Sunday, August 28, 2011

Surrender Monkey

I have been inspired by Nancy Pearl.  If you're surprised by that, it's only because it's taken me so long to be inspired by her.

Lately, Adam's been playing with my Nancy Pearl Action Figure.  I have the deluxe model that comes with a book cart, computer, and stacks of books.  He really likes stacking the books on and off the book cart.  Where do you suppose he gets that one? 

Anyway, this sent me to Nancy's website, where I read her Rule of Fifty.  This is very similar to my 10% rule, and it basically says not to spend too much time on a book you're not enjoying.  There's no prize or reading a book you don't enjoy.  How is it that I need outside people to tell me this?

So my recent library kick has now been neatly bookended (I'd say no pun intended, but would you believe me?) by a recent spate of my interest fizzling out.  I still find it incredibly liberating to let myself off the hook; what I can't figure out is why I require so much convincing, but somehow I do, every time.  I guess that's why these come in batches.

The Last Four ThingsAnyhow, a quick summary just to keep you updated.  I sent The Last Four Things, by Paul Hoffman, back to the library after the first page.  It was only a two week loan; I was on vacation during one of those weeks and didn't have any time to read it.  And, with the perspective provided by distance, I realized that I didn't really care for the first book in the series, The Left Hand of God.  The plot was fast-paced enough that I put the sequel on my list, but in retrospect, I had a lot of problems with it.  There were some flaws in the writing, and some of the characters seemed inconsistent.  The worst part was that I could list the number of female speaking parts on one hand, and they were universally one-dimensional, and almost-universally nasty and insipid.  There are so many good books to read, there's no reason to do this to myself.

So Much Pretty: A NovelSo Much Pretty, by Cara Hoffman, seemed promising at first.  It's a missing-girl-in-a-small-town book, but I couldn't tell if it was a character study or police procedural or thriller or even ghost story.  Turns out it was a literary novel.  Now, I've grown enough not to use that term pejoratively; that didn't make it bad.  But, as I mentioned in a previous post, it was all authorial voice.  The story switched from character to character between chapters, some in first person and some in third.  All the voices sounded the same.  In a book where one of your themes is about the sense of belonging in a small town, that's a huge handicap.

Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in ConfessionsWhich brings me to Which Brings Me To You.  This epistolary novel by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott has the clever structure of a series of letters written between a man and woman who met at a wedding and decided that they might have the potential to be more to each other than just another coat-closet hookup.  This was was a tougher call, because it wasn't awful.  The writing was good--clearly the two voices were different (different authors), though you'll never convince me that either character is anything but a writers, given the way elaborate descriptions are deftly woven through with conclusions about the nature of the universe.  Mostly, though, I just didn't like either of the characters; I thought they were both sad and kind of pathetic, but also proud of it.  I guess I'm saying that not only did I not like the characters, I think the authors DID like them, and I stopped reading the book.

The Emperor's Winding SheetThe Emperor's Winding Sheet was the biggest disappointment.  Jill Paton Walsh wrote Knowledge of Angels, a book I loved.  It was insightful and enjoyable, and it worked on the level of drama and also on the level of allegory.  This book--which won the Whitbread Prize in 1974, a prize I know nothing about--seems to be much more about the research that the author did than the story she wants to tell.  Constantine is the last emperor of Rome (though of course he doesn't know that yet, he may see it coming), and Vrethiki is the name given to an English boy whose ship was lost at sea, and who finds his way into the Emperor's garden.  Taken up as a talisman of good luck, Vrethiki is effectively enslaved and spends a lot of pages observing 15th century Constantinople.  The point at which I allowed myself to surrender (75 pages in, so well past Nancy Pearl's limit) was when I started counting how many pages of description they could have before someone said something, or did something besides interact with their environment.  It was three--three pages of banquets and jewel-encrusted things and complicated clothing.  Then there's a scene where the kid breaks a dish, and then a lot more pages of the walls around the city and what the streets look like.  Very travelogue, is what I'm saying, and not my cup of tea.

So, here I am.  Young Miles and Doc on Bessie, and I have things to say about them, and The Ninth Wife(which, by the way, refers to sequential, not concurrent, wives), which is not bad at all, from the library, plus The Help (post coming up about that) from Audible.  I'm really happy with this current crop, which makes me glad that I didn't spend any more time cultivating the stuff that didn't interest me.  Ever forward, as they say.

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