Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Crankiest Bookworm

I had the worst reading week I've had in a long time.

 After the brilliance of the Shirley Jackson biography by Ruth Franklin, which is chock-full of great writing, fresh insights, thoughtful scholarship and damn fine detective work, I made a hard left turn into several books I didn't care for and struggled to finish or abandoned. And now? I can't read. If the parts of me that read had a gag reflex, it would be working overtime.

Here's how this wretched week went down...or didn't go down. Be glad you're not me.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life  by Ruth Franklin. Oh my God. Read it, read it, read it, read it.  I couldn't put it down. Tension like the best of novels. Sleep took second place. Finished at 2 a.m, and I mean finished. I read the notes and index, too. Yes, it's that good.

Literary Life: A Second Memoir by Larry McMurtry.  Ramble, ramble, ramble. Digressions not very interesting. Maddeningly unconnected. The only parts I liked were when McMurtry would mention that he wrote a review of an author's book and it was positive, but they were still pissed at him for the review.  I also liked the bits about Susan Sontag. After the first memoir, Books, which I LOVED, this was a disappointment. I want to weep and make excuses for McMurtry, but he's one of my literary gods and I never want to feel that way about him.

Hollywood: A Third Memoir by Larry McMurtry.  For such a potentially vibrant topic, there is a miasma of disinterest and low energy that was exhausting to cut through. So glad the book was short. I'm going to forget the second and third memoirs and go back to Books.

Closing Time: The True Story of the "Goodbar" Murders by Lacey Fosburgh.  There are quotes in the title around Goodbar, but they should be around True.  This true crime book is highly regarded, but I don't know why. The names have been changed and there is invented dialogue. One could say the same about In Cold Blood, but Truman Capote's seams don't show.  If I wanted to read fiction, I would have gone with Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner, which was published at about the same time.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte.  Uncle! Uncle! I give up. DNF at 39%. I've been at this book, both the audio and print version since April, and I can't go another step with Lucy Snowe. I hate how she raises passivity to an art form, and I hate how the characters lapse into French for pages on end. Yes, I could pick out a word here and there, and yes, I know they are in a French-speaking country, but couldn't Charlotte Bronte just let the reader somehow understand that the conversations were in French? Even Hemingway knew how to give a reader a break. The tipping point was when Lucy/Bronte held something back from the reader and finally admitted that she'd known it all along.  Okay, it was Dr. John's true identity. At this point, I don't care if I spoil anything for future readers.  I'm claustrophobic from being in Lucy's head. I can't breathe, and reading it is like hacking through a thicket of brambles with only an emery board or perhaps my debit card. Although I've still got two Charlotte (this one and The Professor) books  and one Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) book to go to complete my Bronte Sisters project, only Anne gets my attention from here on out. I will never return to Villette. I'm even going to stop calling it Vee-ette and go back to calling it Vill-ette.

I'm 189 pages into a biography of Robert "Believe it or Not!" Ripley, but I just don't care anymore. Read one page and sighed and put the bookmark back in.

 [ETA: The proper title of this book is: A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley by Neal Thompson. I mean no disrespect to the book or its author, and plan to finish it sometime this month.]

Started reading Where Eagles Dare by Alstair MacLean.  For a WWII novel full of espionage and adventure, it sure is zzzz. The movie is much better. MacLean wrote that first (as a vehicle for Richard Burton) then wrote the novel. It feels like he ground it out with all the grimness of a man working a shift at a factory.  DNF. I left it at the 20% mark. Life is short.

One chapter of Germinal by Emile Zola, right before I slept. I've been rereading this book since last month. This translation is so much better, but I can't get into the story again. My theory is that The Beast Within was so devastating that I am ruined forever for anything else in the Rougon-Macquart series.

Didn't read. Did not read. All day. I feel monstrous. I feel like that Korean patriot who said that if he didn't read everyday, thorns grew in his mouth.

I'm just going to pretend this week never happened and start the Shirley Jackson biography all over again.


Jeane said...

I am in kind of a book rut, too- third lame book in a row. I sometimes just pick up an old favorite and do a re-read when I'm stuck.

Sue F. said...

Oh, I hate when that happens! I've been on a Good Books reading-in-a row state lately! Lucky me!

Unruly Reader said...

Oh, man... this is rough. Been there, survived (just barely) that. I wonder if the good McMurtry memoir would help?

In happier thoughts, I'm smiling at the thought of you reading the index to the Shirley Jackson book. That is Excellent.

Care said...

I'm so sad for you. But I had to laugh some, too. I love your cranky reviews.

bibliophiliac said...

I really want to read the Shirley Jackson biography. Maybe you should just read some of Jackson's short stories and novels. It might be interesting to read her works after delving into her life....