Something's been bugging me all day and I've finally figured out what it is.
I can't read.
That's what it comes down to: I can't fucking read.
First, there's this The Red and the Black thing. Nabokov called it "literature for chambermaids," and despite the hours I've poured into it, this chambermaid finds the political situation of 1820s France hopelessly impossible to follow and the motivations of Julian Revel more and more confusing. Isn't this a high school book? Shouldn't I be able to just knock it back like a jello-shot? I mean, my dumb ass even wound up looking up SparkNote-- which I might have even actually read had they listed a credentialed author. (The "report an error" link also made me wary.)
I've printed out all kinds of Stendhal background material so I can grok the post-Revolutionary France situation -- which I should have done a week ago -- but I probably will need to read the book again. Which I don't think I have any time to do. There are much shittier books I have to read for review before I can fully peruse and appreciate Stendhal's chambermaid classic.
But the above is only part of the problem. What really, really, REALLY convinced me of my absolute illiteracy was Ann Hulbert's brilliant review of Gilead, which I fear blows everything else out of the water. I'm sitting there, reading, agreeing, nodding my head, going "yep, uh huh, yep, that's it, you got it" -- you know, like I've got Anne on line one or something.
Then -- boom -- in the last paragraph she hoists a volley of such extraordinarily careful readership that it shut me up. I'm not sure she's right or not, but damn: I'll be thinking about it all day, that's for sure.