Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book It!


Language is the universal whore that I must make into a virgin.
-Karl Kraus

Those of you who know me personally know that I majored in English Lit in college, but I hate to read. It's not so much that I hate reading, but it usually takes a lotta work to get me to sit down and read anything longer than 3 stanzas of poetry or 5 paragraphs of prose. Why? Not sure, but I suspect it's my latent ADHD from childhood.

Irony notwithstanding, I majored in English Lit more for my love of hip hop than my love of books. I mean books are cool. They have pages and, when you're lucky, pictures, but it was Jay-Z's Blueprint, Mos Def's Black on Both Sides, Canibus's freestyle that began "I speak a frequency dogs would have trouble hearing..." that made me fall in love with language. Through that door, I entered the study of literary devices and figurative language. When I fell in love with the work of Shakespeare, it was because he had a lyrical dexterity and wit that reminded me of Brooklyn's finest, and the sensitivity of their Queensbridge neighbor.

My course of undergraduate study resulted in the purchasing of a grip of great literature, most of which I've never read. But 99% of the time, when I decided to read a book so I could get a paper done, I always enjoyed it. Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head, Gwendolyn Brooks' Maud Martha, Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, shoot, even Henry James' The Europeans. As labored a task it was to finish most the books I had to read, I was always happy that I read them once I'd finished.

There was a time when I really liked books though: 5th grade. Or more accurately, 3rd to 6th grade, but I think it peaked in 5th. This was mostly due to my affinity for science fiction and the fact that Bruce Coville seemed to have a limitless supply of such books. From Space Brat, I eventually graduated to the more complex Madeleine L'Engle and her A Wrinkle in Time series of novels, occasionally dabbling into the closely related genre of pseudo-medieval fantasy novels popularized by J.R.R. Tolkein. I was never a big Tolkein kid, but Lloyd Alexander's Newberry Medal-winning The High King is a book that I still have to this day. I think I stole it from the library in fifth grade.

All this to say, I haven't read for pure pleasure since the days when I only had hair on my scalp. Since then, I've gained a permanent 5 o'clock shadow and my attention span makes it hard to finish most books I try to read, even if I like them. I started reading Toni Morrison's Bluest Eye a year ago to make up for the fact that I never even opened it in my Black Lit class back in '04.

Still haven't finished it.

So when I decided, on a whim, to pick up Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao one day in October, I honestly figured it'd be another ordeal similar to my purchase of Carl Phillips' Riding Westward, a book begun, but never finished. (Yeah, didn't finish that jawn either.) I caught wind of Diaz's book pretty late, during an appearance on the Colbert Report back in June. I learned the following: dude is Dominican, his book won the friggin Pulitzer, and the story's protagonist is a Dominican dork that defies all stereotypes of what it means to be Dominican.

To be fair, that doesn't tell you much about the book (I wasn't gonna give you many details regardless), but I'll say this: I couldn't put this book down. (And any book that generously uses "nigger" colloquially and yet gets the Pulitzer is a winner in my book anyway.) It's a story that is amazing in its breadth and depth, and even more impressive in its method of narration. I have never read a book like it, and I hope I never do. It's easily one of the greatest personal reads since I read Giovanni's Room in college, and prolly one of the most enjoyable. It has an honest universal appeal. And the way Diaz describes some of the Dominican women makes me wanna pack my ish and move down to the DR inmediatamente.

Like all good books, it's a tragedy, one that is immediately obvious given the title, but the joy of course is in the doing, so I recommend you holler at a Borders or whatever the other bookstores are called and pick this up.

Finally, a cinematic adaptation (read: a movie) is in the works now. The rights were bought by the same producer who did No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood, which is to say, I'm looking forward to 2010.

1 comment:

Kismet said...

I just tagged this post in my delicious under books because of all the goodness you threw in there. Haven't picked up Diaz yet but I've been meaning to. Maybe when I get back to the DMV.

Keep reading Mr. Garr and giving the people great works to pick up. I know I need the reminder all the time.