We have an excuse to stay indoors, pull the ‘Welcome’ mat in after us, and immerse ourselves in the printed word to an extent that would make us feel guilty on a bright, sunny day. I began my annual literary hibernation over the nice, long, stormy Thanksgiving weekend.
I was looking for a holiday read. You know… the kind of thing that will be a mild diversion and can be consumed with ease, or, alternatively, be abandoned without remorse at holiday’s end. The kind of book called ‘fluff’ or ‘inconsequential’ or ‘brain-candy.’
I also wanted something more, shall we say…meaty.
I selected two novels. One was authored by a Pulitzer Prize winner. The other was a joint effort by two women whose steady day-jobs are in the fashion industry. You can probably guess which was ‘fluff’ and which was ‘meaty.’
But the read was totally unexpected.
I opened the Pulitzer’s offering to be greeted by a two-page family tree. Dozens of names, some of which were only mentioned in passing throughout the course of the long, long story. I had to bookmark this reference tool and return to it every few pages, working out the relationships of characters that drifted in and out.
It was well-written. It was richly written. The gamut of characters and dialogue and situations and eras was beautifully done. Yet I felt unsatisfied at the end. It required effort to read, but for me the finely detailed portraits didn’t go anywhere. It was masterful, but it didn’t touch me.
It was a Rembrandt painting hanging behind velvet ropes. I could appreciate it, but, having looked my fill, I moved on.
Then there was the brain-candy book.
I couldn’t put it down.
It accompanied me everywhere so I could devour a few pages at every opportunity: stop lights…lines at the post office…lines at the store…waiting rooms…
It contained grammatical errors. It was completely predictable. It’s characters were thinly-drawn. But it was riveting, because it left enough blank spaces for me to fill in myself and realize I knew these people!! Everyone knows these people! And I know these situations!! Everyone does!!
It was thoroughly enjoyable and when I finished it, I was sad there wasn’t a sequel. I also wondered how many agents would choose the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s work over the crowd-pleasing fluff, if they didn’t know the author’s background and the impressive accolades she’d won with previous work.
It’s a puzzle. It’s also a statement about art.
I’m grateful that Rembrandts exist and are available, but a cartoon can speak volumes, too.
So, hats-off to the majority of writers who will never pen the Great American Novel. But their less-exalted work will touch our souls.
And sometimes you just gotta have candy.