Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginides
The Bildungsroman is a term coined in literary criticism, which purportedly defines a genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, and in which character change is thus extremely important.
So I learned, or re-learned (as it seems vaguely familiar), that term today.
Middlesex sat on my To Be Read shelf for an embarrassingly long amount of time. It languished amongst intimidating non-fiction-books-that-seemed-like-a-good-idea-to-buy-at-the-time, like Evolution’s Rainbow and The User’s Guide to the Brain. Someone, somewhere had recommended it, and it came up on paperbackswap.com, so I snagged it. A long time ago.
I didn’t really know what it was about; I had a vague sense that it had to do with a hermaphrodite. I am pretty indifferent about learning about hermaphroditism, and thus I never buckled down to tackle this one.
But… then I saw that John Allison (Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery) listed it as one of his three favorite books. He knows good stuff, I think.
And he’s right. It’s a great story. Several great stories, actually, as we follow three generations of the main character’s family, the conceit being that we are following the path of the defective gene that leads to the main character’s status as an “intersex”.
The writing is strong, the characters are rich, and I wish I’d picked it up sooner.
There’s a lesson in here about selecting reading material. There’s a big category of topics that I personally label “meh.” I had zero interest in learning about geishas, but I loved Memoirs of a Geisha. I need to stop caring as much what the book is about, but rather to how good it is. Because a good book can make you interested in anything.