Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Way New York Times Book Critics Should Write

The following review of the 2010 bestselling teen fiction novel Will Grayson compares books to relationships and throws a well deserved low blow to Joyce's Ulysses. Thank you to this anonymous reviewer who does a better job than most paid reviewers!


More often than not, I have a tepid relationship with the books I read. I’m not really into them, and they’re not really into me. But we let the relationship play out just to see where it goes. This often ends with me bitching about them on the Internet.


Ending the relationship with a bad book is a very exciting experience, because it fills you with such hope.

The next one will be toes-curling better, I say to myself. Then I search through the crowd that is my bookshelf and try to lock eyes with the one who has been staring me down, watching me go through the motions of a going-nowhere read. When I finally spot that coy smile, I sprint toward it. No doubt the title in question can see my desperation, but that doesn’t matter. What I’m feeling is pure honesty. I’m excited.

As you might have surmised from the first four words of this review, it doesn’t always work out. Sometimes the new book is worse than the one that preceded it. That hurts. It makes you start to doubt your ability to choose for yourself. It becomes clear that you have no taste. Why are the good ones always taken?

This line of thinking always makes me question my motivation. Why do I do it? Why do I still count reading among my favorite activities? I have been accused, on more than one occasion, of hating books. And, to a point, it’s true; I hate books. But I love reading.

Tiny Cooper would get this, though it would leave the Will Graysons in the audience scratching their heads until the final act. It’s all about the fall, not the landing. The experience makes it worth it. For many of the same reasons you probably hate your high school boyfriend, I hate Ulysses. It was inconsiderate, self-involved, and, well, ugly. But there’s always the next one, which is why you’re still looking for (or married to) that guy. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to marry a book. The relationship is limited to a finite number of pages. It has to end. What’s left is the question of how. Will the ending be angry, forgettable, or bittersweet?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson and I ended our relationship with a pinky swear that we’d never forget one another. My heart felt heavy when I closed the book for the last time, but I was so glad to have known it. It was one of those stories you want to keep all for yourself- not the kind of thing you want to read about on the Internet from the next ex down the line. If I could take this book out of print and wipe it from the memory of everyone who’d ever read it, I would.

I’m relying on the literal interpretation of the GoodReads rating system here. This book gets five stars because I loved it, even if it was just for a single weekend in December. It has its flaws. There are pacing issues throughout, the other will grayson didn’t always have believable thought processes, and, while most of the relationships were thoroughly explored, some (like the one between Maura and o.w.g.) were left sadly neglected.

But that doesn’t matter. Books, like people, are flawed. And, sometimes, the ones with the most flaws end up being the best. (less)

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