~ Dorothy Parker (pictured above)
While you all place bets as to which Great Writer will win this year's Nobel Prize in literature tomorrow, kvetch that US authors have been dissed for 20 years by the committee or declare American authors too insular to win, I have a confession.
I've been trying to finish a book I'll call That Award-winning Bestselling Novel for a couple of years now. The book has 200 pages, not exactly a doorstop. I could finish it in less than a week, but I haven’t.
Every so often, I turn to it again, sometimes resuming where I left off, other times starting anew. A few pages a night dwindles to one page, one paragraph, one sentence. That Award-winning Bestselling Novel, I think, I’m just not that into you right now. Maybe a different type of novel suits my mood at the moment. Some days, you want a margarita instead of a fine cabernet.
Several books later, I make another attempt. I keep hoping that I will get past a point when finally I get caught up in That Award-winning Bestselling Novel's plot, its characters or its writing. But the chemistry never happens. No spark.
Each time I return to it, I am conscious of That Award-winning Bestselling Novel’s buzz, of its NobelNationalBookNationalCriticsCircleOrangeBookerPulitzerPenFaulkner AwardPrize. Only two hundred pages, yet its literary importance weighs in my hands like a cement block.
That Award-winning Bestselling Novel taunts me from its high perch on the New York Times Best Seller list week after week after week. The reviewers seemed so high on it and continue to kvell about it. Still! The book jacket blurbs feature a veritable Mt. Rushmore of contemporary authors: Compelling! Enduring! Each sentence a delight! Newspapers, magazines and blogs have included That Award-winning Bestselling Novel on its 10 best books of THAT year, 100 best books of THIS century and books-to-read-before-you-die lists.
That Award-winning Bestselling Novel becomes my personal Freddy Krueger. Despite ducking and swerving, I can’t escape its acclaim in my daily life, on Twitter or on Facebook. Every friend I run into over the last two years has said, “You’ve got to read this book. UN-PUT-DOWN-ABLE!” At social events, That Award-winning Bestselling Novel springs from one conversation to the next, like some kind of contagion. The bookstore displays a shelf tag that lists anyone who has ever worked there recommending it.
Yet. I. Can’t. Finish. It.
One sentence in, and I’m thinking, "I should vacuum.” I suddenly get around to making that mammogram appointment. Weeding seems like a wonderful diversion. The cat litter box gets a third scooping in one day. The dust bunnies behind the refrigerator disappear.
The reason I can’t quit this book boils down to this: My inability to appreciate That Award-winning Bestselling Novel reflects some intellectual deficit of mine. That degree in English with honors? A fluke.
Self-doubt can wield a lot of power. The wrestling begins, and eventually sense wins. I don’t have to like every book I pick up, no matter its stature. I have read, enjoyed and finished plenty of other literary heavyweights. That Award-winning Bestseller Novel will not be one of them.
I look forward to tomorrow, when the Swedish Academy announces this year's Nobel Prize in literature is announced. Perhaps, the next laureate will be a novelist previously unknown to me. I will buy one of his or her books. And if reading the book is like a bad date that needs to end quickly, I will put the book down and ignore its calls to try it again.
The author is solely responsible for the content.