Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Book Embarrassment

Prompted by yesterday’s post about hidden things, here are three books that I’d hide:

1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I hadn’t read this novel until last year, but was lucky enough then to do so as part of an online book group with a history-professor moderator. A number of readers in the group (including me) confessed to being embarrassed to carry the book in public. We’d absorbed societal messages of outrage against the novel: some of us wrongly assumed it had pro-slavery themes, others had heard anger directed at the portrayal of the title slave as docile rather than militant.

A highly recommended read. But so much controversy remains attached to Uncle Tom that, unless I were in a situation that allowed real conversation, I’d still carry the book with the title hidden.

2. Any of Mary Higgins Clark’s last ten novels. Her breakthrough book, Where Are the Children? is the best suspense story I’ve read. And her next few novels, published in my twenties, are the only books to have kept me reading late into the night -- mostly because I was too scared to pull my arm from under the safety of the covers and reach all the way over to turn off the bedside lamp. But as I grew self-sufficient, Clark’s protagonists grew frustrating. Her women-in-peril stories grew formulaic and sugary-simple. By my thirties, I’d stopped buying her novels. By 40, I’d stopped reading library copies.

Now this year’s novel was just released, and I find myself staring at it in the bookstore … still so doggone sad that it doesn't fit anymore.

3. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. First published in March 2003, Amazon tells me I purchased my copy a month later, in April. I remember not reading it immediately, preferring to savor the anticipation of a story that postulated an ancient (and continuing!) Catholic conspiracy. I’d still read just the first chapter by early June, when I sat on a folding chair in a tent at Chicago’s Printers Row Book Fair, with perhaps 200 people, and listened to Brown talk about it. The man next to me and I agreed: we looked forward to reading this “smart” thriller. Alas, although the premise was smart, Brown’s execution was so-so.

How could that have been only four years ago? Now, with a hundred million readers and film-goers yakking about it, even Dan Brown has to be sick of The Da Vinci Code. It’s gone from smart to pedestrian, and the last thing a youngest-child like me wants to be seen as is a lemming.

Tomorrow: Book Pride

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