Being best-selling isn’t always telling (har-har)

It is 3am and I don’t know why, but I don’t feel like sleeping. This is clearly a product of bad habit, but at least I was productive and squeezed a blog entry out of it. How’s that for justification?

I actually just felt in the mood for a brief musing/rant.

I’m going to go ahead and say that my explorations through literature are relatively diverse. I certainly don’t claim to be as well-read as I should be, but I’ve pecked through my fair share of genres. I have children’s books pretty decently covered and adolescent literature has become accustomed to my presence over the years. I have some experience with the classics and I like a good amount of contemporary novels. I admit to neglecting nonfiction and biography and scholarly works, but it’s not as if I ignore them completely. So, as an average reader of a somewhat young age, I think I have the right to give my opinion.

A lot of literary blogs have been buzzing about Committed, the new novel by Elizabeth Gilbert. They’ve been buzzing, but not necessarily with the best of buzzes. Curtis Sittenfeld writes a review of the book in the NY Times. He doesn’t bash it or anything like that, but he (like all the other book reviewers I have come across) notes that despite her characteristic wit and humor, there is something off about it. It can’t compare to its predecessor.

In 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love and it became this outrageous phenomenon, heralded as a truly amazing piece of nonfiction. Oprah shouted its praises and the book managed to be one of the top nonfiction sellers even years later. And I too fell into the hype. I bought the book. Everyone told me it was marvelous and I thought it looked interesting and so I bought it. The title was catchy, the cover was cute, and the premise was intriguing. “One woman’s search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia.” I drooled over the thought of travel and self-discovery, and I started reading the minute I got home from the bookstore. The beginning went quickly. I plowed through Italy and turned the corner with high hopes, but I think I lost steam somewhere in India. I had to push through to the end in order to finish. It was certainly interesting. It had its moments. I can understand why people enjoy it. Gilbert has a way of writing that is very much for the masses, which is really good for her because it sells books and it clearly connects with readers.

But, to be honest, it didn’t really impress me. I’m not trying to come off as a literary snob or anything of the sort. Elizabeth Gilbert is a good writer– great, even. I read her profile of Hank Williams (“The Ghost”) in one of my classes and it was one of the nonfiction pieces that stood out to me the most. It was beautifully written and just a powerfully revealing piece of literature. So I know she’s a good writer and I acknowledge the reasons why Eat, Pray, Love hit it big.

But I still felt disappointed when I finished it. In the end, I don’t think it was the book that let me down. I think it was the build-up.

I remember because at the time, I was itching for a great read. I had gone through this string of books that were good, but nothing spectacular. It was a succession of contemporary book after contemporary book. It was The Life of Pi, followed by The Time Traveler’s Wife, and then Extraordinarily Loud and Incredibly Close. All good books in their own right, but nothing remarkable to me. I couldn’t find something that excited me. They didn’t make me want to talk about reading or dwell on anything in particular. They failed to come up in conversation and they passed without much notice through my mind. Don’t mistake what I’m trying to say– they were good books and I’m glad I read them, but they fell dreadfully short of the expectation. For being so heavily praised and widely distributed, they never really convinced me.

I think it’s getting way too late. I’ve lost track of my own intentions in writing this. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is a big difference for me between a good book and a great book. Or maybe I’m trying to say I’m finding it harder and harder to trust the bestsellers lists or other peoples’ literary recommendations. Or maybe this is all leading me to realize that I’m terribly picky and I just need to read more.

Oh! I never really mentioned which books (for me) qualify as great reads, but I suppose that will have to wait for another time because it is far too late to start poking my head down that rabbit hole.

On another note, I just finished Being There by Jerzy Kosinski, I’m rereading Whirligig by Paul Fleischman, and I have yet to choose a new book I want to commit to for this quarter. But, as always, I’m looking for a great read so I better choose carefully.


About Booki
"Somewhere man must know that self-perception is the most frightening of all human observations. He must know that when a man faces himself, he is looking into an abyss."

One Response to Being best-selling isn’t always telling (har-har)

  1. transi3nt says:

    I agree with you on Elizabeth Gilbert. One thing I hate is not liking the protagonist. Especially when it’s a memoir. Reading “Eat, Pray, Love” was a lot like reading “Julie and Julia” where I just got annoyed by the self-absored author. And I’m assuming “Committed” will be exactly like “Cleavage”, the Julie and Julia sequel. I never skimmed a book so fast.

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