Wednesday, March 4, 2015

That challenge is not going as I expected.

I'm digging this vintage 1970's cover.
When I started the 2015 Book Challenge, I was full of good intentions to read new books, ones I might never have discovered otherwise, and to share them with you. Well, things have not gone entirely as planned.

Turns out, there's a reason why I re-read books I've loved and why I go on author binges: there are few things worse than trying to get through reading a book that you are not enjoying.

I ended up abandoning two books in a row.

Scandalmonger by an author who shares my initials.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, originally written in French.
And then, even though the next book I tried was also less than stellar, I struggled through it. It was a horrible, horrible blood-and-gore thriller riddled with grammatical errors and typos ("wretched" instead of "retched," for example), but I finished the damned thing.
Trust me: you won't be reading this one for the elegant prose.
I recommend keeping a vomit bag handy.
I also forced myself to finish reading At Any Price, a bit of mildly erotic romance fiction. Like Fifty Shades of Grey, without the kink. It's been a very, very long time since I read anything of that genre. But it was a light read, so it went quickly. This "teaser" tells you everything you need to know.

Oh, those adjectives!
Having said that, there have been some great books that I am happy to have added to my library.

Crossing to Safety, by Wiallace Stegner, is a Pulitzer winner that I may end up using as "a book by an author who shares my initials" -- there seem to be more Pulitzer winners than there are authors with the initials WS. The book moves at a slow pace, much like an Anne Tyler novel, and is beautifully written. It chronicles the deep and instant friendship between two couples that lasts decades.

I loved how it showed the real complexity of friendship: the wholehearted love, the silent judging, the tensions, the ying-yang of balance.

Published in the year of my birth, 1962, Slaughterhouse Five is a brilliant treatment of PTSD, though it did not name it such. The main character suffers moments of being "unhinged from time" -- flashbacks, essentially. There are also moments of psychosis (presumably), but it is all written in such a matter-of-fact style that there is nothing maudlin or coarse about it.

The book did have one narrative device that was jarring at first: every single time death is mentioned (use of the words dead, dying, died, death), it is followed by the expression "So it goes." This applies whether it is a dog, an idea, a battery, or a person. It first occurs on page three of the novel and serves to effectively underscore the pervasiveness of death. When the death in question is particularly horrific, the phrase jars the senses; at other times, the phrase is simply a punctuation.

Winter Street proved to be a nice, light read about one family's relationships on Christmas Eve. The most lasting impression it has left with me is that I would very much like to go to Nantucket.

E.M. Forster could write a menu and make it worth reading. His prose in Where Angels Fear to Tread is beautiful, his characters rich in depth and detail. He does unrequited love like no one else. This book was a re-read for me, and I was happy to do so.

Finally, I am currently reading Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes, a Canadian classic that takes place in Quebec, the province where I was born. The book explores the disparate natures of English-speaking Canadians and French-Canadians, going so far as to note that in French, they are known as les anglais and simply canadiens, which says much: Canada was French first, and then the English came. The neighbourhood's gone downhill from there.

What about you? What are you reading lately?

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