Somehow, miraculously, I’ve found my reading groove again. I was something like 11 books behind schedule in my Goodreads challenge (which I intentionally did not make very ambitious this year, as I knew this would be a riotously busy year for me); but, I’ve managed to bring that up to being just TWO books behind schedule (and I’m currently reading 3 – so there!)
Anyhow, here are some thoughts on a few of those recent reads:
American Studies by Mark Merlis
I really wanted to love this book. Or at least like it? The good news, I suppose, is that I didn’t hate it. At no point, however, did I feel much attachment to the story or its characters. It was a struggle to get through it. I’ve never been a “DNF” kind of person; even those books that I actually have not finished sit somewhere in a box with bookmarks still in them. Call it some kind of compulsion, I guess. The main character, Reeve, is a 60-something-year-old gay man who has been brutally assaulted by a young trick he picked up at a bar. The majority of the story unfolds in flashback while Reeve recovers in the hospital. There’s some interesting history of the Lavender Scare/McCarthyism and its purge of homosexuals and “communists” from educational, governmental, and entertainment industries, among others. Interesting thoughts on friendships, family, bigotry, and self-loathing. All said and done, though, I found the pace slow and the story bland; nevertheless, it is also subtly moving and all too human in its consideration of aging, loneliness, and desire. Despite the fact that I was not a fan of this novel, I appreciate Merlis’s perspective and his style. I’m really looking forward to reading another of his, An Arrow in Flight, which I think might be more to my tastes. Final Verdict: 3 out of 5.
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Wharton’s House of Mirth was the Classic Book-a-Month Club’s selection for March. Now, I run the CBAM and am in charge of choosing the books. I selected this one because, well, it’s a Wharton I’ve never read and that everyone seems to love. Unfortunately, I felt about this one the way I was feeling about Middlemarch. I just couldn’t connect to it, or care much about it. Now, I’m looking at the list of books I’m briefly “reviewing” here in this post and noticing something similar: I read them around the same time, spring, and didn’t really enjoy any of them, although many people seem to love them. So, if I’m being fair, I think I should consider that I just wasn’t in much of a reading mood for a few months earlier this year? I am normally a sucker for this kind of story. A “dark view of society, the somber economics of marriage, and the powerlessness of the unwedded woman in the 1870s”? Sign me up! (I know that sounds weird, but I love a good critique of class and high society). That being said, I just couldn’t come around to empathizing with Lily Bart. I felt that she had so many opportunities to improve her situation, but didn’t. I suppose part of the point of this story is that she does indeed make one bad choice right after another, and hence the tragedy of her life. Still, even a tragic hero is one we want to root for, isn’t it? Of course, some of the criticism rests at the feet of her snobbish and unforgiving community. Wharton does a wonderful job of leveling those criticisms, but I much prefered her Age of Innocence, or even Ethan Frome. Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 5.0.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
I begin to worry that I’m setting myself up for a barrage of hate mail (hate comments?) on this particular set of musings. Oh well. This is the second Gaiman novel I’ve read. The first was Stardust, which I read years ago. I didn’t really enjoy Stardust, and I didn’t really enjoy this one. Something strange happens when I read a Gaiman novel. I see its potential. I see the potential in his imagination, his world-building, his characters, all of it. I brace myself for a pretty groovy ride. And then everything fizzles out and I feel like I’ve been ripped off. The whole concept of American Gods, a battle between the worlds oldest deities, of all types, and the new “false” gods of technology, is so fascinating. Shadow was actually a fascinating protagonist, a non-hero who just sort of falls in with an old god, named Wednesday, who needs help. Shadow becomes a sort of participant-observer in some pretty intense, behind-the-scenes, nasty god business. There are moments, which I won’t give away, that are kind of stunning. But most of the book just seems to, I don’t know, “go on.” I feel it building toward something, and then the something happens, and it’s disappointing and kind of pointless. Funny enough, though, I still want to watch the television adaptation, because I think it might be cool. Final Verdict: 3 out of 5.