Wednesday, March 8, 2017

What I Read: Native Son

This is another off of my TIME Top 100 / Classics Club list. Just four left after this one! 2017 will be the year I finish this long-standing project.

Image courtesy HarperCollins

Woof, y'all. I have really complicated feelings about this book. Technically, I DNF'd it: after getting swept up in the beginning and getting to know Bigger, about halfway through the book I found myself putting off reading it.

Why? That was the important question. The quality of Wright's writing hadn't changed. And the story was some gripping Crime and Punishment "will he make it?" nail-bitery. But there was a resistance in my gut and I kept on noticing all of the other books I have on my current reading list: The Origins of Totalitarianism, Kris, some books I had grabbed from a friend's "give away" pile, more free books I had received through my local study circle . . .  why didn't I want to finish this one?

Studies show that spoilers actually increase your enjoyment of a story. I still avoid deliberately spoiling timely or serious things, because just because "studies show" something doesn't mean I need to be deliberate asshole to other people, especially with something as trivial as spoilers. But I will absolutely use that as an excuse to look up a plot summary on Wikipedia when I'm not really feeling a book to see if I want to continue.

In this case, I decided not to. I don't think it's my place, as a white reader, to bring up questions about stereotypes in the novel -- James Baldwin did that already, in "Many Thousands Gone." But I absolutely can decide that I'm not in the mood to read stories where brutality against women is an offhand plot point to further a male character's redemption arc (in as much as Bigger ever redeems himself; YMMV on that one). Justice for Bessie!

Maybe another version of me, at another point in time, can finish Native Son. But right now it's not for me.

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