I WILL BE traveling a lot these next few weeks so I can look forward to catching up on my reading. I have read only 3 books in the last quarter — Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Martha Grimes’ Foul Matter and Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love. Of the three, only McCarthy’s award-winning fiction about father and son’s post-apocalyptic bonding left a lasting impression, but still not enough to make me smile.
Yes, some books make me smile. Quite a few have made me shake my head in delight not because they were funny but because the amalgamation of words and thoughts had brought me a sudden epiphany or unexpectedly unravelled things that are close to home. Some books have made me say Shit, that’s a brilliant, well-constructed prose!
But what works for me may not sit well with others. Critics have disagreed with me on a great number of occasions. Some of the books I’ve venerated have sunk to obscurity, left to rot with their P120.00 price tags on some forgotten shelf in that book sale shop. This has led me to acknowledge that the satisfaction we derive from reading is simply a matter of taste. Or, is it possible that all my life I have been reading the wrong books? Have I been passing over the greatest literary masterpieces of our time? Can I responsibly say that Kafka on the Shore is terrific just because I haven’t read a page of Tolstoy’s War and Peace? I haven’t wandered into Jane Austen and Jane Eyre territories. I haven’t gotten bit (I refuse to, anyway) by the Stephenie Meyer bug. The pontifications of Coelho bore me to death and most of the so-called classics are just too plot-driven for my tastes, the metaphors way beyond the reach of my nut-sized intellect.
But there are writers who actually made me flash these Pepsodent-shiny teeth in approval — all strange bedfellows: Haruki Murakami, Umberto Eco, Dave Eggers, Khaled Hosseini, Earnest Hemingway, JD Salinger, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, among others (while most of King’s books suck like hell, I still believe 75% of Different Seasons is among the best examples of adept and smile-inducing storytelling there is. Try reading 3 of the 4 short novels within the book: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body and The Breathing Method).
But then again, appreciation of the written word is simply and unequivocally a matter of taste. Forget what the critics say; shun the bandwagon. Dare to be shameless of your literary convictions and devour what appeals to you. You can proclaim that Dan Brown is the greatest writer that ever lived. In the end, you and you alone are the best judge. Remember, a crappy book in hand is easily worth two Pulitzer winners on the shelf.
But the search for the next “good” book remains. How do we choose the next book? Should we pick it up from a roster of award-winners or should we take a hint from the New York Times bestsellers list? As for me, time is gold so I have taken the best of both worlds. I picked Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to keep me company on my airport jousts. Nothing’s safer than a multiple award-winner. I keep my fingers crossed. I have high hopes. I have skimmed a few pages and felt a corner of my mouth move ever so slightly. Just a crack of a smile in conception, mind you. But promising. I pray this book will make me smile. I hope Frank Darabont adapts it for his next movie so I’ll be grinning from ear-to-ear.
And what if Junot Diaz doesn’t move me? Well, Twilight here I am.
Do you remember the last book that made you smile?
(“it is the tale, not he who tells it.”)