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Following The Instructions

It was months in the making. I started reading The Instructions towards the end of December, finished it on the last day of February, and haven’t written a word about it (or much of anything else) the whole way through.

To be fair, The Instructions boasts over 1,000 pages and weighs in at about three pounds. Plus, I wasn’t monogamous with the book. Over the course of the couple months I spent reading The Instructions, I also completed Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and Paul Harding’s Tinkers (about which I wrote nothing, but I did love). Even so, it would be fair to say that Levin’s behemoth more or less monopolized my winter reading time.

But it was a labor of love. It’s hard not to be captured by Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee, Levin’s 10 year-old narrator-protagonist, a Torah scholar and potential Messiah who spends his school days locked in “the Cage” at his latest school (having been expelled from local Jewish day schools in the Chicagoland area). Gurion insists that The Instructions is his scripture, and there were times that I was tempted to believe in his (at least potential) divinity). Just as often, though, I wondered whether he wasn’t just another smart young man with too-lenient parents and too-industrialized a school, who had no way to direct his considerable intelligence but towards destruction. Or, whether he had some real mental illness. Or some combination.

So it wasn’t the length as much as the depth that made me take months to read the book and weeks to digest it. Even now, it’s hard to come up with anything close to comprehensive commentary on it. I hardly even have a complete thought. 

It’s difficult for me to come up with a way to follow The Instructions, but this much I’ve nailed down for sure: Read this book; you’ll be better for it. You may not love it. You may not even like it, but it will make you a stronger and more thoughtful reader, if not a stronger and more thoughtful person. 

Crisis of E-Conscience

March 2011 Books