I have finally found the time to sit down and read Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and dios mio it is unequivocally the shit. It is probably the most readable Pulitzer Prize winner I’ve ever sunk my teeth into. I’m not about to pretend it has more literary merit than Beloved or The Color Purple; I’m just saying that I can sit down and accidentally read a hundred pages of Diaz when I meant to read twenty. I’m still not finished with it, so anything could happen, maybe the fukú will creep into my life and all hell will break loose.
Oscar Wao is heavily annotated—not quite House of Leaves-annotated, but there are a lot of footnotes that present a deeper look into secondary characters and help to tie the story in with the reality I experience outside of books. It’s pretty cool.
There is also Spanglish galore. I don’t really mind this since I spent eight years in the Mexican part of Colorado so I’m used to standing around not really understanding what people are saying. A decent amount of the Spanish tidbits can be figured out using the Latin I know, Occam’s Razor, common sense, and deductive reasoning.
So I’m surfing around the Internet, learning about how Junot Diaz claims he was influenced by Jorge Luis Borges but not David Foster Wallace when I come across this theoretically useful resource. Someone with a lot of free time has meticulously annotated every modicum of the book, explaining every reference, translating all of the Spanish, and clarifying who Frank Herbert is. I glance over the first chapter (which I have already read) and find it kind of sucks the soul right out of the book. But why is an annotated resource like that so disturbing to me? This is a fair question, I suppose.
It’s because you should read the book knowing what you know and let it influence you as it does. If there is something necessary, the author will include it. (Otherwise he’s a worthless bastard.) Junot Diaz does this. In fact, he even adds annotations that you really don’t need. He doesn’t consistently translate the Spanish because it isn’t important to the story and if you get it you can smirk and appreciate it and if you don’t it’s better if you just keep reading it.
The beauty of my method is different people take different things away from it. You will appreciate the references that fall within your own experience. I knew that Henry Miller’s Sexus was a pretty erotic book, that Dune was a sci-fi novel, and I knew who Frank Miller and Alan Moore were. I knew what hijo meant, but not abuelo. Officially reading that abuelo means grandfather doesn’t really make Oscar Wao a better book. When I read Lolita I probably missed a few inside jokes in French and Latin, but I don’t think Nabokov expected us all to read the book with a copy of Wheelock’s Latin and six hundred dollars of Rosetta Stone programs. It is okay to miss a reference.
If you don’t believe me, fine. Trust this peer reviewed and highly academic article by TV tropes. They don’t lie. And they support me fully, explaining that the Genius Bonus is:
A joke or tidbit meant for people knowledgeable in a certain field. The rest of the audience doesn’t get it, but it’s usually subtle enough for them not to care. This is the non-age-related counterpart to Parental Bonus.
So if you get every last reference Junot Diaz injects into the story, congratulations, you get the Genius Bonus. If not, just enjoy the story.