Where's the book?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bits and pieces

 My reading has been odd lately. I read half of a novel, which was strange for me. It's pretty rare that I don't finish a book I start. But in this case, I read about two hundred pages of Eleanor Cattan's Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries and I was only a quarter of the way through the 850-page novel. Every page (and they were crowded pages, with small type and minimal margins, design decisions I'm sure were made in order not to have to print a 1,000-page book) was like slogging through mud. I didn't care about the story (set in the 1860's New Zealand gold rush), or the characters, or her writing style. Finally, after realizing that after 200-something pages, I still wasn't sure what the book was about, I put it down. Sorry Ms. Catton. This is not a book for me.

But, since I did read at least 200 pages, I'm counting it as #33. Because it took so much time, and because I really did try again and again. And because I'm not going to count the two Italian easy reader murder mysteries that I read to keep my Italian going while class is not in session: Omicidio alla Moda (Murder in Style) and its sequel, Omicidio alla Passarella (Murder on the Runway). Despite being fairly simplistic (written for i stranieri--foreigners--at an advanced beginner or early intermediate level), they were both far more entertaining than those unilluminating Luminaries. 

#34 was a better choice, Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children. I had enjoyed her book, The Woman Upstairs, a while back. This one has a similar appeal. There's something deceptive about Messud's writing, I've decided on the basis of these two books. Her style is simple, direct and detailed. Her characters, although often unlikable, are relatable (maybe that says something about me). The story moves along and holds your interest and then, bam! something comes out of left field and knocks you over the head. I like that element of surprise, and I like both books. This one was particularly appealing to me, being set in New York. It's the story of three young people of a certain amount of privilege, intelligence, and ability. They are friends, and their lives intertwine. And then there's a fourth, who lacks the gifts the other three often take for granted. He also weaves into and out of their worlds. The ending left me screaming (internally) but I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.

For #35 I again revisited a writer I'd read recently. I had loved Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings a while back, and wanted to read more by her. And the concept of The Uncoupling interested me--a modern take on Aristophenes' classic play, Lysistrata, in which the women of Athens go on a sex strike until their men end the war against Sparta that has been going on for more than 20 years. But in Wolitzer's book, the strike isn't caused by a protest or an uprising. It's because of a magical spell. Magic is not one of my favorite themes--it always seems like a cheap way for an author to get characters to do something out of character, or to make an interesting story out of an uninteresting one. And this was no exception. The happily married people become less happy. The unhappy ones become even more unhappy. Stuff happens, none of it all that compelling. And then the spell ends. There are some wonderful observations and interesting moments, but overall The Uncoupling feels like Wolitzer learning her way around novel-writing. Stick with The Interestings if you want a walk down Wolitzer way. 

I also read Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville, but it was only one-half of a book of two long short stories (short novellas?) by Melville, so I'm not going to count it until I read the other half. And I will. Promise. 

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