The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Scribner (1993). 352 pp.

I’ve been reading this book in my Modern and Contemporary Literature class, and it’s been referenced in other classes as well, namely Canadian Literature class.

My professor in Mod Lit swears by this book. The author won a Pulitzer for it and this book has been used for practically every kind of literary analysis out there.

Some of the conventions are clever: the use of ropes in the beginnings of the chapters and how the particular knots are elaborated in the content of the chapter. But as a whole, I did not understand how this book deserves such acclaim. The story is good enough, but there’s not really a plot. A man moves to Newfoundland with his aunt and his two daughters.

I’m sure if I spent more time delving deep into the conventions of the book that I could come up with a great philosophical interpretation on the meaning of the book and the different names (Quoyle, Bunny, Sunshine, Wavey Prowse, Petal Bear…), but in this case I’ll agree with my partner when he says that he gets frustrated when people try to pull symbolism and metaphor out of words and themes that just aren’t there. It’s a good read if you can get through it, and maybe worth a second time around.

That prompts the question: what makes a book worth reading? There’s a whole movement out right now–at least in the confines of my small Midwestern college: the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Men and women all over campus are falling in love with Edward Cullen and the sort. I’ll admit, I have bought the book, and it’s sitting on my desk staring at me. The point of buying the book in the first place was so that it would just drive me mad, or into actually reading The Shipping News, if they don’t already mean the same thing. I’ll read it over break. I’m told I’m not allowed to before then because “I won’t ever want to put it down and do homework.” I bite back comments that suggest how little it takes to distract me from homework, but in truth I abstain. They’re most likely right.

Back on topic. My advisor says that for him as a writer, the number one criteria for a good book is that it turns pages. There is a sense of truth in that, but is that it? Twilight I’ve heard certainly turns pages, but The Shipping News requires a little more work. Regardless, The Shipping News is considered one of the “great American novels” and Twilight might be seen as a sort of fad, right along the lines of Harry Potter and the Eragon series. Are those considered “good books” because they’re readable?


About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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