OK, so I read Wolf Hall, and then I read The Marriage Plot, and then I read My Dyslexia. So maybe my reader's block is over.
Here is what you should know, or maybe, here is what I am going to tell you (a very different thing), in no particular order:
1) Wolf Hall is kind of awesome, but suffers from the whole problem of history, which is that it resists the tidy narrative arc that comforts a person.
2) While it is true that it struggled with its narrative arc, it is also intensely moving at times, regularly breaking apart the frozen sea within me, which I appreciated.
3) I love me a narrative arc.
4) So. Speaking of narrative arc. The Marriage Plot. If I were a better person, I would be able to cast anything I had ever heard about Jeffrey Eugenides and his opinions on anything. But I am not a better person.
5) I have a tendency to fight with every book I read, as though we are having a back and forth, and it can hear me. But the thing is, it can't hear me, and I am probably wasting precious mental energy, not to mention disturbing myself for no reason. The Marriage Plot did this to me. I am conflicted about it still. He is of course, a good writer, but I am starting to think that this may be an impediment. Also? I think if you're going to call something The Marriage Plot, you shouldn't be a chicken about following through on your marriage plot.
6) I am also starting to think that le mot juste and an appreciation for (please forgive me for the phrase I am about to allow here) lapidary prose may be leading to a showing off trend among contemporary writers that is bumming me out. How well something is written is never the point, I think. It ends up feeling like everything is exquisitely prepared, but something raw and essential at the heart is missing.
7) My Dyslexia. Hmm. I took a class with Phillip Schultz, and I am interested in reading difficulties and learning troubles, so I picked this up on a whim. He found out he was dyslexic at age 58, when he found out his son was dyslexic. It is short, sweet. It is very Jewish, if we can allow that as an adjective. I think a parent of a kid who is dyslexic might want to read it. Heartfelt but confusing somehow. And yet…I was moved.
8) I am being moved all over the place here, no? I wonder where that expression came from, moved. It is such a strange and human thing, feeling this emotional pain as pain, which, you know, hurts, but at the same time seeking it out, because it moves you somewhere else.
9) What are you reading now? Is it reaching you?
7 thoughts on “The Truth About Me and Books”
I wasn’t interested before, but after reading your review and the weird article about Mantel in The New Yorker, I might have to read Wolf Hall. The Marriage Plot was so disappointing to me that I can hardly discuss it. I think what you said is absolutely what happened there —
I gave up Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Hill recently — another disappointment. I’m immersed right now in Kevin Powers’ memoir whose title I can’t remember this instant.
I also gave up on Telegraph Hill and was so disappointed as I usually love Chabon’s books. I think your point #6 applies to that book as well, unfortunately.
I’ve been feeling oddly unmoved (for me) with books lately. My last two reads, the Orchardist by Amanda Coplin and the Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, both had places where I felt like I should be bawling but I just didn’t really care very much. I thought both books were very good, but they didn’t quite ring my emotional bell, I guess.
I couldn’t get more than a few pages into the Marriage Plot. Partially it’s because I work at Brown, partly it seemed (at least the few pages I read) too “Bright Lights, Big City.” Just couldn’t do it.
I was similarly annoyed with “The Dive from Clausen’s Pier” when I lived in Madison. Somehow it felt like I was being hit over the head with local flavor. Why is that authors have to attack you with “SEE? WE’RE IN MADISON! CAN’T YOU JUST FEEL THE MADISON?” Or Providence, etc. Ugh.
I am reading an ARC: “Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life” by Daniel Klein. It is somehow engaging as I read about his struggle how to define and create his best “old age” as I watch my mother’s decline. Somehow a bit hopeful for those of us in middle age, looking ahead to our futures.
The terrible downside of this local color problem is that you feel unpleasantly triumphant when they take the train from Providence and end up at Grand Central Terminal (not possible!) and then take the subway to Penn Station for some reason.
I felt this way about “Freedom” – I grew up in St. Paul and while Franzen had the details of streets and such correct, there was something so very clearly un-Minnesotan in the attitudes of the characters/neighborhood people that it spoiled the entire novel for me.
‘The Marriage Plot’ was a big disappointment and I felt like Franzen did that style of book so much better in ‘Freedom’. But then again I don’t know St Paul or Providence….I just read a book set in my neck of the woods (Melbourne, Australia), but the author is local and she nailed it.
I loved ‘Wolf Hall’ and loved ‘Bring up the Bodies’ too, but the most recent book that has really moved me, even though it also frustrated me and is in many ways flawed was Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Why be happy when you could be normal’.