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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Currently reading

The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini
Hurt People: A Novel
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Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg

Review: White Teeth

White Teeth - Zadie Smith

Tastes. Despite what some may lead you to believe, tastes are subjective. Take, for example, various magazines' declarations of “Sexiest” so-and-so. You know what—none of my biggest celebrity crushes have ever grazed those covers. Why? Because I'm an individual with a unique idea of “sexy.” Yet, some people take it as gospel. Clearly, everyone who leans toward women thinks Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, and Beyoncé Knowles are hot stuff. And with men, it's all about Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, and Channing Tatum, right? Maybe not. But tell someone that you're of the Kelly Clarkson or Haley Joel Osment or Whoopi Goldberg or Steve “Blue's Clues” Burns variety and people will often look at you like you're crazy. We absolutely must share our manufactured attractions.

I've learned books are no different. We have our distinct tastes and just because we don't like a particular flavor of book doesn't mean it's not a great book. The problem again lies in the fact that everyone else (well, just about everyone) will tell you that you're wrong. Case in point: White Teeth.White Teeth is the “greatest work of fiction,” “the perfect novel,” “a tour de force by such a young author.” And here's the thing: if you think Dickens, Rushdie, and Franzen are great, yes, Zadie Smith has perhaps written the best book ever; she even did it at the age of 21. I acknowledge that White Teeth is a wonderfully written Dickensian novel. Here is a huge cast of characters, unique but largely unrealistic, focusing on ludicrous moments in life. Like Dickens, Smith's work contains autobiographical elements and critiques society in a satirical fashion. Yes, Smith has possibly out Dickensed Dickens.

Regardless of all indicators otherwise, not everyone likes this style. What's that you say? Sacrilege? Sure novels such as David Copperfield and Midnight's Children are often on lists of greatest works ever. Sure, there are many compliments you can give Rushdie, Irving, and company. I mean, even I like their stories—when they're adapted to film. And putting my finger on what I don't like about the style is difficult. I can say it's the sprawling narrative, but I enjoy Mitchell. I can blame the omniscient and distant narrator, but I love Tolstoy. I can say it's the overly convenient plot points, but I'm a fan of Eugenides. In the end, I think it's largely about tone. There's a smugness in these novels, an air of deprecating superiority. The narrators of these novels do not hide their disapproval of the hypocritical buffoons that people their story. Hey, let's stick this character in a situation that makes him look like a total ass. And this one too. And this one. Personally, I don't see the point. I guess it is one way for some to release their frustrations at the hypocrisy of people, to make fun of the overly symbolic characters, the ones who embody all of a particular religion or politic or or philosophy or whatever. And sure, maybe there are a few such caricatures in the real world. But there are so many more real people; when an author cannot, or simply refuses to, see that—well, that's when the author comes off as kind of an egotistical ass (in my humble opinion).

For years now, I've read these novels knowing I was supposed to love them. In all honesty, I've rated some of these novels higher than I otherwise would have because I don't want to be that idiot who clearly doesn't “get it.” And, I do recognize the talent involved and really don't want my personal tastes to get in the way. That's what blows about ratings. It's all so freaking subjective. Personally, I thought White Teeth was so much better written than Midnight's Children and more entertaining than David Copperfield. So if that's your idea of a sexy read, then hell yeah, White Teeth is mind blowing. But if you're in the minority, one of those readers who thinks some authors are just too clever for their own good, then White Teeth is just another manufactured model with a glossy cover.