Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Resented Reading

In school, I noticed that many of my fellow students resented reading assignments that I had enjoyed. At the time, I thought that this was out of a taste for easy prose, an unwillingness to engage more complicated writing. On reconsidering some of those readings, I think that my appetite was healthy but my palate somewhat undiscriminating. If I sent my older self back to read some of the selections that I remember as being in the anthologies, he would read them, but come to the lectures with a combative look in his eye.

Out of school, I enjoyed about a 25 year stretch in which I could choose my reading, and set it aside at will. A book that did not engage me ended up unread on the shelves, and eventually with Goodwill. Then we joined a neighborhood book club. The rules as I interpret them--not all members agree--are that you need not like, but you ought to read. On that interpretation, I have read a number of books that it would not have occurred to me to read, but which I enjoyed, and fewer that I'd never have read more than a dozen pages of.

The latest in the latter category is The State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Ms. Patchett seems to write a great deal in phrases rather than words, often without concern with how the component words work together, or even what they mean.
  • "he kissed her under her porch light" at which the snide reader supplies "where she had the rose tattoo" or "where the little birthmark was".
  • "the wind tunnel that roared through the back seat". No, wind tunnels may roar. They may roar across some distance or other, but unless while in transit they do not roar through anything.
  • "the red visage of his neck". How many faces can one man have?
  • A boat navigates "the center aisle" of a river.
 This is to say nothing of the plot, which strikes me as written for an audience that wishes to relax and enjoy an adventure story with some romance thrown in. But she has read up on her rain forest novels, with a prop from Waugh and a tragedy from Garcia Marquez.

The cover bears a blurb from Emma Donoghue, including "Perfect from first page to last." I'd change "perfect" to "consistent."

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