Assuming you are the well-versed scholar that I imagine you are, I am guessing the number is quite high. Personally, I have read 58,105 reviews in my lifetime. Yes, I kept track. If you break that down, it comes to over 15 reviews per day for a solid decade. That’s a lot of other people’s literary opinions.
So what have I learned from them? Well, nothing really, certainly not about the subject matter at hand. Very rarely have these reviews ever proven useful to guiding my own opinion of a book. Most have ranged anywhere from overly self-assured to dead wrong. Reading reviews has simply become an exercise in tedium. They focus on the language, the sentence structure, the syntax. The small details that do nothing to capture the true feel of a book. It has all gotten so dull.
So why the sudden hypocrisy on my part?
Perhaps I can sense a shift in the trade winds. Maybe I just grew tired of the endless desert of dry literary analysis. I’ve collapsed, my throat parched for something different. Something refreshing.
It is time for a change. We need to do more than just discuss stories. We need to become them. It is not enough to simply scan the words on a page. How can we as readers possibly have enough information to judge a tome if we have not actually weathered the trials detailed within the narrative? How can we sympathize with characters when we have not experienced their highs and lows?
I feel that to really understand a work of literature you have to become it. Absorb it into your pores. Live and breathe it.
Imagine how different your high school and college English experiences would have been with this approach. Instead of listening to a barely-conscious tenured hack drone on and on about symbolism and thematic color choice in Moby Dick, you could take to the seas yourself. Literally hunt down a whale of your own. Would that not be more empowering? How much more complete would your understanding of a novel’s characters be if you could actually live as they do?
That is exactly what I plan to do with this column. Find a story ripe for exploration and integrate it into my everyday life. I will pick a book and thrust myself into its central conflict. I will recreate plot scenarios, dramatic elements, even character motivations.
Sometimes this might all unfold organically. Sometimes I might have to fight – to thrash against the banality of everyday life when it tries to interfere with my pursuit of excitement and wonder and understanding. This endeavor will not always be easy. It is one thing for a book to make you cry. It is quite another for it to make you physically bleed.
I realize this approach is not for everyone. Most people are content with simply reading a story. Most people have commitments to work or family. Most people have priorities.
I am not most people. I am willing to sacrifice the traditional comforts of life. To put the story first, even above my own bodily concerns and the needs of the people closest to me. Trust me, my wife will understand.
And so I humbly invite you, fine reader, to accompany me on my adventures. Point me in a direction that you believe will help me discover new meaning to a story. Want me to immerse myself in slaughterhouse culture a la Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle? Want me to discover and then battle interstellar aliens like in Ender’s Game? I am open to any and all suggestions (unless they are things like “stop” or “please don’t do this” or anything else I can just as well hear from my wife). I welcome active feedback and participation. After all, everyone knows that a protagonist is only as good as his supporting characters!
If I can’t publish a book of my own then I can at least make my day job as a critic a bit more entertaining. I will begin the column proper here soon enough. From that point onward I will stop living my life as Gus Harrington: average person. Instead, I will live as Edmond Dantes. As Jack Reacher. As Charlie Gordon. I will be any of these characters, and I will be all of them.
My life, and the whole of fiction itself, will be the better for it.