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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Accidental Excellence

The summer of 2005 I read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole because I had heard countless great reviews. One person I knew and trusted counted it as one of his favorite books ever of any genre. At the time, there was even talk of the book having been optioned for movie rights. A script was being developed! Casting possibilities were being tossed about!

I am someone who believes strongly that the movie never lives up to the book and I try to have read the book prior to seeing the movie. Having recently stopped touring with Ringling Brothers and now having the luxury of using a library card, the time was ripe for me to dive into this classic of American literature. What I experienced was less than heartening. In fact, it enforced my prejudice that any work called "a classic of American literature" tends to be overrated and was judged as such in a way similar to how the Apostle's Creed was constructed and decided upon.

I made my way through the book with dogged determination, intent on finishing the task I set before myself. I was going to give this book every chance I would like someone to give a work of mine, were I an author. Being an improv actor and a clown, I was sure there had to be a payoff. It had to be good because I was earning it, taking to the pages with the work ethic of a miner.

No such luck. I reached the end and there was no payoff. Thus began my personal vendetta against this so-called classic of American literature, this supposed paragon of parody. I did not enjoy one thing about the book.

Fast forward to my introduction to the Goodreads website. I forget which of my friends led me to it, but I fastidiously began to recount any books that I had read in recent years or ever. I am not one to write reviews on such sites, but I made an exception for A Confederacy of Dunces. I dumped my standard attempts to disagree without being disagreeable and just laid into it as briefly and explicitly as I could, letting all who were interested know of my caustic hatred for this book. Little did I know what I was doing when I wrote that simple paragraph.

My extreme dislike for the book expressed itself in an interestingly accurate mimicry of Ignatius Reilly. That wasn't my intent at all and it took a few years and a few comments for me to realize what I had done. My opinion of the book hasn't changed, but now I am amazed by what I wrote and how the book affected me so much that I took enough from it to produce a fleeting bit of parody that is probably better than anything I've ever written.