In the week after his death, a casualty assistance officer sat at my kitchen table and asked if I would like to be notified if the military found partial remains, the pieces of my husband’s body that might be recovered from the crash site after his funeral. Outside a late-autumn storm was building and the air in the room was damp. The officer passed a form across the table and handed me a ballpoint pen, and I realized that this was war. Not the talk of strategy or politics, munitions or taxation; not the discussions on fiscal costs or boots on the ground jingoism. But a life disassembled, pieces trickling in over time.
Why Read ‘Gold’?
It is valuable to read a book like Gold once in a while. As E.M. Forster said, a reader must sit down alone and struggle with the writer—and, worst luck, for it takes a long time to read a book. We often choose books we will love for sure, according to our tastes. (“I adore baseball, so I’m guaranteed to love The Art of Fielding.”) Or we rely on award-winners and books already sufficiently praised. (A Visit From the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer, so it must be good.”) There are too many books and too little time.
But we ought to be tested on our critical skills often, lest we fall into complacency. It can be easy to classify Gold in the many different ways it is classifiable, and to justify yourself writing it off. “It is an Olympics book, which is not a topic worthy of serious literature.” “It is sentimental, and that is not worthy of my attention.” “It is about cyclists, and I don’t care for sports.” “It is a tearjerker, and who wants to go through that?”
But reading a book like Gold allows us to struggle with the writer. Why is this particular sentimentality bad? Wuthering Heights is sentimental, and many great novels are. How far can you take pathos? Are all novels featuring a child with advanced leukemia necessarily shamelessly capitalizing on tragedy? What makes schmaltz? A well-equipped critical mind can think more about these questions as the eyes roll over the sentences. Gold is a book that’s hard to submit to, because you’re aware of its contrivances and ways it wants to manipulate you. It is the perfect book to fight against—and in the process, sharpen your critical skills. - Jimmy So
Jimmy posted this over on the nwk book club tumblr and we wanted to share with y’all on nwktumblr because, well, damn! This is a great little contemplative tumblr post.
I wrote one too!