Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Literary frustration and stupid groundhogs

I've read two books in the last week. Pleasure reading, even. Granted, they were quite short, but they were books, and I read two of them.

I bought both of them years ago at a local bookstore in my hometown called the BookStop which was run by mothers of girls I went to school with. It was charming and friendly and sometimes Gator and I would just go in and read the backs of books we wouldn't ordinarily read then buy a bunch of them. Many I've not yet read. But I brought a few up here with me and I finally pulled a couple off the shelf. Both enthralled me but both, ultimately, left me completely unsatisfied. I suspect "literary types" would say that this is because I'm unsophisticated and want everything laid out for me. Well, not exactly, thankyouverymuch, but it's true that I don't read Finnegan's Wake for a reason. I want to read a story. Stories, according to Mrs. Espey, require a beginning, a middle, and an end (climax, deneoument, etc. etc. yes, I know, it's still a beginning, a middle, and and end). If you refuse to end your story, don't get pissed at me because I find this annoying. You're not cool and edgy, you're falling asleep on the job.

The first book I read this week was Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore. Funny, in just looking up the Amazon entry to make that link, I noticed that the reviews were either five or one stars. Strong feelings. I agree. It is both good and awful. A book that I refer to as "all middle". The beginning is awkward, as if you're already supposed to know something you don't. The main story is a flashback. The middle (of the "middle") eventually draws you in and you start to really care what's happening to these girls, teenagers in a small town with lives that are unappealing and so they try to create something more fun, something finer, that they share only with each other. This part was well written and enthralling. But reality eventually intervenes and life marches on leaving their constructed "lives" behind. The present is briefly described and a future hinted at. And then it ends. Infuriatingly.

The thing that is most troubling is that this is the story of a woman, unsatisfied with her life, who reminisces about her teenage life with her best friend and laments the loss of the girl she was then. Or, more precisely, the loss of the girl she wasn't then, as she mostly wanted to be her best friend back then. She finds that she's become jaded, cynical, not-so-nice. But I don't know why. Am I supposed to say, "Oh, well, yeah. We all get jaded and cynical. That's just life and growing up"? Well, it's not. I'm unsatisfied. Harumph.

The second book I read in one evening. It was Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. I'd never read any of her stuff before, but I knew she was a pretty popular author and fairly well received critically. It seemed interesting when I bought it, so I went ahead and jumped in. AND WAS IMMEDIATELY, IRREVERSIBLY SUCKED IN. Wow. Cool book. Slice of life of a sexual psychopath told from his effed-up point of view. But. So "slice of life" that again with the no ending. Man. I understand what she was trying to do, what she was going for (more so than Ms. Moore, anyway), but I read the last page and actually threw the book across the room. Sucker-punched. Killer.

I know there are different kinds of reading. What I want right now is pure escapist reading -- the pure bliss of reading something that WILL NOT have the words immunofluorescence or mitochondria in it ANYWHERE. But I can't stand formulaic stories or your typical romance novel or fantasy one-off. So I look for something quirky because, let's face it, I'm quirky. But quirkiness often comes with the "meaningful stylistic contructions" that just piss me off. So, once again, I may be too weird for the world. I'm pretty used to it, really I am.

But thanks for letting me vent about it, anyway. :)

Now, in hot "Hows about some nice groundhog stew?" news: It's April 11, and we're going to get six inches of snow today, with three more likely tonight. Oh, and 40 mph winds. This is why we need so much beer up in here. Seriously.

Maybe all this is just how I make the lab look like a pretty warm, fuzzy place.



Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm with ya on that. I like my reading to be fun and entertaining and not have words like "bonds with detachable warrents" in them. And, anyone that can use a word like "deneoument" in a sentence sounds pretty darn literary to me! Thanks for the reviews.

Anonymous said...

Have you read "Moo"? Or "The Fool on the Hill"? Or "Devil in the White City"? Or anything by Kathy Reichs? (Though that may be too close to science for you to qualify as escapism.) These are my all time favorites. They rock and *also* have endings.

Melissa said...

Okay, the thing about the character wanting "to be just like" her best friend hit a little close to home here....:) When you mentioned not reading anything containing the word "mitochondria", it reminded me of the first time I heard the was in the wonderful book from childhood by Madeline L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. (or maybe it was one of the others in the trilogy...)
So, it's not actually going to snow here, but the weather totally sucks, and one day last week, I did....with my own two eyes....actually see a groundhog in our back yard. Who the f**k knows???????????

YarnThrower said...

WOW - You read two books which weren't text books... I'm trying to think of the last time I did that. Always nice when a book doesn't have the word "mitochondria" in it, though now I'd be happy with one which didn't mention electrons...

I totally hear you about the need for beer in Wisconsin. I dropped off my kids at the gym's kids place when I went to workout this morning, and told the lady there that I had two choices when I learned that our schools had been closed for the day -- either grab the wine, or go to the gym. She noticed that I was at the gym, and it was early, so I'd probably have time today to do both. Hadn't thought of that..... I always love Mary Higgens-Clark books, though they are quite formulaic -- but when I read for fun, I'm happy with not having to think too much about it. I guess that makes me "unquirky"... :-)

Dorothy said...

Absolutely mind numbing reading that requires little or no thought at all?

The Plant People - Dale Bick Carson. Crazy Aunt Purl reminded me of it when she was looking for two books from her youth. It turns out one of them was that one and I remember reading it and getting all creeped out in my preteen years. Might be just the bit of mindless teen sci-fi you need.

Tricia said...

Well it sounds to me like these books were simply FRAUGHT with significance. ;) The way I figger it, once you're a grown up, you can read whatever you damn well please and you don't have to like something just because everyone else thinks it's a big deal. Confession: I read Hamlet. I understand it. I think it's a boring story about a spoiled, indecisive, morose prince. Nyah, nyah, nyah. Personally, I like a story that's inspiring in some way, with an idea I can take with me after the story is over. That said, have you read any Ursula LeGuin? I don't love her, but I bet you would. Just a thought.