Yesterday I was talking about my experience reading the essays of acclaimed critic Daniel Mendelsohn. I learned something right away reading his book: I am one bloodthirsty reader!
I think it was the first essay in his book, or at least the first one I read, where he starts talking about the Alice Sebold book The Lovely Bones. His opening gambit was a description of the wide acclaim it received upon publication, the To Kill a Mockingbird comparison reviews, and its astonishing sales numbers. He also talked about its Amazon reviews as an indication of how well read it was. Because Mr. Mendelsohn's essay is a bit older now I have idly hopped over to check those review numbers out.
How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken (from which this essay I'm talking about is drawn) by Daniel Mendelsohn, has ten reviews (4.5 stars avg.)
Dear Life: Stories by (newly minted Nobel Laureate) Alice Munro, has 205 reviews (by far her most, 4 star avg.)
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, has 3,476 reviews (4 star avg.)
I don't know why I just did that whole breakdown of Amazon reviews for you. But it certainly makes his point; people were reading the binding off this book- though I don't think Daniel Mendelsohn would ever say "people were reading the binding off this book"- and more power to him. I wouldn't say that either!
Anyway, there I am reading this introduction and every last bit of my readerly self is half consciously thinking "Please hate this book. Please say this book is terrible. Please irrefutably tear this book apart into minute pieces."
Yes, I have read The Lovely Bones. I don't remember even having a conscious reaction to it. I read it, probably didn't think very well of it, and was done. But when Daniel Mendelsohn started to talk about it it tapped into some real sense that there was something very wrong with that book. I did not like it, and I was very hopeful that I was about to have some half forgotten whisper of a feeling, my forgotten sense of disaccord, showered with justification.
The object of this essay is not to restate Daniel Mendelsohn's critique of The Lovely Bones. You would have to read it for yourself. But I would describe his deep criticism of The Lovely Bones as so thorough, intelligent and self contained as to leave only one line of defense to the people who have sung The Lovely Bones praises: "I just liked it" probably mumbled. Anything else would look silly.
The funny thing is "I just liked it" is fine. It's just if, say, someone prefers the 79 cent cappuccino at SuperAmerica to the best cappuccino our cities have to offer (Kopplin's, $3.50) what can a person say to that?
Well, if you're Daniel Mendelsohn, a lot. And it's very interesting.