Sometimes the internet throws up something which is so spectacularly dumb that it is almost inspired.
A few days ago, someone started a new thread on the Goodreads sub-forum about “To Kill a Mockingbird.” This is what they said:
what is this even about?
i really don’t get this book and no i have never read it.
We need to stand back to admire this. Someone who has never read a famous book decides to tell the world that they don’t get it.
Not that they slightly don’t get it. They really don’t get it.
You have to wonder what they are trying to achieve with this thread. Are they asking someone to tell them what the book was about? Or are they trying to say it’s not a good book, whilst admitting that they haven’t read it?
Then there is that intriguing little word in the title: “what is this even about?”
What does that mean? Why not say “what is this about?” What does “even” add to the party?
To me it sounds like a slightly sulky “whatever” sort of question. A bit of “meh”.
I picture a teenager or possibly a pre-teen who has stumbled across this book called “To Kill a Mockingbird”. They can see all these people talking about it. Some are saying that it is one of the best books they have ever read. Others are being more cautious. But either way everyone has an opinion.
There is lots of talk about the symbolism in book, about racism, about the point of view of a child, about the heroism of Atticus Finch.
And our thread-starter is feeling a little left out. They can’t see why everyone is getting excited. And naturally they don’t want to read the book. Or Google it to find out what it’s all about. Or watch the film.
But they do want to get involved – to have their say. In effect they are saying: I don’t know what you lot are getting all excited about. Why isn’t anyone talking to me?
There are other possible explanations. Our thread-starter might be a troll. They might be deliberately asking a stooopid question to see if they can start an argument. That’s the sort of behaviour that passes for humour in some of the more backwards parts of the internet.
It could be a genuine question. Someone could be interested in the book and want to know more. We might be able to introduce someone to one of the finest novels in the English language. That might be a rare and precious thing, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. How wonderful it must be to be young again and to read Mockingbird for the first time.
But there is something about the comment and the thread title that piques my curiosity. We have someone who can’t manage a single capital letter – not even the word “i”, which most auto-correct systems instantly change to “I”. And yet they manage to get an apostrophe in the right place. That might be a lucky hit, or maybe they are not as naïve as they seem.
And then there is the word “no” – “i really don’t get this book and no i have never read it”.
What this means is that they wrote “i really don’t get this book” and then they thought about the reaction that this would get from readers. They anticipated that people would ask “have you read the book?” and so they answered that straight away.
Who doesn’t understand (or bother to use) capital letters and yet can anticipate their readers like this?
And that’s when it hits you. This isn’t a troll. It isn’t a sulky child.
This is poetry. The lack of capital letters is pure e. e. cummings. The comment creates a paradox – how can we decide that we don’t like a book if we haven’t read it?
It’s as enigmatic and surreal as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or Dali’s melting clocks. I am the walrus – goo goo g’joob.
Because isn’t that what the internet is all about? It’s about opinions over substance. I don’t like this and I want to tell the world that I don’t like it. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t experienced it.
In a world of user reviews and one star or five star ratings, here is someone giving a classic book a “meh” rating and insisting that we take notice. And all the while telling us that they haven’t read it.
So how do we respond to a question like that? There is no point in getting angry or sanctimonious. We don’t know if we are dealing with a troll, a delicate little flower thirsting for knowledge or a Dadaist poet.
So this is what I said:
“Two vampires have a mad romance on board a mile-long spaceship whilst fighting off hordes of zombies using pump action shotguns.
There’s a cute kitten, a dragon who can breathe fire, a class of dance students auditioning for a production of Fame, a magical sword in a stone, and a mighty Greek god with muscly thighs.
It’s a comic tragedy about a real life fantasy.
You’ll love it.”
Rather delightfully, someone responded with “Spoilers! Spoilers!”
Sandy wanted to know what my cute kitten was called. We both decided on “Odin, warrior kitten of Asgard.”
As you do.
And here’s the entire thread to read and enjoy at your leisure:
Only on the internet, my friends. Only on the internet.