Oscar wow

I waited way too long to read this book. I know it doesn’t really matter, since books are timeless, etc., but had I known how easily I would have flown through this, I probably would have picked it up back in 2007, in hardcover. So I guess I can just chalk it up to a 30% discount. Go me.

Some things you should know, without really giving anything away.

1. This book is far less literary than I anticipated. And I don’t mean that in the inevitably negative way it’s going to come out. But I think, having not read much about it when it was popular and being persistently unenthused by the back-cover plot summary (seriously, it’s still not compelling and now I’ve read the book) I based a lot of my assumptions about Wao on the fact that it won the Pulitzer, among approximately seven jillion other awards. Because of this, I assumed it would be a dense read, something I’d have to put my back into to get through. In that sense, I was woefully wrong. Wao is incredibly readable and engrossing, without at any point sacrificing sophistication of prose for ease of consumption, or vice versa. That’s a hard thing to pull off.

2. Book’s got mad Spanish. Most of it is written in an English-heavy version of Spanglish, with Spanish slang terms thrown in willy-nilly, and minimal effort is made to qualify or translate them. As a former Spanish major and current resident of Brooklyn, I found myself keeping pace with most of the terminology, though I definitely missed some stuff. I decided not to look anything up and instead absorb the words through context/phonetics. It would have felt wrong to stop reading every five minutes to bust out my now-ancient Spanish-English dictionary. (Also, I didn’t want to look for it. ..Mostly that).

3. You know these people. Whether or not you love Jonathan Franzen, one thing most people seem able to agree on is his ability to create complex and believable characters. Having finished Freedom just a few weeks before embarking on this adventure (and thank God, because I could not have finished that 700-page monster in a week), I have to say I agree, with the caveat that Franzen’s characters, like so many in literature, are complex and seem believable, but don’t always seem real. They don’t seem like people I know. By contrast, Wao is chock full of people I’ve seen on the street, in school, at the bar—Díaz doesn’t need to spend a ton of time explaining motives or describing the thought patterns of his characters; the few bold strokes he paints of each are enough to have you anticipating their emotions and motivations, because you feel you know them. That, as an author, is an incredible feat.

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Almost as important as Oprah’s book club

In addition to guilt-tripping me into completing books, I had hoped that some part of this endeavor would be discovering things about myself and my reading habits; maybe in some way stumbling across what exactly turned me from a “books first, everything else later” kind of girl into “Did you guys see the last episode of Bad Girls Club?” As luck would have it, I’ve made my first discovery already, and it has everything to do with choosing what to read next.

You see, as I stopped worrying so much about finishing one book before moving on to the next, the weight of my reading choices diminished significantly. If, say, 50 pages in I felt even the slightest bit displeased or bored with a book, I could easily add it to the pile on the nightstand (whose shelves are devoted entirely to half-finished novels) and pick up something else. Nothing was set in stone.

Today, staring at my shelves, whose 200+ unread books are themselves a veritable library of options, I found myself hamstrung by an inability to decide what comes next. And it’s because I no longer have the liberty of indecision — whatever I choose I have to finish, and I have to devote a significant amount of time over the next seven days to the task. There will be no tossing aside, or leaving at home in favor of getting 20 pages further in some other half-read novel. I feel like I’m committing to a weeklong cruise with someone I’ve just met, whereas before it was more like, you know, meeting a guy in a bar. You’ve got my attention for now, but I can’t say I won’t be talking to someone else in a half hour. It dawns on me that this indecision/lack of commitment isn’t unprecedented for me, or by any means exclusive to books. Look at television: five years ago, I had to sit down and watch a show when it was on. Maybe I’d try to juggle the three-plus remotes it took to successfully record something, but for the most part whatever I watched was a commitment, something I was determined to participate in as it happened.

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