Reading Promises or How I Feel About the Goodreads Reading Challenge

The American friend of mine, a regular reader of The Atlantic, sent me a link to an interesting article on the so-called Reading Challenge on Goodreads.
(In fact, I must say that regardless of participation in this very challenge, the Goodreads site, in addition to the possibility of writing book reviews and other interesting services, automatically calculates the number of books read per year for each law-abiding user).

I remembered at once that Donna Tartt, in her book “Little Friend” about the 70s in the American province, describes how an ambitious teenager heroine, for lack of a better field of application, joined a school competition to read as many books as possible over the summer.

Now imagine that adult “uncles” and “aunts” report to themselves at the end of each year – well, or to a dedicated reader site: I’ve read this many books this year and I pledge to read this much next year.
Does this remind you of anything? As for me, it reminds me very much of the so-called “socialist self-obligations”, the system of which was widely used in Russia during the Soviet era.
It seems to me that it is precisely our long-suffering Russian people that over the decades have developed something like rejection in relation to an obligation imposed by someone.
Although I can admit that sometimes I see such public plans in the feeds in the field of sports, and in the area of ​​restrictions on the consumption of harmful products, and so on – right up to promises to shave the head if some incredible event occurs, such as a successof the Russian national football team at the championship of high level.

In general, in this desire to set some strict goals for oneself, such as reading a certain number of books, I see something Protestant – well, it always seems to me that regardless of the specific religious affiliation of certain social groups, the logic and mentality of Protestantism significantly influenced the rhetoric of American society in the whole.

Undoubtedly, one can only rejoice at such a positive focus on cultural leisure in its highest manifestation and at the popularization of reading traditions, which science fiction writers have been predicting an imminent death for many decades ago. And, probably, that is true since once, while buying stationery in a bookstore in a shopping center, while in line at the cashier, I heard a young man who accidentally wandered in there, feverishly thinking where he had got to, and looking dumbfounded at the visitors, he noticed to his friend that, as it turned out, paper books are still bought by someone.

And now, in conclusion, a few words about your humble servant: I never set a goal for myself to read many books ibecause, firstly, I consider reading as a spontaneous pleasure, the need for which I suddenly feel somewhere inside myself – this is really a pastime that stimulates my brain activity, it is immersion in some pleasant virtual world inhabited by other people’s fantasies, ideas and … vision about how exactly books should be written and what exactly can be called a book.

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How to read “The Goldfinch” and get pleasure

Yesterday, while posting some of my book reviews on the Goodreads, I noticed in the corner of my eye that some readers note they do not enjoy reading “The Goldfinch”, they consider the novel  written “uneven” and is perplexed about the common thrill concerning this book, especially since the protagonist  behavior does not always serve as, so to speak, a role model.

I like the novel, and I’d even say there is something irrational in its influence on me.
But, of course, each of us has our own story of acquaintance with the book, on which our subsequent impressions depend – oh, this is somewhat reminiscent of meeting a new person.
I came across this book in the list of art detectives (detectives about the theft of art works). For the first time I met this title,  in above mentioned art detectives review “The Goldfinch” was called no more and no less a masterpiece, and in this moment an ironic critic awoke in me for a instant.
Then I began listening to this novel as to audiobook … Do not forget that, in addition to the author of the novel, two more persons – the wonderful Russian translator and the voice actor of audiobook – contributed to the book product my ears were enjoying.
In fact, the voice actor reading the book always becomes something like your personal friend, because he seems to be reading the text for you personally in your little cozy world and, undoubtedly, he shares in all your emotions together with you.
“The Goldfinch” audiobook brought me some wonderful night hours in Berlin in January 2019, when, falling asleep, I listened to the cherished reading from my tablet on the bedside table in the hotel room.

First time we meet the main character Theo, when in Amsterdam he sees in a mirror the reflection of his beloved mother in the otherworldly metaphysical reality “where time did not exist… or where it existed in all directions at once” – I think this reminds the atmosphere in the paintings of de Chirico… And then this moment is lasting a very long time, while we move retrospectively back many years.

… I was overwhelmed immediately by a huge amount of feelings and associations while listening to the text. It happened, for example, due to such themes “flirting” with the reader like describing of the teenager being afraid his petty pranks will be revealed or his obsessive interest to random passers-by.

From the very beginning, I was fascinated by this text, iridescent in shades, details and with ever-changing points of view – the narrator either runs ahead, showing awareness of future events, then retrospectively tells about the affairs of bygone days, then returns to the current point of the plot. I like to look at such kind of text and read it.
I like the literature style of “The Goldfinch” so much that sometimes I simply can’t resist quoting some parts to have pleasure to re-read these words again.
As for the details – well, in general, frankly Donna Tarrt often characterizes her heroes by listing what brands he dresses in, what eau de toilette he uses, what dishes he used to order in a restaurant etc.

I could not remain indifferent when Theo, as if from the sidelines in despair, watched the games that his mind played independently of him. In general, I would call the main character’s stream of consciousness extra powerful. By the way, the main part of the thoughts and assumptions that flashed through his head usually turn out to be dead-end and do not receive further development.

The author often writes about possible forks of events. After returning to New York, Theo walks along one of the paths in Central Park and thinks:
“And if you turn, if you walk along such a lighted path, will it take me to another year, maybe even to another future, where a little disheveled mother, just returning from work, will be waiting for me on a bench (on our bench) by the Pond …”
Then there is a lot of speculation about some alternative picture of events, which secretly lives its own life in Theo’s head (in which his mother is alive, and so on), while he studies in his courses and works with Hobby in the workshop.
“Quite quickly, in the interval between studying and working in the studio, I plunged into some kind of unhindered doping, into a curved version of my past life in which I walked through familiar streets but lived in unfamiliar surroundings among unfamiliar faces.”
The ambiguity of possible future options is evident in the chapter about Theo’s meeting with Boris many years later:
“I used to google Boris a lot … He could be anywhere and do anything: mop the floors in the hospital, wade through some jungle with a gun in his hands, pick up cigarette butts on the streets.”

In addition to the hero’s feelings about current events, I came across several more or less non-trivial thoughts about all the futility of human life and universal fatigue.
From a large paragraph listing what useless things people usually do so persistently throughout their lives, I will quote just a few words:
“When it’s nauseous, it makes you sweat sick from the whole human race, from all human deeds from the very creation of time … and all this is just to forget where we are, who we are … It would be better never to be born – never anything desire, never hope for anything. “
I saw in this powerful passage a mention of the existential fear of death, which a person usually tries not to think about, and the eternal question about the meaning of life 🙂
So the author made a rather elegant statement on the always fashionable topic of the futility and frailty of life and at the same time – an elegant kick towards the modern consumer society.

And, indeed, at the very end of the book, Theo honestly admits to himself that despite the numerous slogans “Be yourself, follow your dreams” he does not feel in the depth of his soul any desire to achieve something and become someone better than he is now. And, frankly, I don’t see anything particularly bad in this contradiction with the ideas of social growth. 🙂

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