Three types of books

I rarely choose to read a book on account of a review in the papers. Of course sometimes (rarely) I’m reminded by a review that a book has come out. But in those case I have already decided I was going to read it – or not. There are other recommendation sources.

Last week I read E. L. Doctorow’s Book of Daniel (1971) because of a nice little essay in the Review-section of The Guardian. I was impressed.

Last year I read Jonathan Raban’s Surveillance after reading a review in The Guardian which made me curious.

No, this is not an entry on ‘recommendation systems’ (friends, blogs, other books, literary history, social networks, Amazon).

No, this is not an entry on the dire state of reviewing (in the newspapers).

I just thought there are 3 types of (good) novels (not counting the bad ones) after realizing that I did not have the desire to re-read The Book of Daniel however impressed I was.

1. novels that you read with pleasure; and as long as you read, you feel that your time is well spent. But after finishing such a novel, you forget about it.

2. novels that you read with pleasure, feeling very impressed. After finishing you will talk about such a novel to others, and you will remember something of it actively for a long time. Yet you do feel that you will never feel inclined to re-read it.

3. novels that after finishing leave you desiring to re-read them. Because you know there is so much more to discover.

Surveillance for me is category 1.
The Book of Daniel is category 2.
The Recognitions (William Gaddis) is category 3.

Then there is category 4. That’s Finnegans Wake. Books you would like to read for ever.

BTW The Book of Daniel is concerned with the history of Leftism in the United States, bridging the Rosenberg-case (and thus socialism/communism) with the Sixties protest movement through a fictional son & daughter of the Isaacsons (= Rosenbergs). Interestingly, the real children of the Rosenbergs did not seem suffer at all from all the psychological ‘damage’ that characterizes the protagonists of Doctorows novel. (See for this Garber & Walkowitz Secret Agents).

en,reading matter | April 8, 2008 | 23:23 | Comments Off on Three types of books |


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