I read. A lot. I have authors I love, I have ones I can’t dig through. Colm Toibin is impenetrable. Jane Urquhart makes me want to weep, and not in a good way. Even Tom Hardy gets into the story faster than these two. I need a long time in the quiet of a soundproofed cabin with lots of wine, a self-maintaining fire, and an IV infusion so I never hunger just to focus on their stories.
I am often reminded of the wail of the actor in “the Complete Works of Wm Shakespeare, abridged” when asked to perform Hamlet in the second half. “So many WORDS!”
I’m reading an award-winning book right now (author’s name withheld) and I can barely stand it. I can’t keep track of the story because of all the words blowing through the pages like gently frost-enclosed leaves from the mountain that existed behind my house and that we walked every seventh day when the sun climbed into the sky like a weak thing only to brighten to shimmering coin gold by the time we reached the windy granite-strewn rounded summit and turned, gardenia-like, to face it.
I understand the desire for concrete descriptors. Showing instead of telling, yes, I get it. Saying something is nice doesn’t cut it.
But I can’t help but think that describing a cup in all of its form cuts it, either, especially if it happens with every &*&(^^ object in the story and every time the object or person reappears, it is described differently, by new and extended names or nicknames, or a novel piece of backstory that rumbles on for paragraphs.
Don’t authors know we read these things before bed???
This book that I’m reading has so much description it has the effect of distancing me from involvement. I feel as if I am looking down at a very confusing miniature trainset where the tracks frequently move, trains vanish or change appearance every few pages, and that somehow I am going to be tested on remembering the schedules of each one.
As someone who attempts to write, I’ve taken more classes than I care to remember that emphasized the need to be simple. To put the story forward, to involve the reader, to create empathy with the characters. It’s almost impossible to care one whit about these characters, smothered as they are in the fluffy cotton and silk and ribbons and wool and paper corsages and tiny hidden diaries and bits of recipes and hints of music and some offal. And yet, the story could be fascinating. I WANT to read it. I want to know about the things that happen, but characters disappear and pages are spent wafting about some past encounter. Time changes; half is in memory, half is in distant past, half is in present.
Yes, I know that equals more than one.
I feel buffeted by time zones, tossed about like a Caesar salad and as lost as a fallen sales receipt from that little craft store on the corner just up past the schoolyard that I go to with my aunt Mary, who never likes the crafts but knows the owner’s mother, on the blue-green silk sea of descriptors.
I have to take breaks from reading this book, because the urge to throw it becomes too strong. I feel a bit like Dorothy Parker:
I’m much better now, in fact, than I was when we started. I wish you could have heard that pretty crash “Beauty and the Beast” made when, with one sweeping, liquid gesture, I tossed it out of my twelfth-story window.
(I have skipped any reference to throwing books at cats (of which there are many) as Bendicks is watching and will stomp on my keyboard when I’m not looking and readjust my investments.)
The thing is, I feel like a failure. I continually read award-winning books and am so often frustrated by them. I must be lacking something.
There are exceptions. Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs was wonderful, miraculous, and a real treasure. I WALLOWED in it. Anakana Shofield’s Martin John was intensely interesting and gripping. And those two are from the 2016 Giller List.
So you see, I can read. I can decipher difficult texts. So why, oh why, can’t I find the gold in some of these gems?
Sigh. Time for a good mystery or thriller to cleanse the palate and the brain. Or maybe some Proust. With madeleines.
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.