Saturday, September 8, 2012

On Being a Book Snob

I realize that I often love a book that someone else just detests--or tears to pieces.  I read such a weird wide variety of literature that I couldn't even profile myself.  When those book buying sites try to suggest something based on what I've purchased before, I just have to laugh.  First of all, they don't even consider that I sometimes buy books as gifts. Sure, I bought two or three of those Miss Spider books--for my granddaughter--but that doesn't mean I'm into the genre. (Similarly, at the grocery store, the register keeps spitting out coupons for diapers and baby supplies just because one time I bought swim diapers; I also get lost of coupons for dog food and such, even though the dog died almost 18  months ago.)

One of the features I always read in the New York Times Book Review section is the interview with  famous people--usually an author, not a Kardashian--asking all kinds of reading questions: What's on your nightstand now?  Favorite book from childhood?  They are also always asked something such as, "What book do you wish you hadn't read?"  Some will take it in a safe direction--In Cold Blood, for example, because of it leaves terrifying images on the brain.  Almost no one, especially no author, will come right out and say that some popular bestseller  was a complete waste of time, ink, and paper.  That might produce bad karma or hard feelings.

This week, Nicholas Sparks was the first presenter in the Lenoir-Rhyne Visiting Writers Series. I have always felt so fortunate to live in a small city that brings in the heavy-hitters that usually make up the list. We've had two U.S. Poet Laureates recently--W.S. Merwin, during his term, and Natasha Tretheway, before she was named to the post.  Both read in Belk Centrum, the smaller venue.  Just poetry, you know. hmmm.  They've had John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros; by even trying to name a few, I insult some of the wonderful writers I omit.  But I didn't go to see Sparks. 

I read The Notebook.  I have taught countless high school girls who read everything he publishes--and weep as they do so.  I had to stop at one.  Maybe my opinion was skewed by the information (second or third hand) that he researches what women want to read (i.e., books that make them weep unrestrainedly) and writes that. 

The feedback I've heard since his reading--most of it from college age and young adult females--his usual  pool of readers--was not flattering.  Writing? Getting published? Not that hard to do.  No problem.  If that were my experience, I would grovel and admit, "I am blessed and I am unworthy," and then I would admit, "This is not usually the case. Writing--especially good writing--is very hard work."

I understand (in a way, I guess) his being invited.  The board of my state professional organization actually had the closest thing English teachers have to a knock-down, drag-out fight over whether or not to extend our author's award to him and to have him appear at our conference (to boost attendance.)  In the end, we didn't.  I know his books will fill the library shelves--along with those other prolific bestsellers.  And to some degree, I am happy when some people will read anything.  I just wish they'd ask me for some better suggestions. My list would be a mile long.

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