Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No comment | The Book of Words

You know that feeling, when you read a book that someone has told you is brilliant? And you know to go in with low expectations, because obviously people have different tastes. And then... nothing. You have no opinion of the book; you are left with nothing from its writing or its characters. Neither like nor dislike, just an empty, gaping hole of no-opinion.

So that's what I had with Jenny Erpenbeck's The Book of Words.

There may be a cheap explanation: I was heavily distracted when I read the second half of the book. I had to stop midway through the week, picking it up again over the weekend, and to say that I gave The Book of Words my full attention over said weekend would be a complete and utter falsehood - I didn't. I flitted in and out of the book, using it as a means to pass the time. Not exactly a stellar way to read.

But I don't really like this "distracted" explanation for one main reason: a good book manages to displace a reader from his/her distracted state and engage them. The Book of Words just didn't engage me. And it's not the first time, either. I've been trying to review Yoram Kaniuk's Sapir winning 1948 for weeks now, but I realized that part of my struggle with it has been that it left little to no impact on me. These are books that I spent time reading, yet they have not affected me in the least.

I hate this situation because it always feels as though I'm the one who's in the wrong. I'm the one who isn't clever enough to understand all the references and subtleties of Erpenbeck's story (if there is one). I'm the one who didn't understand the strength of the writing (even it didn't leave much of an impression). I'm the one who's wrong for not understanding why this is a good book. Having no opinion is worse than having a negative opinion. If I didn't like a book, I can explain why. When I leave a book like The Book of Words, however, I'm emptied of all opinions and thoughts. I have nothing to say.

There you have it: I have nothing to say about The Book of Words, only that I didn't understand it. Whether or not this is because of everything else that's going on right now is irrelevant. The fact is, I read a book. It made no impression. I won't recommend it. End of story.


  1. Don't blame yourself, blame the book - I hate this falsehood that if everyone else liked it, you should too. Eeryone raved about Erpenbeck's 'Visitation', but I found it a bit ho-hum really...

  2. I've definitely had that experience with a book or two-just, meh. I'm impressed you wrote a whole review about it! :)

    1. Marie, not sure I would call this "a whole review"! More like scattered thoughts, I guess...


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