Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Friday, August 20, 2004

Failure of the Day: Lowbrow—It’s the new Highbrow!

I finally became so saturated with Philip Roth that when I started reading Sabbath’s Theatre day before yesterday—the sixth Roth book of the summer for me—my hands and eyeballs rebelled. I just couldn’t do it. Not one more word. As a result I was without a novel until this weekend. Which won’t do. So I resorted to that thing I keep swearing I will stop doing: reading books I give to Chris as gifts before he has a chance to read them. Which is just rude, I know; it transforms a gift into a hand-me-down. But I did it anyway and again, and I’m sorry.

The book I gave him for his birthday, the one I started last night, is Sock by Penn Jillette. It is, in fact, a murder mystery narrated by the lead detective’s sock puppet. And here’s the thing: it’s brilliant. Granted, I got through only the first 7 pages before I got sleepy and had to put it down, but what I read was incredible. Incredible! And not in a campy, over-clever, Lookit-Me!-I’m-still-relevent-to-the-hipsters way, although it’s that too, sorta. I mean the prose is gorgeous. The book’s two opening paragraphs were so stirring and immediate and perfect that I was reminded of my favorite opening paragraphs in any book ever—those of Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter. Now, there’s nothing remotely similar about those books or their opening paragraphs—it more that I was reminded not of Oe’s opening paras, I was reminded of the experience of reading them.

Obviously, I’m setting myself up for a massive disappointment with Sock. It can’t really be as good as I thought it was last night. Right? Great literature does not feature as its protagonist a sock puppet. Right? I was sleepier than I thought. I must have been. OK. I feel better. Never mind.


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