Five Rules I Read By:
1. Never read a history book by an author who is a journalist. Journalists aren't historians and usually do not write very good history. Journalists who are interested in history ought to take lessons from Tony Horwitz. He does not write history--he writes about it.
2. Be wary of novels by New England writers. I have nothing against New England and New Englanders, but I rarely like their novels. Since the days of Emerson and Thoreau, our friends from the Northeast have acted as if they own American literature. Usually, their novels are about self-absorbed thirty-somethings who have no grasp on life and wonder (over the course of 400 pages) why their lives persist in sucking. I recommend reading writers from anywhere south and west of New York.*
3. Avoid memoirs. Memoirs tend to consist of an overabundance of whine and cheese--if you catch my drift. I'm not usually interested in someone's alcohol problem or spiritual odyssey through Southeast Asia. I'd rather watch a Sponge Bob marathon than taint my soul with crap like Eat, Pray, Love or Reading Lolita in Tehran. If I want to read about someone's life, I'll read his or her biography (as long as he or she is dead).**
4. Remember that few novels sold at Wal-mart are worth reading. My heart grew sick the other day when I saw that Wal-mart is selling a mass-market paperback edition of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Sure, good literature seems to be reaching the masses--but what price glory?
5. Avoid novels with a happy endings. Happy endings are for Hollywood. Nothing ruins a novel like a happy ending. As one of my BYU professors put it, a novel that ends happily is a novel that ends too soon. If I hear that a novel is uplifting or inspiring, I usually do not bother with it. I get my daily doses of happiness from real life. When I want to escape the happiness of the world around me, I stick my nose in a depressing book. Catharsis does wonders for the soul.***
* Yes, I know neither Emerson nor Thoreau were novelists. And I know that Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island.
**I once read an excerpt of Eat, Pray, Love and nearly lost both of my eyes when they rolled too far back in my head. I actually don't know much about Reading Lolita--and what I do know about it doesn't interest me. I have read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, which is an example of memoir at its worst. I wouldn't line a hamster cage with that book. Educator Mike Rose has a lot of good things to say about education in America, but his memoir Lives of the Boundary spends far too much time on his often-irrelevant life experiences.
***Not all happy endings are bad. An ambiguous ending has saved many an overly happy ending.