My habitual pattern of public library use is to check out three books: One “genre” fiction (alternating between Science Fiction and occasional Fantasy on one hand, mystery on the other), one mainstream fiction (whatever that means–basically “fiction books that Livermore Public hasn’t segregated into genre shelves), and one nonfiction. LPL has a 4-week circulation period. Most often, I finish the three books in three weeks. Most often, I enjoy them all.
The last two cycles, though, I really haven’t enjoyed the nonfiction books. In one case, I finished the book (it was a struggle) and wondered why I’d wasted so much time. In the other, the writing was facile enough and the book short enough that I could breeze right through–but I was annoyed by the whole thing.
Thinking back on it, the two books have something in common.
What they have in common: They’re variants of Hunter Thompson’s gonzo journalism, but without Hunter Thompson’s sheer manic flair. That is, in both cases, the book seems to be a lot more about the writer than it is about the subject.
In one case, the supposed subject is the situation in Florida after the 2000 presidential election. In the other case, it’s the New Yorker (the supposed decline thereof, although the writer who denounces the post-Wallace Shawn magazine somehow managed to keep working there for another fifteen years).
I originally included the authors and titles here, but that’s hardly the point. I know that I never want to read another book by either of them (even though one has an excellent reputation in some circles).
No big significant message here. I was surprised to find that these two disappointments did have as much in common as they did. I don’t feel that nonfiction writers should minimize their personal appearance within a book–I like getting to know the writer as well as the subject–but there are limits.