptically: the conceit of preparing for a wake or funeral is really worn out, I think. But this book is anything but shopworn to me. I'm loving it.

If I could just carve out the time to read...


Anne Camille said...

My son gave me The Gathering for Christmas and I've been searching for time to sit down to read it. After reading this, I'm even more eager to do so.

Anonymous said...

Well, in that case, save the date!!

The next “Upstairs at the Square” will take place on Wednesday, February 13th, at 7PM, featuring Anne Enright, author of 2007 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Gathering, and Camphor (Friendly Fire Recordings), a New York-based indie pop group built around the songwriting of Max Avery Lichtenstein, composer of unconventional scores for critically-acclaimed films such as Tarnation, Jesus' Son and The King.