I'm in a reading rut. Remember back when it was heart-breaking for me to even imagine not finishing a book? (Yes, Angle of Repose, I'm talking to you.) Well, now, good luck getting me to ever finish one!
In November I started reading A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. I love Lorrie Moore—I would read a collection of her shopping lists. However, I was reading this at a time when life was getting kind of out of control, and I knew I was going to have to miss the book group meeting at which it would be discussed, so I put it down at page 74. And then I never picked it up. I was liking (if not loving) it, but I can't seem to motivate myself to get back into it. I haven't put it back on the shelf, though, so maybe there's hope for this one.
The next book group assignment was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I'm not a fan of historical fiction in general, but I was game to try. It's the story of Oliver Cromwell, and I really enjoyed Mantel's depiction of him as a true renaissance man—shrewd and insightful and multi-faceted and warm-hearted. But, man oh man, I found it made for such tedious reading. For one thing, I found it very difficult to keep track of all the Henrys and Marys and Annes and Thomases—I had to keep flipping to the Cast of Characters at the beginning of the book (you know you're in trouble when a book begins with 5 pages listing the characters, and half of them share the same first name). For another thing, Mantel has this maddening gimmick where she always refers to Cromwell as "he" even if Cromwell wasn't the the first one mentioned in a sentence. Many, many times I had to go back and reread a sentence to figure out who was doing what. Some people said to assume that "he" always means Cromwell, but that doesn't work either. I just can't believe that this was deemed (by Mantel and by her editors) the best way to show that we are inside only Cromwell's head. I found that it really detracted from my potential enjoyment of the book. Anyhow, I stopped reading on page 207 and am unlikely to bother finishing it. I'm not one to shy away from "hard work" when I'm reading (I've read Moby Dick! and Infinite Jest! and even some poetry!), but the payoff in this one wasn't enough for me.
Next I picked up something that I thought would be a blast, John Irving's latest, Last Night in Twisted River. I love-love-love Irving, but I'm barely like-like-liking this one. It's supposed to be really funny, but I'm not finding it so. I'm used to his zany sense of humor and kooky characters, but this feels so forced to me. And boring. I couldn't care less about any of the characters or the plot. It's almost as if someone is trying to do an Irving knock-off and failing miserably. I'm on page 155, and that's going to be that.
Then I turned to something that I knew would be completely different: The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. OK, these pieces (some are a single paragraph, others a few pages) are indeed different—some of them are downright strange and unsettling. I've read only the first few and do intend to continue—there's something very compelling if unnerving about these "stories"—but I can already see that this is not something I'd want to read all in one sitting.
Next up for book group is Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, which I think ought to be interesting, although I don't usually do biographies.
So ... help! Please, someone, recommend a novel I will want to finish! Has anyone read Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris? That's next on my pile, but I will hold off if someone can suggest something guaranteed to please me.