Salman Rushdie: Infernal Genius or What? Part I

By Byron Spooner PD*1044468


I feel like such a moron.

Pretty much as a matter of habit I set aside an hour or so each night before going to sleep just for reading.  I set aside another hour or so in the morning for the same purpose.  That’s almost ten percent of my day.   I know I tend to feel better, emotionally, intellectually, even physically, when I have a have a book going.  Reading is a steadying, calming element of my day-to-day life; a keel that keeps everything else upright and on course. It is a wonderful, relaxing time of day after the stress of the quotidian. It effects my whole day; I tend not to get the blues when I’m involved in a book and if I do, I don’t get them as badly.  It has been that way all my life.  So you can imagine how important this time is to me.

I have to confess, before we get too far with this and you start thinking I’m holding myself up as an example or something, that some mornings I wake up, fix my wife a cup of tea, crawl back to bed full of good intentions, planning to read, and instead doze off or fool around checking out Facebook or some of the political blogs I follow.  Many evenings I fall asleep quite early in the designated hour or end up screwing around indolently on the internet instead of reading.  Even with that, I still end up reading quite a bit, at least when compared to the average American

Then all of that changed.  Instead of relaxation there was only anxiety, worry, depression.  Frustration and conflict plagued the hours I until then had held so dear.  I found myself with no keel; adrift and veering further off course with each passing hour and day.  I felt guilty and anxious.

My book group had assigned a book that was like leaping off the high diving board expecting cool water below and instead hitting a pool full of wet sand.

The Satanic Verses is an infernal work of literature, where—as in Talking Heads’ characterization of heaven—nothing, nothing, ever, ever happens. Except it is not heaven but a species of hell.  It is a work of such depraved stillness, so overwritten, so boring, so boundlessly slow, while being at the same time so exuberantly pretentious, as to become a monument to the very stultification it induces.  The blurbs on the back of the jacket proclaim the book ‘A masterpiece…,’ ‘…exhilarating…,’ etc.  They are patent and complete untruths.  Just trust me.

It was like having a cement block on my night stand; there was no way to get in without the aid of a jackhammer, it was obdurately and insanely impenetrable.  And I had to have the damned thing read by a certain date; granted, a date that was six weeks out, but still…

Though I realized I was in trouble fairly early on, I, like all morons, had already doubled down.  I had, by the time I realized there was no way out—or in—written a semi-snotty email to the other members of the group.  At our previous meeting, we hadn’t spent what I thought was sufficient time on a book that I really loved, Richard Ford’s Canada.  Basically I said we should from here forward spend at least an hour seriously discussing the books we read, not commenting on them in passing while deciding who wants wine and who wants the hard stuff.  You can see my dilemma.  I should have seen it coming, too, twenty miles off.  Clearly there was no way I was going to get away with not reading the assigned book ever again, much less the one assigned immediately after the email at issue had gone out.

I tried to approach the damned thing from every angle. I tried to surrender to it by just relaxing and letting it wash over me like a wave, eschewing comprehension entirely, taking it in while in some barely liminal state, thinking about something else, or nothing at all, and hoping for the best.  I just fell asleep quicker.

I tried to force myself to read five pages a day, but that was taking too long. (It would take me 109.4 days, or 3.64 months, to knock it out at that rate.  I figured that out instead of reading the book, after I got bored with the Klondike game on my BlackBerry, sick of switching back and forth between Leno and a Ben Stiller flick on HBO, anything but that book.)

A friend suggested listening to it on CD but I was afraid of dozing off halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge, having a head-on and embarrassing myself by causing one of those gargantuan traffic jams that stretch practically to Daly City and take weeks to clear.

Apparently there are no Cliff’s Notes.  I know, I checked.

Skimming was out as well.

Meanwhile the already alarming stack of books awaiting my attention on my side of the bed grew and began to teeter.  And I was getting more desperate.  More anxiety, more guilt.  Feelings of inadequacy.


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