Monday, January 11, 2010

Books Gone Bad

You know when you start a book and it's terrific and you're so excited because it's long and you think you're in good hands and you just keep reading and reading but then something terrible happens in the middle? Something like an experienced author must have resisted any and all attempts at editing and decided instead and three home produced plays are of course reasonable to describe and it's fine to go on and on about god knows what for who knows how long and throw in a million characters. So what that the reader doesn't really know enough about any of them (well, one of them who is the saddest of all) but that's OK since they mostly turn out to be placeholders anyway. In other words, you're reading along and all of the sudden, four hundred pages in you realize you just don't care about any of it and you're so mad all the time but you're two thirds of the way through so you finish the damn book anyway when, really, you shouldn't have. This is what happened to me with The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. I started it and it was like I had a mad crush on it and then, all of the sudden, it was just all wrong and I kept reading anyway and fuming about how upset I was about reading it. Bad idea. So it goes.


Sue Dickman said...

This is good to know, as The Children's Book is waiting for me at the library. I feel like reading Byatt can be a bit of a crapshoot. I'm one who adored Possession with a raging passion and love it still, 18 years and several re-reads later. And I like some of her other stuff quite a bit (I'm thinking particularly of the lovely novella The Djinn in the Nightengale's Eye. But I slogged my way through Babel Tower and was so underwhelmed by it that I can't bring myself to read any of the other books that go before and after it. The reviews I've read of The Children's Book are so mixed that I wasn't sure what to think.

If you want a post-Byatt palate cleanser, I thought Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You was great--very funny and a quick read. And if you at all like mysteries, there's a new-ish one by a 70-year-old first time novelist that's just terrific. It's called The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, and it's narrated by an 11-year-old chemistry genius living in an old manor house in Britain in 1950 who finds a dying man in the cucumber patch and decides to figure out what happened. (The book's site is here.) It sounds like it could be too much, but it's not. I just listened to it as an audio book and loved it.

Anyway, happy reading whatever's next, and if I get bogged down in the Byatt, I may think of you and give it up.

Robin Aronson said...

Thank you, Sue! Do you know I think a friend told me about the 70-year-old first time novelist because he met him? I'm going to check it out along with Tropper. I have Richard Price's Lush Life on my bookstand and am in general So Glad to be done with the Byatt! I only saw one review of it which said it was the best book of the year. But, you know, it's a subjective business. Still, I think it'll be years before I can work my way up to Wolf Hall. There was one more thing I wanted to write here, but I can't remember. It is nice to see you again -- happy new year!