I enjoyed Patrick deWitt’s “The Sisters Brothers” quite a bit. It is fun to read in exactly the same way that “True Grit” (the Coen Bros. version) is fun to watch, or “Red Dead Redemption” is fun to play: no more great, no less great, than those things. It is the story of two hired guns who find themselves in a slightly slipstream-y, slightly steam-punky kind of situation, in the midst of the California Gold Rush, and their subsequent adventures and misadventures. The narrator speaks in exactly that blend of plainspokenness and stilted formality that I’ve always loved in certain stories about the rural US (think of John Goodman as the Bible salesman in “O Brother, Where Art Thou” for example). I enjoyed it a great deal. That’s all I did: enjoy it.
In other words, despite being a very fine, high-quality piece of writing that was marketed as “literature,” this book is, in fact, an entertainment. It is not a font of great wisdom and guidance. It is not something to use as a guide for living. It will not change your life.
But yeah. When you’re reading on the Kindle app for iPad (and probably when you’re reading on the Kindle proper, I dunno), anything that somebody else has underlined or noted in the book shows up, for you, as having been underlined and noted. I can probably turn this feature off, but I’m lazy. Anyway, what I’ve noticed, about this book and every other damned book, is that people seem to zero in on the most banal, self-help-y sentences to highlight, regardless of the context in which the banal, self-help-y sentences were originally presented. Do people really read specifically to find, surgically, these nuggets of received wisdom? Wouldn’t they be better off just looking at needlepoint samplers or Hallmark cards? Seems like it would be a more efficient way to achieve the goal.
For example, one of the characters, a pompous windbag who has lived a very bad life very recklessly, makes some portentous statements about the purpose of life and the way to live it, during his long, extended, theatrical death scene — and I’ll be damned if people didn’t underline those obviously empty statements, like dogs in Pavlov’s lab, just because they fit the cliched form of wisdom, even though the author clearly intends us to feel contempt, or, at the very least, pity, regarding this man and his words.
I suppose seeing a palimpsest of what other people have found notable in a book does add a new dimension to the reading experience. I wish those other readers were as smart, as sensitive, and as articulate as I am, is all. Ha!