Every month the library book group meets to discuss a book chosen by the members. The group varies in size from eight or nine to just a few. We have been reading memoirs for the last three times. Yesterday we talked about a book written by the food critic at the New York Times. I didn't finish it because I found it uninteresting and superficial. It was hard to make myself sit and read it, and I did so in short periods of fifteen minutes to a half hour. However, David and I had talked about the book a few times, and I knew he liked it. Certainly I had to respect his opinion, so it prodded me into evaluating what it is that makes me like a book.
Thinking about the previous discussions of our library group, I tried to pinpoint why I so often find myself impatient and bored. I had thought about this before, but hadn't taken the time to analyze my attitude. The current book was such a good example of what I find uninteresting that it provided a perfect starting point to do just that. The author of the book made a point in the preface to say that eveything in the book was not absolutely accurate. She said that she came from a family of story-tellers, and had learned to appreciate a good story, even if certain details had to be altered. Of course this is my sentiment as well. The point is, I realize, that I am not particularly fond of reading stories.
Time after time, the people in the book group talk about the plot of a book. They analyze the characters. They form opinions of them based on the way they are portrayed by the author. They like them or they don't like them. They discuss the events that take place in the book with great interest and pleasure. They pretend that the characters are something other than different versions of the author. Yesterday it became clear to me that the plot of a book is almost irrelevant as far as I am concerned. I heard myself tell the group that it didn't matter who the story was about or what happened to the the characters. Those are the things I enjoy on TV or in the movies. A book is made up of words and sentences put together in certain ways. Different authors have different styles. The ones I like have an idea to express and use a plot to express that idea. They are philosophy books in disguise, poems that don't rhyme. I read every word slowly and deliberately. I take pleasure in nouns and verbs and adjectives, how they are used and how they are strung together. I want an author to be worthy of that kind of attention.
Memoirs..........the first one I remember reading and loving was Thomas Wolf's "Look Homeward Angel." When I was finished I was devastated in my teen-age way that he had died before I was born, that I hadn't been there to breathe the same air. Now his style is considered wordy, excessive, overly romantic, even sickenly sentimental. The first sentence of that book is three pages long (as I remember it). It was a list of events in the history of the earth, from its beginnings, that took place up to the moment of the main chatracter's birth. What a wonderful device to show the place of one person in the greater scheme of things. It was the theme of all of his books, and he hung it on a number of different plots.
Well, I sound like the old person I am, talking about the good old days when writers were WRITERS. There are many today, though. There a lot of books I love to read. But if I am interested in someone telling me a story, I like the visuals with it. The omnipotent viewpoint is entertainment. It takes us outside of ourselves. It's a great place to go. I just like something else in a book......I want to hear the author in every sentence and discover what he or she is trying to say.