On Labor Day (United States), I went with a friend to Goodwill. She wanted to take advantage of the store’s sale on clothes and I was just going along for the ride. I need to lose about forty pounds before I even think about buying new clothes. But a welcome surprised when we arrived was that there was also a sale on books, most of which were no more than three or four dollars full price.
One of the books I left with was Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. I’d been interested for several years in reading that particular book, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Since it was such a good price, of course I snatched it up, along with four others.
If you read the back of Reading Lolita, the publisher describes it as being about a woman who holds what basically amounts to a book discussion group in her Tehran, Iran, apartment where the members (the former college professor’s students) read books that the Iranian government has banned. Obviously, one such book is Lolita.
By that description, the book most definitely sounds interesting. But the description is misleading. Yes, this book group is a part of the book. In fact, it takes up the entire first section. But there is so much more to it.
For those less familiar with Reading Lolita, the author is a woman who received a literature degree in the United States and then returned to her native country in 1979, just as Ayatollah Khomeini and his, shall we say minions?, seize control of Iran from the Shah. I’m more than half way through the memoir and the majority of it is about the author’s experiences during and after the revolution and of course throughout the course of the Iraq/Iran war of the 1980s. Her life touches those of her students and she tells what she knows of their experiences, as well.
What this book is, really, is a personal history lesson about an extremely tumultuous time in history that changed the world and I’m learning so much more than I ever did in school.
Miss Auras by John Lavery
In reading Reading Lolita, I began thinking about how publishers so often drop the ball in promoting books. I suppose in a way, what they’re doing is working, since the books I’m talking about have been best-sellers. But I wonder at the same time, what am I missing out on?
I’ll begin with Harry Potter. I didn’t read a single word of any of the books until last July and then I devoured all seven of them in sixteen days and re-read them all within the next year. But I only did so because I happened to catch a couple of the movies on television. The impression I had of the books, based solely on the publicity they received, was that they were very juvenile and a bit silly and while others may have loved them, I didn’t think they were for me.
The next book I nearly missed — and didn’t thanks to a movie preview — was The Help. Everyone raved about it. I thought I should give it a go. Then I walked into Borders, picked it up and read the cover. It said something about a young southern girl looking for her missing nanny and learning lessons along the way. I immediately put it down. I only bought it after seeing a preview for the movie (which I hated) and realizing there was much more to it.
Once I’d read The Help, it became clear just how ridiculous the description was on the back cover. Was Skeeter, the heroine, looking for her missing nanny? Well, yes. But that was mostly a subplot that took a back seat to her stealthily interviewing black housekeepers in Alabama at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in order to publish a book exposing the truth about what went on behind the manicured lawns.
That was an excellent book. The one described is sentimental and hackneyed.
I wonder if it’s always been this way. I don’t think it has. I’ve been a reader my entire life. I don’t recall a time I wasn’t. I’ve always chosen books at random. I walk into a book store or library and a title catches my eye. I read the back of the book or the inside jacket if it’s hardcover and if it interests me, I take it home and either love it or hate it. This method has worked well for me for thirty-five years. And now? Not so much.
Now I walk into a store and look at the books and they all sound awful. And many of them are. And now I can’t even count on the publishers to help me figure out which is which.