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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Paper Trail

My to-read list is expanding faster than your waist-line around the holiday season (oh, *snap*!). There are more books on the planet to read than I can keep up with, and every time I get into one book, I learn of another that I need to conquer as well. The fact that I have book ADD doesn't help either.

For those not in the know, book ADD is when you get 50 pages into one, only to be lured away by the charms of another. I have commitment issues when it comes to reading. My eye wanders easily. I am easily seduced by sexy cover art, imaginative graphics, titillating cover blurbs. Oh, blurbs how I love thee! Snappy paragraphs that distill a book down to its very essence. The only enjoyment I ever found in academic publishing in fact, was editing blurbs. My boyfriend at the time told me that blurbs sounded like a snack food. He'd always ask me if I prefer them with mustard.


Last night I finished Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a book that many "important" people creamed themselves over. It was good and all, but I don't see what the big fuss was about. Yes, it was clever. Yes, it was well written. Yes, it was a riff on several Nabakov novels, crossed with The Secret History. Yes, it leaves a little breadcrumb trail of clues about how the book will end. And then it ends. I don't know, I was a little disappointed. I won't say anymore, as to not give it away. But if any of you have read it, and care to discuss it with me, please email me and we can dish.

Next up, I am supposed to read Grapes of Wrath for book club, but methinks I am going to skip that one. I majored in English after all, and had to slog through quite a few dull literary tomes in my day, and I think I've had about as much of that as I can take. Call me lazy, fire away. Then go and read the collected works of Henry James and Edith Wharton for Senior Seminar and tell me how devoted to classic literature *you* are.

So far this year I have read:

The Emperors Children (Claire Messud)
Elements of Style (Wendy Wasserstein)
Zorro (Isabella Allende)
On Beauty (Zadie Smith)
Heat (Bill Buford)
Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marrisa Pessl)
The Washington Story (Adam Langer)
A teen novel by Meghan McCafferty, the name of which I can't remember
The Know it All (AJ Jacobs)

And one or two more I am blanking on.

Books I have tried to read recently but became distracted from include:

Veronica (Mary Gaitskill)
The Russian Debutante's Handbook (Gary Shteyngart)
The Rachel Papers (Martin Amis)

Veronica was simply too depressing. The RDH I grew impatient with. The Rachel Papers, I don't know. I guess something better came along.

My to-read list now includes:

Mergers and Acquisitions (Dana Vachon)
Foucault's Pendulum (Emberto Eco)
Summerland (Michael Chabon)
Absurdistan (Gary Shteyngart) (Absurd that it's even on my list as I didn't finish his other one)
Then We Came To An End (Joshua Ferris)
The Futurist (James P. Othmer)
The Line of Beauty (Allen Hollinghurst)
Winter's Tale (Mark Helprin)
Blue Angel (Francine Prose)
Selected essays from the million page Joan Didion reader I received for Christmas

I'm sure there are millions of others that I'm forgetting, and that too frustrates me. Knowing that there are great books out there that I haven't experienced makes me feel incredibly incomplete. And let's not even get into the non-fiction books I haven't read, although between you and me, non fiction doesn't excite me.

For me, enjoyment of a book boils down to one element: style. I eschew those written in wordy prose, dripping with adjectives and needless metaphors. I like my novels written in snappy, clever prose--bordering on spare, in face. I marvel at linguistic acrobatics, but not the variety that uses too many words to complete its feat. Likewise, over stylization bores me to tears. Plot is always secondary. Characterization, while appreciated, isn't foremost on my list of expectations.

Have you ever seen the movie Amadeus? In it, a figure in the court criticizes Mozart's music for "having too many notes," and alas, that is how I feel about many novels. Too many words.

So what's next? To what new tome shall I direct my loyalties now? Methinks a trip to Kramers is in order. Holler at me if you have any suggestions. Or holler at me for some other reason. I could use a good holler today.

Oh, and Lorelia just asked me how my own novel is going. On Saturday I divulged to her that I had a seedling for a story mind, and that I had even sat down to compose a few lines--a frustrating experience. It seems that whenever I blog, the words flow so freely, and yet when I sit down to pen actual fiction, my creativity freezes up. I suppose the fact that I have a general idea for what I want to write, yet no actual plot is a bit of a hindrance. So many decisions to make. I can't even decide on point of view, let alone what the damn thing will actually be about.


Blogger the fanny said...

Just found your blog and am really enjoying it!

Also, I thought I was the only one who had book ADD - I'm regularly reading at least four books at a time!

4:41 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Both of my attempts to read Eco ("Pendulum" and "Rose") ended after about 10 pages. I haven't the stamina.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Alberto said...

Eco is amazing. That being said, I hate the man -- he's the only person that makes me feel like an idiot for not being fluent in Hebrew, Classical Greek, or Latin. "Pendulum" is a really smart, interesting and satirical book; however, it's also a pain in the butt to get through. I'm looking forward to reading your review.

btw, I totally love the site. Keep up the great work.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous owen said...

i've tried reading catch 22 about a million times and never made it. for me, it's the unfinishable book.

in any event, "our band could be your life" by michael azzerad is the story of late 80s/early 90s post-punk as told through the stories of about a dozen bands (dc's own fugazi and minor threat, dinosaur jr., beat happening, the replacements, black flag, and a bunch more.) it's long and non-fiction but i'd highly recommend it.

also love the site.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I didn't find Grapes of Wrath boring at all, but I'm a dork. I'm in three book clubs. I average 2-3 books a week.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Oh, and I really liked Eco's Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana and The Island of the Day Before. Haven't tried Foucault's Pendulum. Yet.

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know that you and Gary Shteyngart have a little something in common, no? As you and I do. And Miss A. And the members of our book club. -T

8:04 PM  
Blogger lorelai236 said...

The best book I've read in months: "Tender at the Bone," the memoir (with recipes!) of NY Times food critic Ruth Reichl. 123 Valerie recommended it.

8:54 PM  
Blogger gn said...

I, too, suffer from book ADD. I blame the English-major torture.

11:09 PM  
Blogger jess said...

so good to know i'm not the only sufferer. there are six books piled on my side table, which is to say nothing of the Book Wall of Shame where I've stuffed even more purchased but not yet read books....

i so want to read emperor's children. and the ominvore's dilemma. but the guilt books are staring at me funny.

12:40 AM  
Blogger EJ Takes Life said...

Did you enjoy Emperor's Children? I'm about halfway through Calamity Physics right now and will soon need something new. I was also considering Absurdistan for the next one.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Professor said...

You certainly list a lot of books on your blog, but seeing "The Grapes of Wrath" categorized as a "dull literary tome" makes me sad. :(

3:00 AM  

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