My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was nice, quick read on a three hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Dallas on Monday, even with a fever starting to bake my brain. A List, with life fillers, candid and sometimes vulnerable. Ms. Nelson read many things I wouldn’t, gave me a few suggestions for things I want to check out, didn’t read some things, didn’t finish some (more on that…) Some of her quest was a touch of regret, touch of nostalgia, touch even of guilt, as well as desire to read some things that had been avoided, ignored, and set aside.
With respect to nostalgia, she says
It’s always dangerous to reread the pivotal books of your youth. Like discovering poetry or journals you wrote as a teenager, revisiting your adolescent feelings about books can be at best embarrassing and often excruciating.
I might be the oddball, but I only have a few “pivotal” books, and only one author is embarrassing. Okay, I’ll admit it here…Ayn Rand…but like most intelligent adults, I outgrew her (sorry, certain political party.) I rather still like Herbert, Tolkien, Chalker, Asimov. Even Jay Williams doesn’t embarrass me. I’ll sometimes run across and download books from Open Library for the Nostalgic Re-Read. None embarrass me.
On not finishing books, and James McBride’s Miracle at St. Anna
It’s an amalgam of history, myth, and politics—and it just doesn’t work. I kept trying, because I liked McBride so much. I didn’t know him personally, but his memoir was so powerful and rich that I, along with 1.3 million other readers, felt as if I did. Saturday: an hour in bed telling myself that lots of great books start off slow (The Corrections, anyone?) and that I owed it to him to keep trying. So after a perfect winter lunch of soup and bread, I tried again. By page 60, I still hadn’t latched on to any of the characters. By page 70, my mind wandered to the words of that song in A Chorus Line: “I feel nothing.”
So I did something I have only in my maturity learned how to do: I stopped reading. Right there, on page 71, right after the hero, a brain-damaged soldier, encounters the little boy who will change his life. I might pick it up again, I told myself. And I might. But I doubt it.
Some seven years ago, I was bemoaning to a friend both my inability to slog through yet another atrocious Heinlein novel and my doggedly trying to finish a leadership book by Kouzes and Posner. His wisdom is still a challenge for me: “If I’ve gotten enough out of a book, I’ll stop reading.” I struggle with that, even if the book has little value to offer. Or, in the case of Heinlein, “Why keep reading crap?” “Because I’m stubborn.” “But it’s crap.”
He was right. But I still have a hard time not finishing a book. Sometimes, I have a hard time starting a book. Ms. Nelson relates
I’m like an animal off its feed. I can’t get into a novel to save my life. Biographies bore me. I’ve left so many open books, belly down, on the green bedroom rug that the whole place is starting to look like an aerial view of a town full of Swiss chalets. I’m out of sorts. I’m off my game. I’m irregular.
Boy, do I know that feeling! I call it “reader’s block”. Turns out, a week later (this was more or less a weekly diary), she used the same term.
She’s honest when a popular book doesn’t cut it.
Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, a 1996 novel that may have been inspired by the same historical crime. When I read that much-praised book, I felt as though I were reading about issues and symbols rather than people. I was not a fan.
“Issues and symbols rather than people”…yeah…sometimes.
I really liked her part on the great opening lines of novels that grab you…one she noted grabbed me (and I’m going to find the book): The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall. The opening lines? “If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close.” How could that not grab your attention?