SHAMEFUL BOOKFEST ENTRY #5: Octavian Nothing
I did it. I finally finished my Shameful Bookfest.
After determining there was no way I could possibly finish M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party (greatest. title. ever.) by the end of my May deadline, the partially-read novel . . . well, languished on my nightstand.
After all, there were adventure-romances about people with multicolored eyes and a special talent for butt-kicking that required my immediate attention:
Not to mention a serious and uncontrollable desire to reread Meg Cabot's entire Princess Diaries series. (I love those books so much, you guys, it makes me want to carve Mia + Michael = 4EVA into trees.)
And I had to join the Sarah Dessen Challenge.
So surely you can understand why a large and imposing novel about the horrors of slavery got a little buried for awhile. Right? Right. Which brings me to my first confession:
I almost returned this book to the library without finishing it, like, a dozen times.
Because here's the thing about Octavian — it's difficult.
Though The Book Thief was more difficult for me emotionally, Octavian is just plain HARD. And there is a tiny (embarrassing) part of me that does not like hard things. This part is much happier when it's sipping sparkling blueberry juice, painting its fingernails glittery red, and re-reading The Princess Bride for the dozenth time.
[Side note: If you love the film The Princess Bride and have yet to read the novel, you MUST. I joke about it, because it's a fun and easy read, but it's also completely and utterly brilliant and filled with commentary that is VERY, VERY FUNNY, especially if you just-so-happened to be an English major.]
So, naturally, this part of me wasn't thrilled to pick back up something that it knew was written in a challenging style (pseudo-18th century, classically educated, and smacking of Reason). This part really wanted to shove Octavian in the library drop-box and get back to the love stories.
But this part also knew that the whole point of my Shameful Bookfest was to read novels that were shaming me professionally. Books that I believed were important to be familiar with as a young adult novelist. And I knew if I returned Octavian, my guilt at NOT having read it would only grow.
And I also knew that the longer it sat on my nightstand, the more likely I'd have to re-read those first forty pages. Plus, it was overdue.
These, therefore, were my motivating factors: Guilt, Dread, and Thrift.
I have never claimed to be a role model.
Now, a quick catchup for those of you unfamiliar with the plot. It's set during the start of the American Revolution, and it's about a black teenager (Octavian) who has been raised in the house of a group of scientists and philosophers who call themselves The Novanglian College of Lucidity. These are men who believe in reasoning so strongly that they no longer see actual reason. And they have kept Octavian in their house as an experiment to prove that people of African decent are lesser than people of European decent.
Yes. We're talking about a Serious and Depressing Subject Matter. Which brings me to my second confession:
Until the last hour of reading, I had no plans whatsoever to read Volume Two.
I clearly saw that this was Well-Written, Respectable, and Important, but I also thought enough was enough.
Until I reached the climax, and discovered I was wrong. This book is about slavery in any time period. Like, right now. It's about human rights, freedom, and the true meaning of the word "liberty" (particularly as it relates to our often misguided representations of history).
This book is flat-out monumental.
Though I still find it hard to say, "Yes yes yes. You MUST all read this novel," because, yeah, it's not fun. And, for me at least, I still believe the primary function of a novel is entertainment. (I DO believe novels should teach us things, but I believe that this capacity is best served in a way that's not, well, boring. Or preachy. Not that this book is either, but it's not exactly a rollicking good time.)
But, having said that . . . yeah. It is worth the effort.
And you should read it.