if there is an art of critiquing the writing of others, it is a talent/skill/ability I fear I do not possess. I am a terrible critic. I like what I like, obscure and sometimes irrelevant segments of a work often make me deliriously happy, I react subjectively to the entire experience of reading a work, and I am not skilled in justifying my reactions. I like books or I love them or I consider the experience of reading them good training, and I cannot always explain exactly why.
the other day I read a review of cheryl strayed’s wild. it was detailed, provided examples to explain the author’s critique, and was in itself a work of art. I read it, silently agreeing and cheering the reviewer on, yes, yes, I agree, you’ve got it! he was able to put into words what I experienced while reading the book; he helped me understand my reaction to the book. he read the book, reacted to it, and put great thought into explaining his reactions. wow; I was impressed. I—on the other hand—read, feel, experience, and don’t really want to have to work that hard to explain my feelings.
a friend gave me two cormac mccarthy books to read a while back, the road, and the crossing. I read the road (I know, many years after the rest of the world did), and am now making my way through the crossing. while the setting and story of the road weren’t easy to love, I was from the very beginning awed by mccarthy’s storytelling skill. I moved quickly into his style, his way of describing sights cleanly and artistically, of explaining experiences in such detail that the reader falls into the scene with the characters. I read the book both to learn the story and to be immersed in the style, mccarthy’s incredible talent leaping from pages and swallowing me.
reading the crossing feels somewhat the same, though it’s settings are rounder, richer, more varied, less–usually–bleak. mccarthy has more to say in this book than in the road because the world is more full. but his style, his talent, his view, are what remain consistent and are obviously a gift he was given at birth, one he has honed and perfected. no one will write as he does for no one sees and experiences as he does. I picture mccarthy at his writing table, paper and pen (or laptop or keyboard) at hand, and I know his mind swims in a river most of us only hope to one day dip our body parts in. I see him lost in other worlds, visiting ours only to write down the words, draw us pictures, spin us into lands and stories we would never by ourselves find.
and that is the kind of thing I have to say about books I read. I don’t want to speak critically of word usage, semantics, grammar, metaphor, symbolism, themes, setting, plot, characters . . . I want to tell you how I felt. what I experienced. how I got lost or how I didn’t truly care. how I fell into scenes with characters or how I was left alone on my couch as the characters woodenly went through the motions. I’m not willing to work hard to critique what I read because I have so many, many more books in my stack that I still need to experience . . . my time is precious, and I’m happy to stop with just feeling what I feel, acknowledging it, and moving on.
so I’ll leave the book critiquing to the book critics. I’ll keep on writing my meagre reviews that say I loved it, I got lost in it, the characters still live within me, I learned a million and one things, I want this book to be part of my collection forever and ever . . . and leave it at that.
because a book critic I am not.