Biblioracle, Biblioracle, where have you been? I was shocked to see that we have spent so long apart, fellow readers. Summer has turned into fall, the leaves have colored and soon will be down. I have missed you, because while reading about books may be a solitary exercise, talking about them is a group pleasure, and the best part of the Biblioracling for me is hearing about what everyone else has been reading.
You didn’t answer the question. Where have you been? Summer break ended. School began and the time previously earmarked for recommending books is filled with preparation and teaching and grading and also finishing the edits on my own novel that will be released next year by the fine folks at Soho Press.
As a professional book recommender, how does that feel to know that your own novel will soon be in the world of all these other books? It is hugely gratifying, of course. It’s something I’ve worked toward for the better part of my life. At the same time, it’s fraught with anxiety because at the end of the editing process, it’s hard to even know what the thing is anymore. I am periodically seized with the desire to call the whole thing off.
I read so many wonderful books this year, truly one of my best years of reading ever, certainly the best since graduate school, and I can’t help but wonder if my own work even comes close to stacking up against the books that have brought me so much pleasure. That was my goal in writing my book, but we’ll find out if I’ve struck the target next fall.
But even if you strike the target for some, it’s going to be a miss for others, isn’t it? See, this is why I’ve missed you. I think you’re right, and I’m trying to steel myself for this a year in advance. What any writer is looking for is this, but the reality is that once a book is out in the world, you’re lucky if enough people hear of its existence to hate it in large numbers.
Here are a few reviews I’ve culled from Amazon for a book released this summer that achieved both critical and popular success.
Just painful. (The author’s) riding (sic) is so sophomoric and pedantic. Dull, Long winded and uninteresting. The words wallow on the page. Reading his book is like walking on broken glass. I wanted to believe the hype—that this was a great work of American fiction, but it’s not. In ten years time no one will be forced to read this drivel.
[O]ne of the worst books I have attempted to read. I cannot think of a single good thing to say about this book. I could hardly wait to delete it from my kindle.
This book is painful to read. Each character is more vile than the last. Their lives are thoroughly depressing and pointless. Depictions of mental illness are childish. Depictions of friendship, love, and romance are even less on point. Mutual friendship or love never lasts more than about 10 minutes in [the author’s]-world. After slogging through this long novel, I could not see the point. Worse than a benign waste of time, it was truly distasteful.
These are just three of the (as of this writing) 113 one-star reviews for Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, a novel that I was inclined to scorn out of professional jealousy and resentment, but ended up absolutely loving. It consumed my life for the four or so days it took me to read. It was like the start of any love affair, where the object of affection crowds out all other earthly concerns. When I was away from the book doing something else, like showering or sleeping, I wanted to be with the book. After I finished Freedom I didn’t start reading anything else for at least a week because I wanted to linger in the memory of it for as long as possible. If Freedom had hair, I would have cut a lock free and secreted it away in my special keepsake box. (Glenn Bishop-style, for you Mad Men fans.)
Franzen famously sabotaged his ethernet port with superglue, so maybe he doesn’t have the ability to obsess over his one-star reviews, but my hunch is that if he does see them, even that cover of Time or his private audience with Barack Obama aren’t enough to completely soothe away the pain.
Are you implying that all writers are fragile flowers incapable of receiving criticism? Maybe. Or maybe I’m trying to offer a pre-emptive disclaimer on my own recommendations if they wind up fizzling like the Fox Network’s new fall prime-time lineup. We’re doing our best here, but sometimes our best isn’t good enough for everyone. For me, the best books read like they were custom-done for me alone, and if that’s the case, there’s going to be plenty of people who don’t see it the same way.
But there’s always more books. That there are, my friends. That there are.
Can we get a reminder of how this works? It really has been a while. Between the hours of 1 and 3 p.m., Eastern time, list the five most recent books you’ve read, and I’ll tell you what you should read next.
As always, the Biblioracle loves to hear from you at email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter, @biblioracle.
List the last five books you’ve read, and the Biblioracle tells you what to read next.
The Biblioracle will be open today, Oct. 29, from 1 to 3 p.m. ET.