A Confederacy of Dunces

One good link deserves another: I mentioned a Cynthia Crossen column in my post on The Red Leather Diary. A few weeks ago, however, she wrote about the binary views John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces inspires:

I managed to get through 100 pages before I let myself off for time served. My sides didn’t split, my belly didn’t ache, my eyes didn’t water. With its wooden dialogue, one-ply characters and a plot as twisty as a clothesline, “A Confederacy of Dunces” left me wondering who were the dunces on the Pulitzer jury in 1981.

Some readers had predicted I might not appreciate Mr. Toole’s humor. James Mosrie of West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote, “In my experience, people either love or hate this book. I can never quite gauge what reaction they will have because I’ve known people of so many varying types and tastes be so extreme with their views on the book.”

Another reader wrote, “This may be the most polarizing book of all time. I know approximately 15 people (counting you) who have read it. Without exception, the book has either (a) immediately entered the reader’s “top-five all-time” list or (b) so turned off the reader that they couldn’t finish it. For whatever reason, there is no middle ground with this book.”

I’m in category (b): I tried to read A Confederacy of Dunces, saw nothing redeeming, and couldn’t finish it. Like Crossen and Terry Teachout, however, I wish funny books got more literary respect, especially because some of my favorite novels include Richard Russo’s Straight Man, Rebecca Goldstein’s The Mind-Body Problem, Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, and Kingley Amis’ Lucky Jim. Only one of those makes it on Crossen’s list of recommended funny books, which appears at the bottom of her column.

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