"....few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into [her] heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memories to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover or how much we learn or forget - we will return." -Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life after the Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is more than a vocabulary lesson (no, I'm not going to tell you, if you wanna know, you'll have to look it up). It is a work of historical fiction in which I learned more about ancient Mexican civilizations, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the McCarthy era in the United States than I did in thirteen years of compulsory public eduction. I'm not knockin' school. I'm just sayin', either they didn't teach it or I wasn't paying attention.

Ms. Kingsolver got my attention and held it for near on seven hundred pages. As I began to read the Lacuna, I fell deeper under its spell with every page. Let me stop, though, because this isn't a review of the Lacuna. It is my (hopefully coherent) ramblings about how I decide which books to read and whether I end up liking them or not.

The tale begins when our protagonist is a boy, and we soon learn that it will end when he is much, much older. That kind of tale usually gets me right away. I love the epic. By the time we arrive at the house of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo about a quarter of the way through, I was so entranced that I started to ponder: Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, the Lacuna is the type of novel that has me ga-ga from the get-go, so if this book was released four years ago, why am I just reading it now? And really, I'm reading it as a last resort. I picked it up at a yard sale for fifty cents on a summer holiday for lack of anything better to read.

Then it came to me. About four years ago, as I was driving home from work I heard NPR review this book. Maureen Corrigan hated it (read her review here). I remember thinking that she was being a bit harsh and that she couldn't be talking about MY Barbara Kingsolver, but her words must have put doubt in my mind. Over time, I had forgotten this review, but I had also lost all interest in reading the latest work of an author I greatly esteem.

(By the way, I have since read a book of Maureen Corrigan's about how much she loves books. I loved it!  So, no hard feelings, eh, Mo?)

The reviews for the Lacuna weren't all bad.  Many "important" people liked it and it took first place at a few book contests. For me, it was one of those books by which I mark time - my life before I read the Lacuna and life afterward.

I'm sure there is no need to state the obvious for all you literary types and English majors (you can skip the rest of the paragraph). For all others, I'll state it plainly. How I feel about a book is very personal, and should not be based upon the opinion of others, no matter how fashionable or in the know said others might be.

Thanks to Ms. Kingsolver, Ms. Corrigan and yard sales for driving that lesson home. Life after the Lacuna is good!

Do you base book choices on reviews or the opinions of others?

Photos credits: Urban Combing, Jose Antonio Gelado

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