Three Fan Favorites Are… Mediocre?

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

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13 thoughts on “Three Fan Favorites Are… Mediocre?

  1. Well, I’m having a bit of an ‘off’ day today as far as reading is concerned; I just can’t get into anything. But I don’t think I could cope with it lasting too long.

  2. Okay…rub some of that reading mojo off on me. 😉
    I liked American Gods. Not saying it was a favorite, but I liked it. The book is definitely not for everyone, that’s for sure. Same goes for the show…but I’m still watching.

  3. House of Mirth didn’t engage me much either though I wonder if it was just my mood at the time because when you read the plot it seems there is so much to like.

  4. One thing I love about book blogs is finding a review of a book I read and having a completely different experience. I just read and reviewed The House of Mirth and found so much to sympathize with Lily Bart. Wharton is a bit of a downer, though, isn’t she?!! This is definitely not a happy read. Glad you liked the Age of Innocence. That’s my next Wharton.

  5. I’m with you on American Gods. I feel like I should like Gaiman – I have so many good friends who love him and these are generally people who like the same things I do – but yeah, American Gods was exactly as you described. I saw the potential, there were some stunning bits, but overall I wanted the characters to just hurry up and get on with it.

  6. I have tried a couple of Gaiman books now (though not American Gods) and feel the same way as you. I can see all the potential and can understand why people love him, but I am just left feeling a bit… blah. There are these individual scenes when his writing is transcendent (there is a bit in The Ocean at the End of the Lane where he is describing a lonely kid’s unsuccessful attempt to have a birthday party, and I can still remember how it made me feel five years later), but those moments seem kind of bogged down by the rest of it.

  7. I loved The House of Mirth when I read it about 25 years ago. It’s one of those books I’d like to reread but hesitate to because I’m afraid to ruin the initial glow. Americans Gods was a DNF for me which was a surprise because so many friends loved it. It just seemed ho-hum.

  8. I’m so glad to find that I’m not the only person who is underwhelmed by Neil Gaiman. I’ve read three of his books and they were enjoyable enough, but nothing to get too excited about, and they definitely didn’t stick with me or leave a lasting impression. As I read them I can see that his writing is lovely (I’m thinking particularly of The Ocean at the End of the Lane) but the magic just doesn’t seem to work on me.

  9. I found American Gods a little over the top but I absolutely adored Anansi Boys (which I read first). It’s not nearly as dark and I loved the characters. There’s a wonderful audio narration by Lenny Henry. (And I actually like the movie version of Stardust better than the book. Running away now).
    I found Age of Innocence really slow but I LOVED The House of Mirth. Also Ethan Frome. They are both beautifully tragic.

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