I try to avoid reading with an agenda. I try to let my mind be open to the words and their flow, let them wash over me and sweep me away to new perspectives, ideas, and feelings. Some books feel like a babbling brook–lots of chatter but no real pull. Others feel like a hurricane– the prose buffets me with overwhelming force that leaves mental and emotional devastation in its wake. (By the way, my prayers are with those in the South right now. God bless you all.) No matter what the force or style though, I try to be open when it comes to reading. I try to jump in with both feet. But with Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven I was unable to do that. A question kept my mind bobbing around: why this book?
There was a lot of buzz about On the Road to Heaven when it first came out. And then again when it won both the AML award and Whitney award for novel of the year. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t shake my questions: What was it about Newell’s autobiographical novel that so many people liked? How did he please both the literary/academic crowd (as the AML is perceived to be) and the mainstream fiction crowd (as the Whitney’s are perceived to be)? Or in other words, why this book?
My question made me fairly skeptical as I thumbed through the first few pages. So did his strange choice of genre (What is an “autobiographical novel” anyway? Aren’t a lot of novels autobiographical? How was this supposed to be any different? [This wikipedia entry helped with those questions.]). And, I don’t know if I should admit this out loud but, I’m not a Kerouac fan. I’ve never actually finished one of his books. They just seem so contrived. And if this book was an homage to those books then I was not sure how I was going to get through it. Continue reading “Why this book? (a question about Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven)”