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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

About a decade ago my local library sponsored a different kind of a book club: one where people talked about the different books they had read recently. After one woman described how much and why she hated one particular book, I knew I had to read it! (Yes, I was that kid who would get up to eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip just to prove that somebody could eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip. And, by the way, I really loved Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, just as expected.)

My husband Sherman and I read books aloud to each other at night—it’s a great way to spend time together—and have someone else keep you from staying up reading all night. Usually we take turns being the Sensible One in the matter. Thanks to reading together this way, we really do have our own little book club, although quite frankly, with the craziness of our own lives, we have been more attracted to formulaic mystery book series than ever before. These days we often don’t want to care about the person who is the Body in those stories that much, if you know what I mean.

You’re probably asking why I’m writing certain phrases in caps. I’m going to blame the most recent book we read—the one we just can’t stop discussing: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Turns out there are a lot of people out there on the Internet who can’t wait to tell you why they hate this book, which probably explains just why we couldn’t put it down, even now that we’ve finished it.

Now, maybe one of the things we like about the book is that the narrator seems to think in that oh-so-very-wordy way people who have ADD do. Let’s just say maybe we speak that language, if you know what I mean. Or, maybe, as Sherman suggested, it’s a lot easier to read that kind of language out loud versus silently. True, Sherman has a lot more trouble reading the long sentences than I do. I may be not only experienced but also gifted in Speaking ADD. That’s not bragging, is it? (I think I just admitted that the only reason I can follow this language pattern is because it is so familiar to me.)

The book runs over 500 pages so you know we didn’t get through it quickly, even if we were a wee bit obsessed with reading it. Lucky for us, after we’d been reading it for a couple weeks, we went on a close to 950 mile-round-trip road trip by ourselves. But reading it took longer than planned because we kept stopping and discussing the “what ifs” of the plot. We did not finish the story by the time we arrived home, but, since Sherman had taken off the day after we returned, we finished the book the next morning.

Now, of course, we both want to reread various sections and keep discussing possibilities.

Apparently the possibilities are one of the reasons many people hate this book—which is funny since at one point in the book one of the characters talks about how Americans despise ambiguity in their literature, preferring instead to tie up stories into neat little endings. Maybe it’s the English major in me and the computer science major who studied a lot of Philosophy in Sherman, but we don’t expect to know all the answers at the end of a story. In fact, maybe we like the chance to dig into the possibilities—trust me, I always preferred essay tests over multiple choice and/or True/False tests.

The final chapter really is a Final Exam, tying up the theme that began in the form of a syllabus with required reading. Some readers suggest the author is pretentious for sliding in erudite references throughout the story. They expected something different from a story with a narrator who is a gifted student attending Harvard and who was raised a little too closely by her professor father?

Hey, I enjoy many stories written for the masses, but when someone can throw literary references into tales with compelling plots, I am especially hooked. Believe it or not, but many of us continue to apply the lessons from college days to our everyday lives—heresy in these times when so many are suggesting students should only study practical degree programs such as engineering, science, and business—as if the liberal arts do not apply in any way to lifelong learning, especially in the work place.

And, if those critics read closely, they’ll see that though the narrator read constantly, her canon ranged from high brow tomes to books with numbers on them that she could find in any grocery store.

What she learned was that in so many ways Life is literature and vice versa.

Anyway, I remain intrigued by the book and am not quite ready to stop thinking about the imaginary people and happenings created within it—and the clues as to Who Really Done It and why.

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