Tuesday, May 23, 2006

the aesthetics of that guy your sister is dating

Jane Smiley in the New York Times on what makes important books important:

My first premise about what we like or don’t like (or respond to or don’t respond to) is that our affinities aren’t necessarily reasonable or based in any sort of objective standard of aesthetic quality. They are more on the order of crushes or friendships—there is something about a novel that is perceived emotionally and that draws us into willingly suspending disbelief or not.

Arguing about which novel is best, or even about the virtues and faults of a particular novel is like arguing about whether your sister should be dating that guy—basically, the arguments don’t matter while the sister still feels drawn to him. There are lots of supposed great novels that I just can’t enjoy—The Great Gatsby is one. I have a “reason”—it is that none of the characters or themes or incidents seem to me to be developed—rather, Fitzgerald seems to me to be talking about them at length, but more as a way of exercising his eloquence than as a way of exploring or revealing the situation—but really, my reason is a made-up justification of an already formed lack of affinity.

(For more, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/21/books/fiction-discussion.html.)


mernitman said...

Have you dipped into Smiley's "13 Ways of Looking at the Novel"? I'm still working my way through, and loving it...

Cheryl said...

I just finished Chapter 10. Yeah, it's great. I like how she's grounded and practical and theoretical and passionate all at once. I actually haven't read any of her novels, but now I want to.