Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Lacuna

The day I chose to embark on my reading adventure, I wasn't entirely sure what structure I would follow or what I wanted this project to be. It seems that year-long endeavors tend to be more successful when they are well defined and have quantifiable goals. I thought about attaching a number to my reading goal-if I read 50 or 100 books, I will definitively succeed. However, I have confidence that this project will evolve into something creatively unique and personally fulfilling if I let the purpose and meaning emerge as I go along.

This was an important philosophy as I read "The Lacuna". The book was given to me by someone who has been particularly influential in my relationship to books: placing in my hand for the first time novels that evoke wonder, such as "The Giver" and "The Never-Ending Story". She has a nearly mystical ability to select books that are timely and relevant to my life. And this time was no different. The story, written by Barbara Kingsolver, follows Harrison Shepherd as he comes of age in Mexico and the United States during the 1930's, World War II, and the insidiously pervasive post-war anti-Communist era. He forms relationships with Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera and writes novels that influence millions. I was excited to read this as I, too, am at a point in which I have to choose one of many paths for my life as I finish grad school and struggle to come up with a plan.

The story is interesting and insanely well written. As I read, I kept a highlighter nearby and used it liberally. However, I never found myself emotionally invested in the characters. I liked Harrison, but I didn't feel for him. As the narrator he attempts to remain a neutral, objective observer. This is interesting in the sense that we as readers become voyeurs of the lives of famously tempestuous artists. However, I found it diminished my emotional investment in the protagonist. The second half of the story, which contains many of Shepherd's letters, made me feel slightly more familiar and intimate with him.

As I was reading I started to get nervous about what I was going to write when I finished. The book is written exquisitely and deserves the positive attention it has received. However, there is undeniably a stark difference between the quality of the novel (high) and my interest in the novel (relatively low).

That's when I realized my project concept is beginning to take shape. I don't want this project to be an exercise in creating reviews that attempt neutrality. In education, we learn that reading is an active relationship between the words and the reader's interpretation of the words. I want to explore my relationship with and response to each of the books. Given the likely nature of 2012 (graduate school graduation and a potentially big move, among the other inevitable and unanticipated events) I want to understand and interpret the evolution that occurs as I read and move through this year. I want to extend the opportunity for readers to connect with me in the familiar, interpersonal way I did not receive from Harrison Shepherd.

Many of the ways I think and feel are most likely fairly universal. I hope my words resonate and create the beautiful "aha!" moment that occurs when you realize you're not the only person who has felt that way.

I'm excited about the adventure!


Jonathan Wilhoit said...

Quite an insightful review. You touched on something that is always very intriguing to me--how an author fosters that reader-character relationship wherein the character becomes more than just a collection of words on the page but a fully developed person in the reader's mind whom the reader can relate to and root for and empathize with. Maybe it really depends on the reader, I dunno, but it seems like some authors are especially good at fostering that relationship.

As for your goal for the blog as a whole, I think that's a worthwhile goal and one you're more than capable of achieving. I wish you luck and look forward to getting to know you better.

Bibliomania said...

Do you have any books in mind that particularly fostered the reader-character relationship for you? I'm always on the lookout (as we all are as book addicts- chasing the next high). I felt that way with "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" and even "Franklin and Lucy".

Thank you so much for taking the time out to read!

Jonathan Wilhoit said...

I find that authors who spend a lot of time developing their characters generally fit into that category. Off the top of my head I can think of Stephen King, but there are better examples, I'm sure.

Bibliomania said...

Definitely! "The Stand" and "The Talisman" are two really great books for that.