At present, I’ve claimed a very, very satisfactory seat on a generously-sized couch in a quiet, out-of-the-way corner. It surprises me still that people don’t think to come here for the afternoon, but I’m not complaining. Sometimes, a person needs a quiet little space where she is comfortably out of reach of the crowd, to think, to write, to listen to some seriously beautiful and epic music.
As far as books are concerned, I’ve been keeping busy, even though the state of my blog seems to reflect otherwise. (Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll ever NOT be apologizing every few months for an unplanned hiatus.) Since last checking in, I’ve finished Michael Hainey’s After Visiting Friends—which I hope to write a post about; it’s quite a good read—and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which I liked overall despite some reservations. I also started George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, and I’m properly addicted. I haven’t gotten very far, not even 10 chapters in, but I’m loving the story so far. The world of Westeros is so real, and the characters believable and human. But then again, I’ve seen nearly two dozen clips from the HBO adaptation, and I’m listening to the lush score from Season 1, so I may be ever so slightly under influence.
Prior to Game of Thrones, I started Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but I’ve since put an indefinite hold on further reading. As much as I wanted to like the book for its social commentary, I couldn’t stomach any further the relentless, pornographic approach that Sinclair seemed to take in exposing the deplorable corruption that plagued the Chicago slaughterhouses of the 1900s. It’s one thing to submit your characters to trials and conflicts—as a means by which to get your audience thinking and talking—but it’s another issue entirely to drown both plot and character development with a deluge of social ills. And that’s the vibe that I got from Sinclair in The Jungle. Towards the end of my reading, I was no longer surprised by anything that happened to Jurgis and his family. I kept on thinking: of course they got injured on the job. Of course they got sick. Of course they have no money to pay for the doctor. Of course their house is sitting on top of a cess pool that’s poisoning them all. Of course they don’t have proper winter clothing. Of course they got swindled. The book was little more than tragedy porn, in my opinion, the story not so much about an immigrant family as it was Sinclair playing chicken with his readers, seeing how much pain he could inflict upon his characters before his readers ran away unbearably squeamish.
And yet, I also wonder if it’s just my discomfort talking. Certainly, the book was meant to be an uncomfortable reading experience. It’s not meant to reassure you that life is rosy and all the world is just. It’s a slap in the face, saying, “Hey, there’s some gross and unjust shizz going on in America, and we all need to do something about it because it’s sure not gonna fix itself.”