Amanda Reads #2: The Interestings Makes Me Cry Empathy Tears

Not so long ago, the internet (or bookternet as possibly maybe people call it, if I recall correctly) essentially demanded that I read Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. With its bright, colorful cover, I simply couldn’t control myself (or my wallet) when I saw it on the shelves at Half Price Books, and thus I began my journey.

I will preface this with a reminder that these posts aren’t strictly reviews–they aren’t meant to assess the “literary quality” of the books I read. In my opinion, reading is a very personal and subjective experience that is difficult to quantify with labels like “good” and “bad” or even with a star-rating system. If a book touches my heart, I may rate it a 5 while it completely misses the mark with someone else, earning it a 2. That’s the beauty of reading–there’s something for everyone, and everyone likes a little something different.

I promise I didn’t just climb up on that soap box for no reason (maybe more on my “labeling things as ‘literary’ and ‘not literary’ really annoys me” rant later). It’s actually very relevant, because when I logged in to Goodreads yesterday to post my rating upon finishing The Interestings, I was genuinely shocked by what I saw. Here was a book that had made me laugh, cry,  and think and feel things that I probably didn’t really want to address but which I needed to get in contact with anyway. And the top four or five reviews were two stars–people hated this thing that had spoken to me so deeply. 
 I think it’s a natural reflex in these times to want to argue–to say that this person who doesn’t recognize what you do, or feel as you do about this book, this piece of art, simply has bad taste. But the fact is, it’s natural that a book about artistic talent and its natural decay, about growing up and realizing that your dreams are harder to reach than you once imagined, would speak to me. I’m a 22 year old aspiring writer who is absolutely terrified that she won’t “make it” and who doesn’t have the slightest idea how to be an adult, let alone an “artist.” I can relate to a failed actress’ envy of her successful friends’ lives any day of the week. I was situationally and emotionally poised to fall in love with Jules and with this book, and that’s exactly what happened. Others, however, if their reviews are any indication, did not find Jules and the other Interestings compelling at all.
 But this book, to me, was so much more than just a slightly depressing mirror image of my own fears and dreams. The language captivated me, pulling me through with artistically drawn phrases that highlighted what it is to be human, to be alive and to strive and to occasionally fail. It is written in a gorgeous, crystal clear way that almost never smacks of pretension.
 Discussing the book with a friend, we agreed that it’s almost too real. Although I loved the language, and fell in love with the main characters, the book felt very much like real life. Following the arch of its subjects’ lives from teenage camp days through to middle age, it feels like watching death slowly. But its the kind of death you want to watch, like a beautiful bouquet slowly dwindling away on your windowsill. I’ll try not to give any spoilers, but the book certainly “ends” the way that a life does–there is no “happy ending” and no sad one either. Life simply continues, because one must continue to live.
 In spite of the fact that the book has quite possibly sent me into a depression that will last another few weeks because the reality it paints is just so real (we age, things change, we grow apart, etc), I would recommend this to anyone and everyone. The writing is gorgeous, the characters and situations feel real, and it’s just a fantastic read. I flew through it at a pretty rampant rate for someone who spends half her time moaning about her poor, retail-induced foot throbs and the other half writing TJ Maxx related poetry.
 Let me know what you thought if you read the book, even if you are one of those 2-stars “I hate this book” people. Books are wonderful on their own, but one of the best things about them is getting to share them with others. Thank you, internet. 
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