Reading other peoples’ takes on Primo Levi, or Murakami, or David Eggers, and comparing them to my own, I get some sense of who we all are and what we’re up to. Sometimes this turns out to be far more interesting than reading the book itself.
If this is the case, then, the important thing would be, first, really to understand one’s own reaction, to observe it with great care; and, second, to articulate it honestly, without any fudging for fear that others might disagree.
Congratulations, book bloggers – I think we see this honesty more in our community than in the literary or commercial press. Don’t you think so? Have a drink or two and pat yourselves on the back.
Book bloggers, book hurlers and book ranters alike will enjoy this article by Tim Parks, in which he questions the popularity of some very big names. It isn’t an exercise in putting down certain writers or the people who enjoy them, but in wondering what it is that makes our different reactions to books, and wishing we would be more open about those reactions rather than falling into line with uncritical enthusiasm for whoever’s in favour at the moment. Nothing could be more common among the community of book reviewers than fudging, says Parks.
And here’s a nice example of someone thinking about why others might react to a book they way they do. In the same edition of the NYRB Daniel Mendelsohn explains the popularity of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life like this:
many readers today have reached adulthood in educational institutions where a generalized sense of helplessness and acute anxiety have become the norm; places where, indeed, young people are increasingly encouraged to see themselves not as agents in life but as potential victims: of their dates, their roommates, their professors, of institutions and history in general. In a culture where victimhood has become a claim to status, how could Yanagihara’s book—with its unending parade of aesthetically gratuitous scenes of punitive and humiliating violence—not provide a kind of comfort? To such readers, the ugliness of this author’s subject must bring a kind of pleasure, confirming their preexisting view of the world as a site of victimization and little else.