Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Three False Starts

Have I become less tolerant of books that don't strike my fancy or have I really just stumbled over a trio of non-starters? Whichever, three books I started and stopped. It's Wednesday and hopefully by Saturday there will be a stack of winners waiting for me at the library.

I'll forego giving any of these an actual rating. I'm tired of single stars.

Many Mansions
(part of the New York Mosaic)
by Isabel Bolton
1953 National Book Award Finalist

In all three of these novels voices move the stories - each carefully constructed narrative is built by layering of conversation, perception, and inner monologue onto lyrical descriptions of a vibrating New York City.

Even though I was offered a book of three, I only attempted the novel that actually got the attention of the National Book Award committee. That being Many Mansions. At just over 100 pages, I figured that no matter what, I'd get through it and have something interesting to say. 

Nope. Despite wonderful descriptions of places and people, this was just too dense for me. Sort of a literary Dinner with Andre. The mental equivalent of walking through deep snow in a rainstorm. Just made me miserable.

Tales of the South Pacific
by James A. Michener
1948 Pulitzer Prize

Never was a Michener fan. Still not. 

Hons and Rebels
by Jessica Mitford

Again with the Bas Bleu reading list fail. Ish. This is the autobiography of Jessica Mitford. The "muckraking journalist" from the English aristocracy. Born in the 1920's, she certainly grew up during some tumultuous times.

The book started out OK, but it got kind of weird. I actually found it a bit difficult to follow (could be that she was one of seven - or was it eight - children and I got confused over birth order and other character traits).

With my reading queue virtually empty, I stuck in there for over 100 pages, but it got worse and worse. More of an "I did this and then I did that" than a character study. I felt no connection to the author whatsoever once she emerged from childhood into a young adult. None.

So, with those three headed to the library, I have decided to take a new approach to the whole reading thing. When I saw Saul Bellow pop up next on the National Book Award list, I took a pass. Saul Bellow. Ugh. Next up on the Pulitzer list was The Way West by A. B. Guthrie. I did some checking of the reviews on Amazon and decided to order his previous work, The Big Sky. If I get through that one, it'll count.

I'm starting to think that book awards are like the Oscars. Big on clunky, overwrought message type creations, scant praise for skillful entertainment. And oh the drama, drama, drama. Like if you don't cry it wasn't any good. Seriously?


  1. I think you're right about the book awards. I guess they're given to authors by each other for being serious or having the right message or whatever else without a thought as to whether it was worth using as anything other than toilet paper. In the Review section of each Saturday's Wall Street Journal, there is a column where one author is to select his/her 5 favorite books about a given topic (last week's was manners). Some of their selections are interesting. And, no, Emily Post and Miss Manners did not make that guy's list; there were actual books there.

  2. I hear you on book awards, at least a lot of them.

    I was working in a book store when Oprah first started her book club. After "She's Come Undone" I decided that Oprah and I were looking for different things when we read books. I don't like a book that makes me cry or feel depressed.