A worthy novel shows me what mastery really means.
Listicles are my snacks now that I don’t look at facebook so often. Medium is a healthier scrolling alternative with escapist options to tear open the literary equivalent of a small bag of cheesy crunchies.
This morning I was stalling going down to my studio to finish a portrait commission. “Hey,” I justified to me, “there’s time. My commute is a set of stairs.” I scrolled. A catchy headline about judging your friend’s taste in reading material by what they like was the gummy worm on a hook I bit while polishing off my coffee. I clicked.
The author offered a list of red flags that guide her to determine whether a friend’s taste is worthy of consideration. Granted, this writer is using personal reading preferences as a shortcut guideline, which is nicer than what I did. I judged and condemned her entire character based on one item in her short list… and it wasn’t a terrible list until I got to:
This Medium blogger’s red flag of disregard was if someone liked The Signature of All Things. Her reason was (wait for it)
Like I care about moss.
Coincidentally, I happen to be listening to this same book as I work on a rather elaborate commission and this isn’t the first time. A few years ago I had Signature of All Things playing while installing a tile mural in a large shower stall. Other construction was going on with power tools so I missed parts. I remember it as being rich and layered and devoid of gunfire. At 21.5 hours it will get me most of the way through all the fussy details in all the layers painting a person involves… to say nothing of the dog.
How could anyone dismiss this magnificent opus with such vapid stupidity? A quick glance at the junk food of popular culture offers a clue. Gilbert’s novel is set in the first half of the 19th century and follows the life of a fascinating female protagonist who is born into unimaginable wealth. Historical fiction about the upper class is a popular genre, which Gilbert turns upside down.
Customarily, stories about glittering gatherings in sprawling mansions with liveried servants focus on romance and intrigue. Invariably there is a pale, bookish…