distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Books and Unicorns

Reading is such a personal vocation for me—revealing what I really think about a book feels like flashing my underwear—which I guess is why I don’t do book reviews here. I finished a book I had a love/semi-annoyed relationship with recently and thought of posting about it, then didn’t. Maybe I’m afraid I can’t be articulate. Maybe this is the real reason why I haven’t taken the GRE subject test to apply for a Ph.D.

When I was a kid, I was staying for a bit at the house of my parents’ friends. I recall a trip to their local mall, and a visit to the bookstore, where I was told I could pick out a book, any book I wanted. After great studious inspection of the shelves in the children’s section, I selected a book I normally wouldn’t have read, since I wasn’t big on fantasy (I’m still not big on fantasy, which is why—flash of underwear—I have not read the Harry Potter books). The book had a white cover; it was all about unicorns. Was it even a story? I don’t remember. I just remember showing them this book as the one I wanted, though it wasn’t really the one I wanted, I remember that now, it was what I thought they’d want me to want. What I really wanted was probably something trashy, something aged older than I was (Sweet Valley High?). Anyway, I said I wanted the unicorn book. They looked at my choice and were perplexed: You don’t really want that book, do you? they asked. Yes, I insisted. I don’t know why the lie. Once I had it in hand, I didn’t want to read it at all, though I pretended to, to be polite. I never did end up reading it.

As I get older, more and more I want to keep my opinions to myself: I’m not saying what novel by one of my favorite authors I have tried again and again to read and cannot get past the first chapter, what I really think of Hemingway or Juno, what emo musician I adore, what happens when I watch the Lord of the Rings movies, the depths of my true feelings for the spare scenes by Jean Rhys.* I could never be a critic, I guess. I’m just an observer. I’m the person who looks at art, watches it, reads it, swallows it whole. Everyone needs an audience, right?

I’m just remembering that I’ll be taking part in a writing workshop this summer—it’s been a long while. I have to remember how to critique stories, how to be helpful, how to express an opinion coherently, in physical words. As long as there are no unicorns, I should be fine.


* E knows, of course. He keeps all my secrets.

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4 responses to “Books and Unicorns”

  1. Well, you might not be a critic but you ARE a critical thinker and that’s the important thing. To bring a high level of scrutiny and discrimination to bear on your own work, the books you read, the movies you watch (whether or not you feel the need to comment on them). But I still believe that good authors/artists should be shared with others–how else will we spread the word on neglected or forgotten talents? Word pf mouth has spared more than a few artists from shameful anonymity…

  2. I don’t like — or see any reason to — pan books I read. I do love writing about things I enjoy, though. Thank goodness no one expects me to be a book reviewer. I’d be really bad at it. Which is just to say that I’m with you here on this Nova.

    And Cliff is right — it’s just a pleasure to point out to other people (particularly those who might actually be interested) books they might not know about but would really like.

  3. “maybe I’m afraid i can’t be articulate. ”

    this, i kind of doubt.

    i didn’t think i could pull off criticism until i was asked to do a book review for a literary journal last year. i don’t think i’ve ever sweat as much as i did writing it, but the editor liked and published what i wrote. i probably agreed to do it just to prove to myself i could.

    and if i could do it…

    i’m with cliff and lily; one of the great pleasures of reading is recommending books and authors. don’t ever be afraid to share that with anybody, no matter how inarticulate you feel.

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