Thursday, January 27, 2011

Personal preferences versus critics’ choices

When reviewers hail a book as one of the year’s best, I've learned that their criteria may not always coincide with mine. The naming of Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs in 2007 as one of the year’s best made me swear off accepting these lists as infallible. Yet, I decided to read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.

While I can admire what one reviewer called his “literary complexity,” I found the story of the Berglunds, their family, friends, and colleagues exasperating. As the chronology shifts back and forth from the 1980s to the present, from college years through marriage and children, to changing political scenes, I felt no compatibility, no sympathy for their motives and actions.

Room, however, was a surprise. Although it has been hailed as one of the best books of 2010 and was on the shortlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, I was not eager to read a novel narrated by a five-year-old. Emma Donoghue, however, has created a unique world for Jack and his Ma and I felt myself unable to put the book down for long. Room is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

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