Books: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

This isn't a review because I haven't finished reading the book yet. But although I'm enjoying the book, it has made me think . . .

The little author bio on the back flap of the book notes that Maggie Shipstead attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop. And I found myself thinking, Yes, this is exactly the kind of thing likely to come out of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. And that's not a bad thing, per se, just . . . [heave sigh here] It's all kind of the same, isn't it? What passes for "mainstream literary excellence," I mean. In this case it is a story of the days leading up to a wedding. It's something anyone might themselves live through, or observe, or even just imagine on their own without having to read someone else's imagining of it. It's the mediocrity of life packaged as something profound, when really it isn't. It's not even much of a story. It's just a collection of characters, their thoughts and feelings and interactions on paper. And it's written in a lovely way, and the characters have interesting moments (though I find none of them particularly compelling in whole), but still . . . I could go out and have my own thoughts and feelings and interactions and get more out of life than reading about these made-up ones.

Which is the problem with this type of literature. For me, anyway. It's sort of a waste on all sides: of the author's talent (surely she could write something truly profound instead of this minutiae that pretends to add up to something meaningful), and of the readers' time (because they could be out shopping at a market instead of reading a detailed description about it—one that takes longer to read than it would take a reader to, in fact, do his shopping). Never mind the enjoyment of reading such a book (as I said, I am enjoying it); enjoyment can be found in any number of places, after all, and not all of them are wastes such as this.

If a book is about escaping, about living the life of the protagonist as you travel along with him or her on his/her journeys, then reading a book in which nothing much happens, or reading a book in which life is ordinary, is pointless. Isn't it? Why not just go do for yourself? A good story takes you somewhere you can't go on your own. It turns you into the kind of person you can't be in everyday life. These literary novels seldom do that.

So I'll stick to the chick lit, and the fantasy and science fiction, the mystery, the historical novels, &c. Because these literary novels, so beloved by writing workshops and highbrowed critics, are boring.

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