I feel like I'm coming up against a big wall in my reading/viewing/understanding of stories. Here are the facts—draw your own conclusions (as I will attempt to draw mine):

1) I'm reading The Luminaries in the most lackadaisical fashion imaginable. It's just…tedious. I pick it up, and then I put it down. Again and again.

But then, I worry that I'm bringing expectations to it, an awareness that despite its faux-nineteenth-century locutions, it's written by a very young woman, now. And I think: if it were written in the 19th century, would I be more forgiving? Les Miserables was pretty tedious at points, why am I more forgiving towards it? And then I don't know what to think.

2) I watched The Way, Way Back last night and I was so full of hope! A coming-of-age story! I would be charmed! I would wince in recognition! I would shake my head in rueful amusement! 

But none of that happened. Instead I winced at the dialogue. At the complacent self-justification of the filmmaker/14-year-old's alter ego. At the depthless performances (except for Toni Collette and Steve Carrell, who were, it must be acknowledge, excellent). It was…not good.

And through all of this I wonder: am I resistant to stories right now? Or am I just reading the wrong stories? Why am I so hard on contemporary artists—heaven knows it's tougher than it looks to create something good, let alone really good.

What does it all mean? And will all these doubts go away once I read something really good? 

And why oh why do things that I think are no good get lauded like crazy by contemporary critics, so I end up buying them and getting my heart broken?

5 thoughts on “Frustration

  1. I went through this agonizing period not too long ago when I picked up and put down both The Goldfinch and The Luminaries. I definitely thought it was “me,” that as I move into my fifties, I’ve lost my pretty substantial ability to read a HUUUUUGE tome and love it, despite being tedious (think Trollope! Tolstoy!). Then I picked up Life After Life and was lost, again, in something ineffable. I guess it’s all subjective, but I do think there’s an empty and soul-less quality to what is hailed as great fiction today.


  2. So, yes. You are resistant and for whatever reason, these are the wrong stories for right now. Hard place to be. You have the option of 1) quit – give yourself a break. Comfort stories. Reread or rewatch. Luxuriate in the known or 2) soldier through – keep reading, keep watching and find pleasure in finishing. I just pushed myself through “Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell” – no idea why it was so hard but glad I did it. Conversely, I quit “The Little Friend” and I am similarly glad i did that.


  3. Sometimes there are weeks and months when nothing grabs me. Then I find something that engages me totally (occasionally a reread of stellar mystery from years back) and I realize it’s not me, it’s them. There are a lot of average books out there, and we don’t have to like them.


  4. I find that as i get older it gets harder and harder for me to get engaged by fiction. I thnk part of it is that I’ve read more and am more jaded, and part is the Internet, and part is that the responsibilities and worries of middle age are distracting, and part is that, yep, there are a lot of mediocre books –and movies– out there.


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