Saturday, June 22, 2019

Oscar would love it

There's a famous passage in Invisible Man where the nameless narrator buys a roasted yam from a Harlem street vendor and eats it right there in public, the butter running down his chin.  It's so good that he buys another.  Suddenly he doesn't care if New York sophisticates think him a country oaf.  It doesn't matter.  It's all right to like what you like, without anybody else's permission.  And also, you don't have to like something because people tell you it's A Great Thing.  In his moment of epiphany he thinks, "I AM WHAT I YAM."

We all should enjoy such a moment.  So when Emily Temple compiled some negative reviews of The Picture of Dorian Gray from Amazon (where anyone can be a critic), I was amused -- which was clearly her intent ("Check out these unrefined losers, wouldja").  I was also just a little ashamed of the inherent snobbishness.  Who am I, or anyone, to tell people they have to like a classic (it says so on the cover)?  Some are clearly students, some bought it for that pestilential nuisance the book club -- what Wilde would say about those! -- but almost all considered it a waste of their time, even if they couldn't quite articulate their objections.  I have no idea what "shoeless doucheing" even means, though I liked "This story was interesting, but it drug out way too long."  The only comments that outright offended me were those on behalf of other people, such as "Immorality abounds and they are making kids read this crap in school."  I doubt it.  You can't even make kids read Little Women in school without some parent complaining that it's a feminist diatribe which will lead to witchcraft and Satanism.

I nearly cheered when one reader observed drily, "Think I will go back to zombie apocalypse fiction."  There's a man, or adolescent male, who knows what he likes.  He gave it a shot and it fizzled for him.  I bet he likes roasted yams, too.  Dripping with butter.

It's a long time since I read Dorian Gray.  I enjoyed it.  I probably shouldn't go back.  Some books cannot be re-read -- Catcher In the Rye comes to mind.  But I plan to revisit Invisible Man.  We don't hear much anymore about the project of writing the great American novel.  Maybe Philip Roth drove a stake through it when he published The Great American Novel.  But Ralph Ellison's book is certainly a finalist, along with Huckleberry Finn, The Sound and the Fury and that thing about the whale.  Although that last one definitely drug out way too long.


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