One of the awesome things about being a grownup is that I am not so bothered my own predilections. I may be wrong in disliking Don DeLillo's work—in fact, I know I am—but at the same time I am happy to accept that it's true, so I can go my merry way and find books I do like and not be bothered by my aesthetic failures.
Or so I thought.
My basic way of deciding whether something is a good book takes a lot from Emily Dickinson's pronouncement on poetry (doesn't that make me sound classy? I am counteracting the weight of the DeLillo admission).
“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”
It's mainly a physical thing. I know that if I read something I really love—something great—I will feel it. There will be excitement, the desire to get back to the book every single second, a sensation of heat rising in me.
Or so I thought. And then I read this book:
See, first I had read this book:
And it was pretty awesome. It had shown up on someone's stoop, and I expected it to be one thing. But it was another entirely. It was resoundingly un-American in its overall attitude, and it had this stubborn refused to verify the meaningfulness of what its characters did, which was both frustrating and gratifying—bracing, really. So when I saw Any Human Heart I thought, sure.
And then I wasn't crazy about it. It's long, and I read, and read, and read, all the time distracted by this or that. And I see that susceptibility to distraction as a sign that a book isn't grabbing me.
And then I finished it. And I can't stop thinking about it. All the time. It's grabbed me after the fact, somehow.
What is this? I think I really liked it. But I didn't know I really liked it. I am confounded.
And does this go for kids reading too?