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Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Paper Trail Expands

I didn't make it to Kramer's last night. The sky opened up the minute I left the bar from happy hour and my only choice was to make a mad dash across the street to the metro. Upon my return home (shoes are not actually ruined as I suspected them to be) I took inventory of my literature stock, daring to make eye contact with all the volumes I have so capriciously discarded throughout the years without fully enjoying to the extent that they deserve. It was like daring to show my face before a collection of lovers scorned, yet secretly hoping to be taken back. I surveyed the collection carefully, weighing my options. Finally, my hand reached for a generously endowed paperback on the second to highest shelf.

I smoothed my hand over its cover, displacing a fine layer of dust in the process. It's cover art was exactly as I had remembered it. A photograph of a girl with long wavy hair, wearing dark shades and a blue mini-dress lounging on a battered velvet sofa under what appears to be a Kandinsky canvas.

The Russian Debutante's Handbook.

As far as compelling presentation, it has everything going for it. Intriguing cover art, a cryptic title, and many blurbs testifying to it's literary greatness. I mean, damn. Who didn't like this book--everyone from New York Magazine to the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post to friggin' Entertainment Weekly had something positive to say. This book is hot property. This book gets around.

With most things in life, an entity's popularity tends to diminish my willingness to embrace or enjoy it. Not because I'm one of those contrarian pseudo-intellectual, misanthropic hipster types who hates anything mainstream. More because excessive hype and overexposure tends to turn me away from things. If I hear about how something is great 8 million times my brain tends to shut off or begin to hate that thing. Whatever it is--a movie, a bar, a friend's new boyfriend. After a while it's all blah, blah, blah to me.

It's different with books. Perhaps it's because my experience of loving a book is so intrinsically emotional, intellectual and personal, that when somebody else is brave enough to publicly declare their deepest affections for a book, I take notice.

So here, with dozens of accolades testifying to the singular wonderfulness of this particular novel, I decided to give it another try.

And I'm glad that I did. I've only read a dozen more pages (it's not the kind of text you can gulp down whole) and I had to backtrack a little to remind myself what had been going on when I last abandoned it. But I'm digging it's sense of humor. Right now, the main character (born in Russia) is trying to make sense of American culture, particular the American culture of intellectual hipster types.

As a commenter pointed out yesterday, I have something in common with the book's author. We graduated from the same small, progressive Midwestern college. I vaguely remember him around campus, although he was a senior when I was a first year and we never had reason to meet. The main character in the book has recently graduated from what is obviously the same school as it has been referred to several times as "the progressive Midwestern college." The main character's outlook on the world has been informed by his experience there, something I can wholly relate to. As of now, he is trying to reconcile his own image of success in America with the nerd chic thrift store aesthetic popular among his peers. Oh, how I relate.

In related news, I did a little writing last night, letting the theme of my project shift once again. This time writing more from experience than conjecture, the words flowed much more easily. I did encounter a creative snag however: writing dialog. Mine feels all clunky and weird. Too much, blah blah blah, she saids and x,y,z she responded. I don't know what to do about that.

In the comments section tell me something. Anything.


Blogger recovering overachiever said...

I've enjoyed your last 2 book posts and it's made me discover how little reading I've been doing.
I too tend to read multiple books at once. I should really return to some of them.
On my nightstand are:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Great Gatsby (one of my favs)
Miss Manners Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct Behavior

The last one is very entertaining!

7:36 PM  
Blogger Michael J. West said...

I'm afflicted with the same horrible book ADD as you, HP. I've bought three books in about the last month, and they've all been abandoned in the middle for the sake of the next book. If only I could stop reading nonfiction and get a good novel onto my brain.

Boy, that small, progressive Midwestern college must be tiny. You seem to have memories of just about everyone who was there the same time as you!

1:06 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I have abandoned that book for something a little lighter but shall be returning to it in a week or so.

1:18 PM  

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