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Tha Last Taboo!

18 September, 2014 | By Goldie Alexander

I came across this wonderful article I would like to share with others on my blog.

Is boring your reader the last taboo? Read what James Parker has to say.

“It’s the very rare author who endeavors deliberately and at book length to bore the reader. It’s such a primal violation of the contract.


James Parker Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

Imagine, if you will, a book on trial for being boring. A headline-making case: the “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or the “Last Exit to Brooklyn” of boringness. Imagine the arguments and the counterarguments: the solid citizens called by the prosecution to testify that this book had bored them senseless, the authors and hip professors wheeled out by the defense to assert that it was not boring at all, but on the contrary a work of great and lasting interest. Imagine the expression on the judge’s face. For me, the book in the dock would probably be a cooking memoir, a bulky historical novel or one of those atheist/neuroscientist best sellers that explain the Mind. “The Drunken Squirrel: Why Your Thoughts Are Not What You Think.” Something like that. But this is just my taste, of course, and I am a tired middle-aged critic. It would be the job of the prosecution to persuade the court that any reader, however winsome and well intentioned, could be bored by this book. “Bored, Your Honor, to tears. Bored to death!”

My point is that writers down the years have sought to perform various operations upon their readers — to amuse them, shock them, educate, titillate, uplift, madden, deprave and so on. I wouldn’t have put it past William Burroughs, at his most necromantically avant-garde, to have actually tried to kill a couple of people with his prose. But it’s the very rare author who endeavors deliberately and at book length to bore the reader. It’s such a primal violation of the contract — a kind of authorial suicide, really.

Let’s distinguish quickly between boringness, or the act of being a bore, and boredom itself. The latter is a rich subjective state, full of philosophical implications. Modern man is bored. God is bored with modern man. “Under the circumstances in which a man gets bored, a dog goes to sleep,” Walker Percy wrote. “Waiting for Godot,” etc. There are plenty of fascinating things to be said about boredom. To be a bore, on the other hand, is either a mental illness or a crime. The bore drains life; the bore doesn’t see the person in front of him; the bore can’t stop. Exposure to a bore, unless you have considerable spiritual resources, will dry you out.

But what of the texts that seem to flirt with boringness? In my teens a groovy English teacher introduced my classmates and me to Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” — the immensely long Elizabethan allegorical poem that seems to stop dead at the end of every nine-line stanza. “But sir,” we whined, “why is it so boring?” Glittering strangely, he suggested that perhaps the poet was trying to lull us into a kind of intellectual slumber, spread a haze of tedium over our faculties, the better to work upon us his dreamlike symbolism. It was an idea that, I think quite appropriately, left us scandalized. Reviewers have claimed that Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” — this season’s smash hit of Norwegian memoiristic micro-observation — is boring, but it obviously isn’t. If it were, it wouldn’t be sitting face-out at the front of the bookstore, broadcasting the baleful, “Game of Thrones”-ian handsomeness of its author. Knausgaard saturates “My Struggle” with detail because this is what his life feels like — and so he connects. A friend of mine calls it ” ‘Catcher in the Rye’ for 40-year-olds.”

So there we have it. In the forest clearing, the totems are all tipped over. Obscenity, Blasphemy, Profanity, those huge archaic figures — impious hands have pulled them down, and their faces stare out sideways in baffled fury. All with their mystery drained, their ancient powers canceled. All but one, that is. A gray shape, sitting on an upturned popcorn bucket, with a finger up his nose. He looks like somebody waiting for a piano tuner to arrive, to tune a piano he doesn’t own. He is Boringness, last of the taboos, and the villagers won’t touch him.”

James Parker is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and has written for Slate, The Boston Globe and Arthur magazine. He was a staff writer at The Boston Phoenix and in 2008 won a Deems Taylor Award for music criticism from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.


2 Responses to “Tha Last Taboo!”

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