Do we read to find friends?

Do we read to find friends?

claire-messud-photo2Mention worthy:  Publishers Weekly (PW) posed a question to Claire Messud in a recent interview that roused a remarkable response. So remarkable, it's worth reporting on here.

The question concerned the heroine in Messud's new book, The Woman Upstairs.

PW said: "I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim."

Messud Responds . . .

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert?

Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath?
...Saleem Sinai?
...Hamlet?
...Krapp?
...Oedipus?
...Oscar Wao?
...Antigone?
...Raskolnikov?
...Any of the characters in The Corrections?
...Any of the characters in Infinite Jest?
...Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written?
...Or Martin Amis?
...Or Orhan Pamuk?
...Or Alice Munro, for that matter?"

If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?


Don't Mess with Messud!—was how PW responded to Messud's response. It's comment had clearly "rankled" the author, PW admitted, BUT...it gave Messud a chance to "show her chops. We're so glad we had that conversation," ended PW graciously.

Messud is the author of the 2006 The Emperor's Children (see reading guide here; see LitLovers review here), as well as this most recent 2013 novel, The Woman Upstairs.

For book clubs to consider:
1. Do we read to find friends?
2. How important is it to like the characters in the books?
3. Do we feel let down when we dislike them?
4. Talk about some of the books you've read and whether or not your enjoyment of them—or disappointment in them—had to do with the likability of the characters.


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