Many of my friends, students and acquaintances, if asked (though it would be unclear as to why they would be asked), would tell you that the sorts of books I prefer are those of high literary merit- the “important” books. Literary social fiction, provoking philosophical or political nonfiction, obscure articles from the backlogs of The Paris Journal, words as long as a person’s arm and sentences that stretch out like the horizon line with endless qualifiers, conjunctions and creatively used punctuation (parentheses, anyone?).
I’m going to tell you a secret- I don’t.
While I will not tell you what book I’m currently reading for recreation (please don’t ask), I will tell you is that the writing is mediocre at best. As a matter of fact, I’ve already found four typos (mostly formatting, though there was one misspelling). It is not an “important” book. It will (most likely) be forgotten- relegated to second-rate used bookstores or the dusty shelves of a thrift store where people will (probably) pass it over for tattered copies of Louis L’Amour. Come to think of it, the book is a pretty blatant ripoff of another book that I’ve read and loved- one that is well written and does not contain typos of any kind.
Here’s the thing that may or may not shock you (depending upon how frequently we’ve spoken in person)- I don’t care.
For all of its (minor) failings, I am gorging myself on this book at every opportunity because it has something that technically obsessed writers sometimes forget: having something to say is more important than how you say it. I cannot stop reading this book because it has life and spirit and spunk and verve. No, the writer of this book will never be mistaken for Jonathan Franzen (whom I love), Jhumpa Lahiri (whom I also love) or Zadie Smith (whom I’m not necessarily wild about, though I cannot deny her quality and considerable technical ability), but she is unafraid, unabashed and unrepentant about her voice and that is, all things considered, just as important as technical ability.
This is my short confession. Though I love “important” books and the writers who painstakingly craft them (and I do- I really, really do), there is something equally impressive and indeed, absolutely compelling, about a writer who is unafraid to show you their blood and guts and marrow- letting those things splatter all over the pages so that, for however brief a moment, you can commune with them- remembering that you are human and that we are in this together.
(Oh, and please forgive me, The Paris Review, because I love you. I really, really do.)