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Pickle Me This

October 21, 2011

Not believing the hype

One if my favourite books ever is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I’d be a rich woman if I had a nickel for every person I’ve ever encountered who’s refused to read it because it’s story of a teenage murderer. (And oh, by the way, it isn’t. We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a marriage. But you have to read the book three times to figure that out). For some reason, however, I feel free to cast disdain on these non-readers, on their deliberate steps away from the difficult, uncomfortable questions put forth by provocative literature, while I continue to oblige my own prejudices. Perhaps because my own prejudices are not quite so vague, so open-ended. Give me a well-written teenage murderer any day, but force me to read a book about a dog and I’ll pull my eyes out.

Note, however, that here I insist on being as inconsistent as I ever was– a look through my recentish reading confirms that I liked Andrew O’Hagan’s Maf the Dog book, and both Our Spoons Came From Woolworths and Quickening, both of which had dogs on their cover, plus I even attended a literary dog exhibition.

This is actually not a panda.

But dogs are really only the tip of the iceberg, and somehow the fates have conspired to make the rest of the iceberg the most hyped books of the season. Because do you know what I hate more than I hate books about dogs? That would be books about circuses, of course, and I don’t like books about cowboys, and not even “books about”, but there might be nothing I hate more in the whole wide world more than I hate jazz. Which has pretty much left me nothing in the whole world to read… except for the 73 books I have before me on my TBR shelf. So maybe you can see why I’m not too bothered.

So dare I cave to the pressure of the hype? Is the hype any less ridiculous than my own stupid literary prejudices? Though I do pay attention to awards lists (and go Zsuzsi Gartner and Lynn Coady, by the way. Your books rocked my soul), and I’m grateful to the books they point me to, I’m certainly not going to read all lauded books for the sake of the act. This is a lesson I perhaps learned the time I read Vernon God Little.

There are books I should read, no doubt. This is the reason I read The Wings of the Dove and Great Expectations this year, and why my slow trip through The Collected John Cheever is ongoing.  But I refused to be obliged to read a book until at least ten years has determined it’s still worth my while. And depending on how posterity has treated it, I might pick it up, dog or no dog, cowboy or no cowboy. Unless it’s a book about a circus.

One thought on “Not believing the hype”

  1. Panic says:

    How about Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus? Geek Love? WHAT ABOUT GEEK LOVE, KERRY? /whataboutpromblaine

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