I joined a couple of local book clubs recently, because I like to read and I figured it would be fun meeting up with other people who like to read. Each club meets once a month in a coffee shop or a wine bar (which I like even better). 🙂 You get to make new friends and have a ready-made topic of conversation, which helps prevent those awkward party “lulls” after you get through all the person’s basic biographical data (“What do you do, where are you from, are you married, do you have any kids, etc”).
The problem, for me, is that book clubs tend to pick books that I refuse to read, because I am very picky about the kinds of subjects I choose to meditate upon. (Meditation is just thinking about a particular topic for an extended period of time, right? So if you think about it, reading is kind of like a really extended meditation. And “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”)
Looking on the bright side, it’s a luxury, I guess, that I even can refuse at this point in my life. I graduated college with honors in English, which basically meant that even though I wasn’t an English major, I took a bunch of English lit courses from the Honors College and wrote lots of analytical papers about the books they made us read. My mind naturally wants to dissect art forms into little bitty pieces and then reconstruct them into arguments that say something meaningful about life or society.
When I got to do this for older classic literature it was fantastic. But I pretty consistently found contemporary literature to be varying shades of appalling.
One book that stands out in my memory, for instance, was the story of how one man after another brutally raped or otherwise mistreated the main character. The word f**k appeared at least five times per page, and I think it actually taught me new cuss words. Sadly, I didn’t have the option of not reading it—I actually had to give a presentation on the stupid thing. (I remember nothing else about the presentation except that my presenting partner, after flubbing a sentence or two, said to the class, “Don’t mind us. I’m really tired and”—pointing to me—“she’s really biased.”) After I finished it, I pretty much hated men for a few weeks, until I managed to get out of that polluted “headspace.”
Which brings me to my current book clubs. I won’t mention any books by name, but I will say both of these topped the NYT bestseller lists at one point in the recent past. The book I read (or tried to read) for last week’s club was about a girl who was hired to be a personal assistant to a quadriplegic boy her own age, whom she later found out was suicidal and she was hired by his mother to be on suicide watch. The boy’s father, instead of helping, slipped out to have an affair every time his wife left the house.
…I mean, it was really well written, but I stopped reading on page 70, as soon as I got to the part where the boy’s mom agreed to assist his suicide in six months’ time. You have GOT to be KIDDING me.
The book for next week’s book club opened with an extremely detailed account of the main character’s mother dying of cancer. In this process, the main character (who is married at the time, by the way,) sees a male nurse who is… obviously well-endowed… and considers how much she’d like to sleep with him—because she wants to, and also in exchange for extra morphine for her mom. I think I made it to like page 30 on that one… but just before I put the book down I skimmed to the end of the paragraph I was on and read, “God is a vindictive b*tch.” Huh. Then I flipped it over to read the accolades on the back—Oprah calls it “soul-enhancing.”
By what definition, I wonder?
Why is so-called “great literature” these days always either morally questionable, depressing (in an unredemptive sort of way), or both? Why does this sort of hopelessness sell?
(Clearly I am very opinionated about this, but thoughts on both sides are welcome.) 🙂