Now Reading: Stephen King on Joyce Carol Oates, family histories, San Francisco bars

‘Now Reading’ is a collection and sharing of online stories and is meant for minimal consumption by the few readers of this blog. Topics include books, food, matters of culture, photography, media and technology … there are no rules. Have a story to add? Share it in the comments.

Stephen King on Joyce Carol Oates’ new novel

Stephen King begins his review of “The Accursed,” a Gothic novel by the acclaimed Joyce Carol Oates, by pleading for sympathy because of how difficult his task is. He is clearly cuffed at the wrists by the idea of explaining with any clarity what unfolds in “The Accursed,” and he wants his own desperation and helplessness and to be projected onto you, the reader. I will say that King does a magnificent job, because I have not the slightest damn idea what this novel is really about.

But the book itself is not really why I’m mentioning this here. There two reasons: 1) It’s a literary icon writing about the work of another literary icon and, well, do you need something more? 2) King makes an interesting point about book reviews and the reviewer’s obligation to protect the novelist’s “secrets.” He writes: “ … while I consider the Internet-fueled concern with ‘spoilers’ rather infantile, the true secrets of well-made fiction deserve to be kept.” Hmm …

I agree with King – I’m not bothered by a lack of clarity nor a sense of mysteriousness surrounding a book after I have completed reading a review (I’m supposed to want to go, you know, purchase the work at that point, right?) But it’s an interesting thought, because reviewers also are not inherently salesmen. If a review is done well, you should be intrigued to know more (I think), yet the fundamental motivation of a reviewer is NOT to make readers spend money. The motivation should be to examine and enlighten, and if knowledge and wisdom is what we’re really after in a review – here we complete the circle – then should any secrets be left in the dark at all? Is the reviewer robbing us part of the experience by being the protector of secrets that belong to someone else? Is the reviewer cheating us by not exposing a piece of work for everything that it is and possibly (hopefully) opening us up to something we would have missed otherwise?

I have no idea if there’s an answer to that. I imagine there is not a right or wrong one, and again, I’m with King here. I’m OK with being kept in the dark a bit. But I can understand if others want literary works to be stripped bare and filleted in front of them.

The Stories That Bind Us

I thought this piece by Bruce Feiler was fascinating: Psychologists have found that the more children know about their family’s history – where their grandparents grew up, how their parents met, what an uncle did for a living, etc. – the more likely they are to have high self-esteem and handle stress better. The psychologists in the piece say that the reason is because these children “know they belong to something bigger than themselves.” The piece mentions that while a lot of time is spent by families discussing problems and working through hardships out loud – which Feiler writes is certainly important – one of the best things parents can do for their children is share a positive story about their family’s history.

San Francisco bar crawl

San Francisco. Four days, 20 bars. Cheers to you, Rosie Schaap.

Email: Twitter: @TMitrosilis

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1 Response to Now Reading: Stephen King on Joyce Carol Oates, family histories, San Francisco bars

  1. I agree that the task of a good reviewer is ” to examine and enlighten”. There seems to be a distinction between reviewers who offer literary criticism, and that of popular reviewing, which is heavy on summary and synopsis. The former offers an analysis of a book, often situating it in it’s place in the literary canon, while the latter often is no more than a yea or nay as to whether a book is recommended as a worthwhile read.

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