The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I just finished reading a polarizing book

I just finished reading the book A Confederacy of Dunces. I started reading it Christmas day as it was a gift from Bunny. She got me the book because she read it was uproariously funny. The fact that it won the Pulitzer Price for Fiction (1981) and is considered a canonical work of “Southern Literature” is just icing on the cake.

I did not find it uproariously funny.
I did not fine it somewhat funny.
I did not find it funny.
I did not find it amusing.
I did not find it slightly amusing.
I downright hated the book.

The only reason I stuck it out and finished the book was because it was a gift from Bunny. None of the characters were likable; all of them were downright loathesome, horrible people. The main character had no arc to his story. In fact, there was only one character to have any form of arc at all.

Back when I was halfway through the book (around mid-January), I wrote to my best friend Sean Hoade about this book. I asked him if he had read the novel, and not only did he, but “[t]hat is the funniest novel I've ever read, and one of only three or four that I've read more than once.” As the main character was a graduate student and the novel takes place in New Orleans, I then asked him if one needed be a graduate student who lived in the Deep South to appreciate the book, because I sure didn't (I'm neither—and no, South Florida does not belong to the Deep South; South Florida is more like a New York City borough than the Deep South—at least we have decent delis down here).

He wrote back:

I've heard that same reaction from some people, and not just non-academic folk. To me, it's like Hitchhiker's Guide—some people find it tear-inducingly funny and others “just don't get it.” It's true that nerds are more likely to find HGTTG funny, but some don't. Some of them even think it's stupid and obvious.

I find both of them a scream. Maybe I'm just an easy laugh. (Well, I am, but still.)

There are no likeable characters, but all are (IMHO) fascinating, especially Ignatius, of course. But everything with Levy Pants slays me.

Honestly, although the saying is usually used to indicate one person's taste is shit, but there really is no accounting for taste. We have pretty similar senses of humor, but we obviously don't agree about this being funny.

It's kind of like the movie Napoleon Dynamite: Back when Netflix mailed out physical DVDs and getting one you didn't like meant a 2-to-4-day wait for another, user ratings were very important as predictors of what subscribers would get as suggestions. You rate Movie A some number of stars, so Netflix recommends Movie B because it has a high rating among other subscribers who gave Movie A the rating you did.

But Napoleon Dynamite destroyed the system, because 100% of people who rented it gave it either one star or five stars. No one gave it two or three or four stars. People either completely loved it or they utterly hated it.

And get this: Netflix algorithms could find no correlation between the rating viewers gave Napoleon Dynamite and any other films. Couple this with the fact that around 2005, ND was one of the top Netflix rentals of the year, and you have a recipe for recommendation disaster.

I think Dunces is like that. I loved both Dunces and Dynamite, but, as mentioned above, I'm an easy laugh.

As Jones would say, “Whoa!”

So this appears to be one of those things where you either love it or loathe it, and I'm in the second camp. So buyer beware. You might love this book. You might hate this book. I don't think you'll be “meh” about this book.

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