Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Done Procrastinating

This marks the longest I've ever gone before blogging about a book I've read. I think a big part of it is the intimidation factor. Sometimes, even just when something's blurbed by someone I respect, I immediately feel as if any opinion I would hold to the contrary is wrong. Who am I to say a character is flat and lifeless when someone like Barbara Kingsolver, whose characters are so real I feel as if I know them, thinks that they're vibrant and full of life?

So naturally, the stakes would be even higher when reading something from the canon like the book in question, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This book is a classic for a reason. Dorian Gray was featured in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Fourth Bear for a good reason, right? Likewise, there must've been a good reason why this book is still read, after 100 years. There must've been a good reason why people were shocked and outraged and made it a best-seller when it came out. You can like this book a great deal. You can hate this book. You're not supposed to NOTHING this book, though, and that's exactly what I did.

I don't think I really need to give much of an outline of the plot of the book. This has become one of those tales that everyone kind of knows, even if they haven't read it, almost the way everyone knows who King Arthur and Huckleberry Finn is, and the way many people have a rudimentary familiarity with Gatsby's green light. Which sucks for me, because I really don't know what else to say about it. And trust me, I've tried. I've let this one marinate for several weeks now. I've asked my sister about it, figuring that a PhD candidate would have some insight (alas, all she had to offer was a dim memory of reading the book at some point in the past).

I didn't dislike the book. There were lots of clever, Oscar Wilde-y lines in it ("My older brother won't die and my younger brothers never seem to do anything but."). The idea itself of one's soul and deeds being written on the face seems so very nineteenth century to me, too, that it had some appeal. I was disappointed in the lack of lurid detail and wonder if, to some extent, my lack of reaction to the book is a product of the age in which I live. I can turn on Top 40 radio and hear song lyrics that describe worse acts than anything Dorian even dreamed of, and in far more detail too.

I'm glad I read it. I'm glad I satisfied my curiosity, and sorry I didn't get any more out of it. As a side note, though, I'd advise you against buying the Barnes and Noble edition of this book, unless you're an idiot. I've always found footnotes annoying, like someone tapping your shoulder during a movie to share their personal observations. The footnotes explained every single reference in the text, even the ones that didn't matter. A character might say: "Dorian, you look like a summer day in Naples!" and the footnote would explain that Naples is a city in Italy, which is not only something everyone knows anyway, but is immaterial to your understanding of the sentence. It really annoyed me.

If anyone has anything insightful to say about thebook, I welcome your comments. Don't be afraid to show me up!