I was supposed to love The Marriage Plot. It’s about a girl who just graduated college and who is trying to figure out what to do next. She’s an English major at Brown, taking a class on semiotics, which involves a lot of what I’m writing about in my Thesis Monster. There are also constant literary references to books and such that I understand because, well, I was an English major. She’s a lot like me when I was in college.
So why can’t I get through this book?
I really have no idea, but I’m almost two weeks in (and behind schedule for my 50), I’m only 40% through, and now I’ve lost interest. I even thought about scanning through the rest of the novel just to see what happens, but I don’t even care enough to do that. I guess my biggest problem with it is the part I should enjoy: all of the literary references. And they were great for a while, but at the point where I stopped, that’s all there is. Nothing’s happening but a list of authors and books and ideas. It’s like the Ready Player One of literary references, and I’m bored.
I’ve also been very busy. I got married on Tuesday, and Palmer and I are looking into buying a house soon. Books aren’t exactly at the top of my list right now. And the tight 50-book schedule is kind of wearing on me. I got through more than half of them last year before I had a job and before I got engaged, moved in with Palmer, and got married. Trying to read through books so quickly has made me choose books that are shorter than I want, and I have to read them so quickly that I don’t really enjoy them. Which makes me think it might be a good time to say, well, if I don’t read 50 books this year, that’s okay. I’d rather enjoy what I do read.
So I’ve put down The Marriage Plot, for now, anyway, and picking up Ethan Frome. I don’t think I’ve ever read any Wharton, and I’ve been meaning to for a long time. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s okay not to read it really quickly and that I don’t need to catch up to my schedule. We’ll see what happens.
I really thought I’d like The Night Circus, and I did, to a certain extent. I just couldn’t get through it. First of all, I’m bad at pop fiction. That’s usually because of those authors’ horrible style. Erin Morgenstern‘s style isn’t nearly as bad as Charlaine Harris‘s, for example. (Note: I use Charlaine Harris as an example of the worst kind of writing.) I think that the main reason that I couldn’t finish it is that it’s written in present tense, which, for whatever reason, I find incredibly distracting. I wanted The Night Circus to be something like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, which I loved, but it’s not. It is about two dueling magicians in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it’s also a love story. And the present tense. At the beginnings of sections of chapters, she even uses second-person POV, which is interesting. Those parts work because they’re short: it’s like you’re experiencing the circus for yourself, and it’s a magnificent one. I just couldn’t get beyond the present tense. And the story seems to go on forever. It’s slow in some of the same ways that Jonathan Strange can seem, but Jonathan Strange kept my attention – and it’s twice as long as The Night Circus.
Part of it, too, was that I knew I didn’t really have time to finish it. I got to the halfway point very slowly because of various things going on right now (moving!), and I absolutely have to be book-free tomorrow morning because my very favorite author, Haruki Murakami, has a new book coming out tomorrow, 1Q84, which I must begin reading as soon as it pops onto my Kindle. Or my head will explode, or something.
So: it’s not that The Night Circus is a bad novel – in fact, I think it’s a pretty good one – it’s that the style doesn’t fit my personal preference, and I started reading it without figuring out how long it is first. I’d still recommend it if you really liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
Usually, when I can’t get into a book, I stop around page 50 and move on. I read an article a few years ago that said if you’re not interested at that point, you probably won’t ever be, so you might as well read on. That’s not always the case, of course. The Satanic Verses starts slowly, and so does The Grapes of Wrath, but I liked both of them in the end.
I made it far past the 50-page mark with Herzog, and I never got into it. I just do not care what happens to Herzog. He’s about forty, divorced twice, a failed professor, etc (kind of like the protagonoist, whose name I don’t remember, of Disgrace). He writes letters to people, and as he writes them, he reminisces about the circumstances surrounding their subjects. And he just goes on and on and on. I made it almost halfway through, and it seems that if something was going to happen, it would have happened by this point.
Herzog isn’t my first experience with Saul Bellow. A couple years ago, I read Seize the Day, which I really liked, though I only vaguely remember what it’s about. A few years before that, there was Henderson the Rain King, which I remember liking, though all I know is that it involved a guy going to somewhere in Africa and meeting some natives. I didn’t make it through that one, either, but I’m not sure why. I’m not even sure if I would make it through Seize the Day if it had been any longer. Maybe I’m just not the Bellow type.
I jumped into This Side of Paradise right out of The Hunger Games, and I liked it at first. Then it got tedious. It reminds me of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but without a cohesive plot. It’s a series of little vignettes about a kid who grows up and goes to college with the precursors of characters in The Great Gatsby. And it’s really, really boring. It’s Fitzgerald, though, so the writing is stellar, but 60 pages in, there still wasn’t enough of a plot to keep me interested. So I’m moving on. I’m not sure if my problem right now is that I just didn’t like the book or that I’m a bit burnt out on reading, but we’ll soon see. Next up is Mr. Spaceman, which comes highly recommended by a librarian friend of mine.