The Goldfinch and the adventure of reading a book I knew nothing about

I recently read The Goldfinch: A Novel by Donna Tartt. All I knew about The Goldfinch before I read it was it won a Pulitzer Prize and a bunch of my friends had read it. I had no idea what the book was about. For the first couple dozen pages or more I didn’t even correctly identify the gender of the narrator. Everything about the book was a surprise. Reading The Goldfinch was an adventure.

In an effort to best use our time and money most of us tend to research things that are likely to take up much of either. This is certainly true of major purchases like houses or cars, but most of us research our entertainment as well.

Whether it is a book, a movie, or a play, we read synopses before we read or buy tickets. We watch trailers. We check previews and reviews to determine what will best entertain us. We want to know for sure that we are going to like something before we invest any time into it.

I usually do that too, but there is something thrilling about diving headlong into something you know nothing about.

Life is BeautifulYears ago a friend called and asked if I wanted to see the movie “Life is Beautiful.” When I said “Yes” I did not mean “Yes, I would like to see ‘Life is Beautiful.'” I had never heard of the film. My “Yes” simply meant “Sure, I’ll see a movie.”

Even the poster didn’t give me a clue. There I was enjoying a lighthearted romantic comedy when all these Nazis started showing up. I had no idea what I was getting into with that movie, which was chilling and magical.

After I finished The Goldfinch I looked up some of the synopses that have been used to describe the book. They try to be vague about major plot points with major plot points typically defined as things that happen later in the book, but as I would expect, events early in the book are revealed at least in part. After all, don’t you have to do that to give someone an idea of the story? Otherwise how will they know if its the sort of story they’d like?

I’m glad I didn’t read those synopses. Some of those early (and therefore assumed to be non-major) plot points were some of my biggest gasp moments. I had no idea what was about to happen. The narrator had no idea what was about to happen. We were there together.

The next time you are looking for entertainment consider trying something you know very little about. You may not like it. (I read Something Happened by Joseph Heller on a whim and regretted it.) But maybe you will enjoy something more because of the adventure of truly having no idea what it’s about.

A Spoiler-Free Review of The Goldfinch

Above is the post I intended to write, but since people keep asking me whether I liked The Goldfinch I should probably answer that. In deference to my own words above I will do so without any spoilers. (If you comment please show the same courtesy.)

The Goldfinch is a wholly improbable story told in a largely believable way, which to me is the best kind of fiction. It is also a massive work with a lot in it. To that end there were sections I loved and others I could hardly stand. As I said on Twitter, “I admired it more than I liked it, but I did like it.” If I had stopped reading 10 pages earlier I probably would have like it more. Still, I’d recommend it, particularly to anyone who has every fancied themselves a writer.

RELATED POST: The Circle by Dave Eggers made me want to puke (in a good way), a book review

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