Thursday, July 3, 2008

36: The Risky Business of Judging a Book by Its Cover

When I first picked this book up, it was from an endcap display, rows upon rows of this gorgeous cover--the landscape of western Montana. Years and years ago, Ryan and I drove through that part of the country on our way to Oregon; until we hit Missoula, it was sleepy, flat, sparse. But then the last of Montana rose before us, and Idaho, and I was in love.

I had hoped Blind Your Ponies would take me into the world of Annie Proulx, of cowboys and longing and poetry.

I hadn't realized, instead, I would stumble through awkward metaphors, painful stock characterization, paper doll dialog, and too many high school basketball games.

I will admit, West has heart, and he's sincere, even if it's a bit didactic. It's certainly a "feel good" sort of book, all fluff.

And I will admit, I am the sort of reader who reads just as much for good writing as I do for plot or theme. I am a particular sort of reader who loves the way words are strung together. This is how my heart thumps; it's not enough when the underdogs win. It doesn't help that I've been reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek side-by-side and Stanley Gordon West is like reading a clunky student essay in comparison.

In my first year of teaching (and I cannot believe, three years in, I can finally phrase it as if it were in the distant past), I taught Finding Laura Buggs, a companion to his Until They Bring the Streetcars Back. I dutifully read both the summer before starting my new job, and I cringed. I was assigned to teach this black-and-white novel to a class of struggling juniors, and I hated it. I hated his aw, shucks characters, his poodle skirts, his laughable plot twists. But I would be remiss if I did not also say this: the kids loved it. These are kids who hate to read, didn't like most of what I brought to them, though the gore of Stephen King's story about a man who slowly devoured himself while stranded on a desert island pleased them, and anything they liked, I immediately tried to like too. I don't think they ever knew just how much I hated this writer's style of writing, and I will also say this: fellow teachers like him. Smart people.

I'm the same person who did not fall in love with Eat, Pray, Love when I expected the prose to be held up more by sensual imagery. My smart person teacher friend, the same who likes West, she pointed out that this kind of writing that doesn't swell in my heart is more journalistic.

I am a dutiful reader, if nothing else. I finished this near-600 page book, though I immediately packaged it to send out to the next reader, ousting it from my house. It's got a beautiful cover, yes, but what's inside was woefully dim in comparison.


EWH said...

Awww. Happy to be your smart person teacher friend. I demand you give West one more chance and read Amos. The prose won't be much different, but the plot is good. It's short, even. Half a day.

Molly said...

Arg, arg. :) That would mean I've read everything by an author I hate and not enough by authors I love. But I happen to love you more, so I suppose. Gah.