Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spring Reading Thing 2011 - What Happened?

My success rate for Spring Reading thing was about fifty percent.  I'll recap my list and explain (make excuses for) why I didn't complete my challenge:

  1. Swamplandia by Karen Russell.  I had high hopes for this book because the book flap was enticing.  Although the book had a few great moments, it was a slow-paced read overall.  I suspect Russell was trying to dazzle us with her prose rather than move her story along.  It could have been a great story had the pacing been a little better.  Here's my extended review if you'd like the deets on this one.
  2. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  I had low expectations for Brown's novel about three sisters, a sick mother, and a Shakespeare-obsessed father because I thought it was going to be fluffy chick-lit (which I will read, but that's not what I was seeking here).  I ended up liking this story.  The characters were well-developed and showed growth.  It wasn't melodramatic (and the subject matter could have easily slipped into melodrama).  I found myself laughing during some scenes and my heart constricting in my chest in others.  Here's my extended review.
  3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  I wanted to know what all the hooplah is surrounding David Foster Wallace, whom I consider the Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain of the literary world.  His voice is as controversial as it is original: it is the sound of smug intellectualism strangely combined with earnest and humble self-awareness.  But this voice was interrupted - DFW was dead by age 46.  In spite of the respect I have for DFW, I failed at Infinite Jest.  It's a long book (about 1000 pages), and it's semi-autobiographical, which depressed me.  I had too many other books that were easier and happier to tackle at the time, so I put it away.  Some day I will give it the attention it deserves.  This foray into DFW was not a complete loss - right now I am reading his collection of essays entitled, Consider the Lobster.  I think I enjoy him much more as an essayist than as a novelist.  I consider this a partial success.
  4. A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan.  This book seemed compelling to me even before Jennifer Egan won her Pulitzer for it.  There was recently much ado about Egan pooh-poohing the works of other female writers (of non-literary genres).  Even though I think the whole controversy is stupid, the negativity generated makes me want to step back from the book temporarily (I don't entirely disagree with Egan - young female writers should aspire to heights of literary craft, but at the same time, I think the perception that a "female" flavor of writing is vapid, inferior, or "feminine tosh" is just silly snobbery.  I have since changed my opinions about the value of chick lit in the literary world.  Keep this in mind if you read my review of The Weird Sisters).  I will read Egan's prize-winner some day.  For now, it's simmering on a backburner with Infinite Jest.
  5. Light in August by William Faulkner.  I wanted to get a little bit of Southern-fried literature in, but I failed to even get my hands on Faulkner.  I've never read any Faulkner, but I've a suspicion that Light in August isn't the introduction to Faulkner I want.  Should it be Absalom! Absalom! or The Sound and the Fury?  Any Faulkner fans out there want to offer a suggestion?  While I failed at Faulkner, I succeeded in reading the Southern and fantastically surly Flannery O'Connor (her personality was charmingly ill-tempered).  Her novel Wise Blood was not a pleasurable read, but I gnawed at that story when I was finished like a coonhound with a hambone.  You can read about my thoughts on Wise Blood here- it's not really a review so much as my untangling some sort of meaning from it for myself.
So, I failed to read three of the five books on my Spring Reading Thing list, but I did manage to make some substitutions for the books I put aside.  I tell myself that what's important is that I'm reading and enjoying it. I'm reading and becoming a better writer for it. Whether it's cereal boxes, tabloid rags, Harlequin novels, bestsellers, or Pulitzer Prize winners, I read and glean something from it all.  These varied experiences are the best way for me recognize the sound of my own voice so that I may (someday) contribute my own verse.


  1. Not a thing wrong with setting books aside that just are not working for you at the time. You are totally right, you are still reading and enjoying it. Happy reading and writing over the summer!

  2. Rarely do I finish my lists, but participate in the challenge for the fun, and to discuss books with other book lovers.

    Congratulations on the books you did read, looks like a great list.

  3. Absolutely -- the fact that you were reading and enjoying it means you had a successful Spring Reading Thing! Life's too short to get bogged down in books you're not enjoying.

    Oh and when you said this: "...trying to dazzle us with her prose rather than move her story along..." Ugh! One of my biggest pet peeves in some books. I need a story to keep moving!

    Have a great summer!

  4. Hmm, The Weird Sisters sounds intriguing - I may have to check that one out.

    I like Thomas Wolfe better than William Faulkner, personally. My husband borrowed Infinite Jest from a friend but I don't think he has made it very far through it; I can't imagine reading it myself!