“I don’t really do inspirational,” I said to my office mate, heavy air quotes on the word “inspirational.” Days before, he had recommended “The Help,” a recent book about the lives of black women who worked for white, Southern families in the 1960s.
Running dangerously low on reading material, and trusting Tom’s taste in books, as love of literature seemed to be a main component of what we have in common, I ran to Border’s soon after (hot button topic today, for me, or what?) specifically to buy this book. I was disappointed to find that, judging by the back-of-the-book reviews and summary, and from flipping through the pages to get a feel for the author’s style, that it was just too… “inspirational.” It was the kind of book Oprah (God rest her soul*) gave away at show tapings, and I don’t say that just because it’s a book about black women. It had lines that were written specifically, it seemed, to be quoted in a facebook status.
I walked out of Border’s with “The Disappearing Spoon,” a book about the Periodic Table.
Now, I’m not exactly a cynic, despite having a mean sarcastic streak and a proclivity toward dark humor. And I’m told I can be a touch insensitive. But as I told Tom, if I need to be told something is inspirational, then it probably isn’t.
What I’m talking about, I only just realize as I sit here, in fact, is the inspiration that is superficial. It’s easy to inspire people by telling the story of strong women who rose triumphant above their station, as I’m sure they did, in the end of the book. Or maybe they didn’t, like the many who suffered continued oppression even after the civil rights movement, but certainly, by the end of the book, there was some form of personal triumph of love and friendship that is expected in the end of a New York Times Bestseller of its type, and in that, alone, inspiration is easy to find.
But I was wrong to say I don’t “do” inspiration. I love it when art inspires me, and knocks me out with the strong, but inutterable realization that I just saw or read something important. I like the kinds of books whose inspiration “washes over me,” which are the words Tom assigned to my preference. I’m inspired by words that show me the way towards the author’s intentions, then leave you grasping at air looking for a way to describe exactly what it is, instead of spoiling the ending for me by telling me what it is outright. A slow dawning of the mind, like a sunrise. An inspired essence, rather than an inspired sentence. I want to be inspired, but not in quite so many words.
*I know that Oprah isn’t dead. But try telling that to her 15-20 million daily viewers with an O-shaped void in their daytime tv playlist.