(It’s come down to literal titles for my posts. What little creativity I started with in that regard is long gone. I think I may start numbering them or just leaving them blank.)

I once took a class in which we discussed Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. I was so irritated at the completely nonsensical cubist poetry that I got into an argument with the teacher about why I thought the collection was unworthy to belong in a canon. Finally tiring of it, the teacher told me to go take a tequila shot and get over it. He didn’t know I liked tequila, he could just tell I am inherently tightly-wound and not comfortable bending literary lines.

Years later I still don’t think I was wrong about the principle of rewarding reputation-above-quality, but I can now readily admit smarter people than I probably knew what they were doing when they included the collection. And wisely, the great lesson I learned since then is to attempt to be honest with myself when I view something artistically and feel an instinctive negative reaction towards it. Now I really do try to step out and ask myself if I honestly think it’s crap or if it’s just testing my comfort levels, which really, I would assume is a goal for most artists.

And for every five – no, seven- books I read that make no impact, there is one that glaringly stands out as having pushed my boundaries. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one. I didn’t like it all. Any of the times I read it. But I also haven’t read more of her popular books, so I really want to wait until I do before I form a complete decision. On the other hand, I became immediately and forever in love with Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, despite its having some of the most confusing and fantastical story lines. Holy smokes, that is one convoluted book. But it’s so beautiful you just let go and drift along, not worrying about whether it makes sense or follows any sort of form.

So now I want to add Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated to that list of books I just let go of and enjoyed. At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to, since one of the narratives is broken English, and it’s a story you have to trust will make sense further along. But once I got the rhythm I loved it. I tried to read excerpts to Jon because I was randomly laughing out loud like a fool, but like most favorite stories, the words only become that funny when you get to know the character better. And it’s not really a funny book; it’s a hauntingly sad one.

And I know I should write more details about it, but I feel honored to have even appreciated what I did, and truthfully feel it would cheapen the book if I tried to discuss it when it’s so far beyond me. I don’t feel that about every book, but this one humbled me, mostly because I *know* there are things in there I didn’t get. And I think maybe that was the point. Or, I’m just ok with what I got out of it and don’t want to know that I missed more. Sometimes I read books and arrogantly think I too could be an eleventybillionaire if I wrote books that mundane. But Foer is so obviously beyond my abilities that I just want to bow and say Yep, you win. You do actually rock.

Anyway, I suggest everyone read it; it’s wonderful. And afterwards go to the site Who is Augustine? and further the suspension of disbelief. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I can see how transferring the story to screen would be really difficult, so I probably won’t. Especially since most movies about books don’t do justice to the original, and I’d hate to bend my comfort levels again to accommodate a revision. 😉

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