What is a Really Good Book?

herocious

I participated in a Secret Santa thing. Thousands of people exchanged books.

My secret santa gave me a very nicely packaged gift from Amazon.

It came with a card that said something like, ‘I sure as hell wasn’t giving you my beat up copy.’

I was expecting this gift to be a good book. A really good book.

The kind of book that you carry around with you, if not physically than in your mind & heart & body.

I tore through deep-sea blue wrapping paper and saw a paperback.

Scanning from top to bottom, which is probably the way I scan everything, I read:

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“[A] deliciously disturbing literary thriller… You’ll be
spellbound from start to finish.”-People

AWAIT

YOUR

REPLY

A NOVEL

DAN CHAON

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
Author of You Remind Me of Me

In short, this novel meant nothing to me. I was expecting it to be a really good book, the kind that is oddly exciting and realistic at once, and if it were a really good book I’m confident I would’ve heard at least a smidgen about it.

Having said that, it was very thoughtful for my secret santa to give me this gift. I promised to myself I’d read it out of integrity for the game.

‘It’s not about me’, I thought, ‘it’s about the game.’

But Ballantine wasn’t a promising publisher of really good books. And the book smelt slightly shitty, not like ‘Best Behavior,’ by Noah Cicero, but ‘The Firm,’ or ‘Along Came a Spider.’

And 324 pages? That’s a lot of ‘Await Your Reply’ to read when you don’t care a lick about the novel or the writer and think ‘literary thrillers’ are best left alone.

But in the acknowledgments’ section, Dan Chaon says his wife died of ovarian cancer shortly after he finished this book.

She was his primary editor, a teacher from his undergraduate days, her notes were still in the margins of the manuscript.

Tomorrow they will still be there.

The idea of her marginalia made me shake my head and feel a nameless thing inside me that was me.

I don’t know if I’ll read this book. That’s being honest.

I don’t think this book can teach me anything even though it’s not about vampires or werewolves.

The thing is, writing market fiction includes a lot more things than just vampires and werewolves.

Market fiction is anything that ‘wants to be consumed.’

There are some books that don’t care so much about being consumed. All they really care about is being read/digested. These books strive to be like water, not crack.

These are the only books I will spend my time with because, in the end, ‘time spent reading’ is a statistic, just like ‘time spent making love.’

March 29, 2011 1:16 pm

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