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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

"I've never heard of that."

One thing we have been surprised to learn from the bookshop and from litblogs is that so many people are blissfully unaware of so many great books. Undoubtedly, we are, too.

Tiresias has joined our Literary Salon book club. To his disappointment, the first book he read with us was The Road. Among the members it was not universally disliked. Without knowing what the author has to say about his own book, it is impossible to know if it is a success or not. Some things are clear, though: The Road is a superbly successful product, and it is plainly unliterate. Tiresias was actually turned away from reading for a couple weeks by this book.

As the group set to select the next book, someone pulled from the shelf The World According to Garp, by John Irving. We were the only one to have read it, and we praised it highly. It was not nominated, but when the votes were cast, it won. And now Tiresias has had his faith in books renewed.

Today he wondered how he had never heard of the book, or the author. Did the book win any awards, and if not, why, because clearly it is more well-written than The Road? The way Irving puts the novel together is masterful. And then, to his surprise, Tiresias learned something about the structure of a novel, the in medias res beginning, the heightening conflicts, the black moment, the climax, and the denouement. He has been a voracious reader, but never noticed in the books he read these elements for what they were.

Throughout the blogosphere we find ourselves repeating in disbelief: never read Midnight's Children? is Jude the Obscure sad? Alice in Wonderland for children? who is Garcia Marquez? is Dracula as good as Interview With a Vampire? wasn't The Tin Drum a movie? How we always thought we had read so few of the essential books, and come to find that so many others have read fewer than we have.

The greatest thing is that we haven't read all the great literature yet either. We are always looking for someone to turn us on to new books, truly great works, as opposed to simply an entertaining story. Just today we had an interest in Erasmus kindled. There is always something new to be learned, and it is all out there, in books.


  1. Well said Quillhill! I love John Irving. He is brilliant. There is so much to discover, so many books I've never been interested in before that, because someone else has read it and says how good it is I find myself wanting to read it too.

  2. Even when we know a book is good, as in the case of Proust, it might take the encouragement of someone else, like you, to get us to finally read it.