Saturday, January 07, 2012

In which I discover I am most lowbrow

Recently I wrote about how I need to start reading literary fiction again. Full of purpose, I decided to begin with one of this years most lauded books--Open City, by Teju Cole. It's a book about New York, about wandering the city, and everyone at work has been raving about it, so I said, what the heck.


I should remember not to read non-African non-Latin-American fiction. Though Cole is Nigerian. Perhaps I misunderstood the blurb; perhaps I've lost my ability to interpret blurbs accurately; perhaps I was nostalgic for New York. I wrestled with that book for a month. I'd keep losing my place, rereading it without understanding it, battering desperately at the impenetrable walls of his navel-gazing stream-of-consciousness narrator's languid prose. People told me the ending would be great, I should keep going. Three times I tried; three times I had to give up. It stood for all that I find revolting about the literary world today. India, Europe and the US seem to produce such obscure novels that are lauded as superior writing but serve only to send me into a stupor.

Mind you, my inability to read it had little to do with the fact that I've been running around with my niece. I know this because in a moment of frustration I tossed it aside and picked up The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junor Diaz. I read all but the last 50 pages in one day, while chasing niece, baking, cooking, running errands and doing whatever was demanded of me. Three pages in I just fell into the novel. The fiery, agile writing was ALIVE; it grabbed me by the cerebral cortex and headbutted me. The characters were real; they DID, they didn't just think.

Then  Scoo, Poo and I had lively discussion on writing (well mostly them, as always happens when the women in my family as discussing things and I'm supposed to participate), and I am amazed at how disparate our views are on the subject of what is good writing. I guess I'm just a pleb.


  1. I haven't read it but why didn't you like it? I don't think you mentioned it? I have been hearing good things too for Cole.

  2. well my highbrow sister and cousin loved it, as did Favourite Colleague and other people at work. toldja, I'm too lowbrow for it ;)