I pride myself on always finishing a book, no matter how arduous it is. There have been plenty of bad juju page-turners I’ve eagerly slogged through over the years…cough cough – The Da Vinci Code –cough cough – The Ruins. Hell, I even got through the vile piece of trash that was Clive Barker’s Mister B Gone. I don’t know if it’s the writer or the masochist in me – but I always finish a book.
Well…almost always. Some books I just can’t seem to pick up after putting them down – those anti page-turners. Some of these may actually be good books but just not my cup of tea, and I struggle to return to them when a Raymond Carver collection is sitting on my shelf or the latest issue of The New Yorker has just arrived.
Right now I’m suffering through a double whammy with two novels that couldn’t be farther apart in theme and style -Steve Earle’s new psychedelic Baby Boomer ode to the 1960’s, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive; and the uber-classic big thick novel that is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Despite my most valiant efforts, I can’t seem to finish either one of them, and I fear they may join my short list of dun dun dun…. Continue reading →
Kurt Vonnegut once said of novels that “reading one is like being married forever to somebody nobody else knows or cares about.”
I couldn’t agree more while I find myself in a laborious relationship with The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl. The novel is a fictionalized account of a Baltimore lawyer’s quest to solve the mystery behind the death of Edgar Allan Poe. This is one of those books with an interesting concept ruined by the author’s insistence on telling the story in the static, unimaginative style of prose from the stuffy time period in which the novel takes place. It’s makes for a dry, boring read. Much like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, I fear I may never finish it. I’m currently stuck at about the 100 page mark. I should’ve known better when I saw Carr’s glowingly positive blurb splattered on the cover of Matthew Pearl’s magnum opus. Though I find the topic of Poe’s death fascinating, reading Pearl’s novel makes me feel…well, dead.
And that brings us to James Joyce and “The Dead.” Thankfully for every bad novel I torture myself with, there are dozens of short stories I can read in between chapters that are as Vonnegut once described, “Buddhist catnaps.” Short stories provide perfect little meditative escapes from everyday life and respite from bad novels. Occasionally, I come across one that reaches the level of art. James Joyce’s “The Dead” is one such story. It’s possibly the greatest short story I have ever read. Continue reading →