Saturday, May 19, 2012

Books: The Gum Thief

Continuing my attempts to write something about every book I read.  Not as a "review" as such, but to encourage me to think a bit more about about them.  It looks like I can read books faster than I can write about them, as I have a backlog.

I think Douglas Coupland is one of those zeitgeisty authors.  I don't mean that in a bad way.  More that he tackles the modern condition openly.  And by "the modern condition" maybe what I mean is "first world problems".  I don't think I mean that in a bad way.

In case you haven't guessed, the Gum Thief is a story of people in America who feel trapped and unsatisfied with their lives.  I read it on a rainy Sunday when not leaving the flat was a rational plan, rather than something to fight against, and there didn't seem to be anything else to do.  When I started the book I thought "this is how I'm feeling".

I think the moral of The Gum Thief is that changing ourselves is very difficult, but through reaching out to others and trying to imaginatively live their lives, we can find connections and effect some kind of change.  It made me think about the experience of imagining yourself in someone else's position, trying to feel what they're feeling and what choices they might make.  I don't think I've thought about it much before.  It's not something I'm very good at, or at least I don't do it instinctively.  I'm bad enough at imaginatively inhabiting my own life, let alone someone else's.  So I probably go through a book or film, or similar story, without really connecting with the characters the way other people might.  I can't remember any examples of going "that was a particularly convincing character".  Though maybe it's only critics, authors and literature students, who think about these things too much, who say that, as I can't remember anyone I know saying it.

My main problem with the book was that it alternates letters/notes between the characters with sections from a terrible book one of them is writing.  It's amusing, but I don't want to spend too much time reading something that is deliberately terrible (and not deliberately terrible enough to be great).  The whole book's fairly short though, and breezes along, so it's not a big problem.

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