In Gilmore Girls, aka the best show ever written, bright-eyed Rory Gilmore is continually seen reading a wide array of books. Whether in preparation for Harvard or for her time at Yale, she is always improving herself via literature.
Juxtapose this with Patrick Lenton, who found himself re-reading The Wheel of Time for the seventeenth time, grimly hoping the ingrained misogyny might somehow disappear if he just believed hard enough. What happened to his days of challenging himself? What about that one time he read Moby Dick and felt good for eight years? Patrick decided to take a leaf out of Rory’s books and read Rory’s books.
45.) A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
There’s no other book quite like A Confederacy of Dunces, at least that I know of. It’s an absurd and ridiculous recount of the monstrous anti-hero Ignatius J. Reilly, as he struggles to find a job and write a lengthy treatise against the horrors of the modern world.
Ignatius is awful – an anachronistic and gross abomination who treats everybody horribly, as well as remarkably self-obsessed and lazy – and yet somehow fascinating. Throughout the book, in between ridiculous slapstick recounts of protests, weird undercover police stings and lengthy correspondence with his nemesis and sometime-paramour Myrna Minkoff, there is remarkably sly and clever satire of a whole host of issues that were important in the sixties – civil rights, poverty, gay rights and more. It’s a hilarious book, and one that you want to take the time to enjoy, because there are so many jokes to unpack.
The story of how A Confederacy of Dunces got published is probably as famous as the book itself, at least to fellow writers. After having no luck trying to get his manuscript picked up, John Kennedy Toole tragically killed himself. His mother, however, decided that she would get book published in his memory, and was tireless in pushing it. She forced people to read it until they discovered what a work of genius it was, and finally it became a classic. The troubled relationship between Ignatius and his mother in the book only makes the story more poignant.
This book is brought into the Gilmore Girls world by persistent outsider and troubled youth, Jess Mariano, who is seen reading it at Luke’s Diner during the episode ‘The Haunted Leg’. Now, Jess is clearly a type of Ignatius J. Reilly in Stars Hollow, in the sense that he sees himself as being apart from the community, and also in terms of the juvenile chip-on-his-shoulder that forces him to act that way. He has a troubled relationship with his mother, and he also turns out to be an under-appreciated writer. He is of course a gorgeous literati bad-boy figure, rather than an obese slothful monarchist, so that’s about where the comparisons end.
Jess is widely beloved by Gilmore Girls fans, with many claiming that he is Rory’s true love, when in fact it’s clear that he’s simply an adequate juxtaposition from hot loaf of bread, Dean.
Jess truthers seem to ignore his anger issues, his jealousy (every Rory boyfriend has jealousy issues to be honest), and that time he tried to pressure Rory in sex. He seems to make good by season six, but I’d also bet my left foot that the novella he got published, The Subsect, is an angsty uber-literary and thinly veiled account of his relationship with Rory, in which she seems ethereal and unapproachable and he’s misunderstood.
I like Jess a lot when he is friends with Rory in later seasons, but frankly I think he’s a bad influence on pre-Yale Rory. My favourite game in the world is to pretend Dean is better than him and watch Jess truthers spin out. We all know that Logan was the best.
Curious to see the full reading list? You can view it here.
Patrick Lenton is a blogger at The Spontaneity Review and the author of A Man Made Entirely of Bats. He is the recipient of the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and shortlisted for the Scribe Nonfiction Prize. Find him on Twitter @PatrickLenton.