Monday, July 21, 2008

Reader's Diary #379- Paul Theroux: Mr. Bones

Short Story Monday
Thanks to Wendy over the Short Story Reading Challenge for pointing me in the direction of Paul Theroux's short story "Mr. Bones" as it appeared in the September 2007 edition of the New Yorker, also available online.

In my education courses and literacy meetings, there's been a lot of talk about reading, what it means, and what makes a good reader. One common assumption is that good readers make connections; they think about what they are reading and relate it to past knowledge and experiences while applying to any number of hypothetical situations.

As I read through "Mr. Bones" I was smugly impressed with my own abilities as a reader. I connected the story to comedians as far ranging as Al Jolson to John Ritter, I questioned the burden of the masculine identity, I foresaw potential pitfalls of a Tibetan liberation. Ain't I something?

That's when it hit me-- I don't do this every time I read. Shouldn't something be said for the quality of writing? If I read The Alchemist and thought of nothing but rainbows and unicorns, did it mean that I was a poor reader or could it be that Coelho isn't much of an author? I'm guessing the answer lies somewhere in between.

In other words, Theroux's "Mr. Bones" is a brilliant piece of writing: it's thought provoking but the story and characters deliver the provocation, not the other way around. Plus, I love an uncomfortable veneer on my comedy and Mr. Bones delivered.


Wendy said...

John, Glad my comments on this one motivated you to read it...and that you liked it. This was definitely a story which makes the reader think a bit. I'd not read much Theroux, but need to remedy that!

Teddy Rose said...

I also read 'Mr Bones' because of Wnedy! I really enjoyed it as well.