Sometimes I’m reminded of how little I know.
Each week, the New York Times Book Review includes an interview with some author, in which that author talks about what he’s reading now, favorite authors, over-rated books, etc. This week it was Jeffrey Eugenides, who is evidently a well-regarded author, but I’d never heard of him. Sadly, the same is true of many of the authors they choose. So as much as I consider myself well-read, I’m apparently not.
Eugenides is asked, “What’s the last truly great book you read?” (Most weeks, the author is asked that question.) He mentions “The Love of a Good Woman,” a collection of short stories by Alice Munro. He said, “There’s not one story in there that isn’t perfect. Each time I finished one, I just wanted to lie down on the floor and die. My life was complete.” He mentions Munro’s characterization, her storytelling, and her technical inventiveness.
I’ve read one or two Alice Munro books. They were fine. I know that if I read those short stories, I would probably be bored. I wouldn’t be seeing the things Eugenides sees. And I know a whole lot more of what to look for than most people.
Then Eugenides stuck in the knife. “Whenever I try to read a thriller or a detective novel, I get incredibly bored, both by the language and the narrative machinery.” Well, that’s mostly what I read, thank you–detective novels and thrillers. On the other hand, maybe in this case I’m the one who knows what to look for. He’s meddling in MY world.
But I don’t think that’s the case. Very doubtful, in fact.
Now, let’s expand this concept to include all the other things I know on only a surface level. Economics. Theology. Photoshop. What my wife is thinking and feeling. Foreign policy. Military strategy. Speaking technique. Pretty much everything, in fact.
Tonight–in a half hour, in fact–is the second presidential debate. Both candidates will say things that sound good and reasonable to me, but which, in fact, are outright lies or severe distortions. But I won’t recognize it. A pundit will come on afterwards and explain what I missed, and it will sound like an illuminating explanation. But that pundit will also be outright lying or severely distorting. And I won’t know recognize that, either.
And the next day, I will transport my ignorance to Facebook, where I will make statements that sound definitive, but which are based on lies and distortions I heard from the candidates–lies and distortions that still sound reasonable to me. And those Facebook statements will be further mangled by my own biases, which I will adamantly deny having.