Monday, April 28, 2014

The Dilemma of Finishing Novels in Middle Age, My Friend Moye and Life After Life

My old friend Moye and I, in a library in another life after life


So, I stayed up until after 1:00 in the morning last night, reading. I haven't done that, literally, in years. I haven't read a book, literally, in years that was worth staying up until 1:00 in the morning (except for the books of my friends Tanya, Carrie, and Karen, of course). Recently, my old friend Moye and I discussed our slight anxiety about the fact that we were having a difficult time getting through novels. I discarded The Goldfinch about 300 pages in, bored and distracted to tears. I got to around page 400 of The Luminaries before calling it a day, realizing that I had no idea of who was whom and what had been happening. Now, let me tell you that my friend Moye is brilliant. She's an artist and a writer and physically beautiful and just about perfect in every single way, so if she's having difficulty getting through novels, well, I feel a teensy tinesy bit better. Like maybe it's not just me. We batted around theories, one of which included our age (this is the one that causes the bit of anxiety because what will life be like if we can't read novels until we die?), another that maybe, just maybe, these gigantic tomes that get so much literary acclaim are actually not that great after all (this is the one where we rest on our secret collective brilliance) and then there's the very real fact that both of us find reading on an e-reader might be part of the problem (this is arguable, though, as I bought the hard copy of The Goldfinch). Moye's very brilliant, artistic and good-looking architect husband suggested, apparently, that there's something to the heft of a book, the literal tactile sense of it, that aids in the reading. We exclaimed as true book nerds might, about how much we love the look of fonts and how lacking an e-reader is in that regard.

This is the sort of thing that Moye and I can talk about, endlessly, on the phone. We've known each other since seventh grade, through boyfriends and husbands and brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. We're godmothers to each other's daughters. We share the same sense of humor and brown eyes. Moye is quieter than I and certainly more talented. She listens to books on tape at a startling speed (not my forte, at all) and she's a hell of a lot thinner than I, but she'll tell you that my skin is enviable, and that I sleep much better than she does (not because of anything we've done or not done -- I just don't suffer from The Insomnia) -- and well -- I adore her.

What about this book that I read until bleary-eyed? It's Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Reader, I can't stop reading it. I honestly carried it with me today and read snatches of it whenever I had to stop the car, wait in the carpool line, wait for Oliver to finish some assignment I'd given him. Hell, I even propped it open on the bed and read while I folded clothes. I don't even know how to describe it to you, other than to exclaim over the story -- a real, romantic, convoluted story whose characters are real, romantic, convoluted and terribly interesting. The story is a web woven by a wickedly funny spider who might just be a descendant of the queen bee of spiders, Virginia Woolf. Not really. That's just a lame metaphor, and I felt like I had to get Virginia Woolf in there as much of the writing takes me to the same joyous spot I've been in reading To the Lighthouse or The Waves or Orlando. You know: when you're in the writer's subconscious. There's a dream life running throughout the pages of Life After Life, there is drama and mystery and sex and rape and World War I and abuse and love and early psychotherapy, babies and beautiful men and women -- hell, you need to take my word. Buy a copy, the hefty hardback and read it.

I'm halfway through and believe I just might finish it in record speed. Not bad for a fifty year old gal, right Moye?

23 comments:

  1. Okay. Sold. Though I had to buy the $5.00 Kindle version and it's not even my Kindle it's borrowed. I am right at that place where I finished something so fine (Jamie Quatro's brilliant short stories I Want To Show You More) and was moping around trying what to do next which is usually when I start rereading which is why I reread so damned much. I have a solid rereading library. It fills up my entire house. And a most excellent library system one of the best in the country but I need something for now something new and I'm going to trust you on this because while I read The Goldfinch all the way through I read Duplex: A Novel in the middle of it which means the book was poorly edited in the end. And I only got through 11 pages of The Luminaries though I will try it again when I grow up. I agree. Books are about heft and font and smell and the joy of turning a page and not worrying whether your Kindle will die especially if you've already killed two of them and the one you have belongs to someone else. xo

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    1. Radish King, I think you know how much I loved Jamie Quatro's stories of adultery and religion. I honestly think she's one of the best writers to have emerged of late. I have no trouble getting through short story collections -- my main trouble is novels, and I do think it has to do with the way they're edited.

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  2. You know- I might just buy that and take it to Mexico with me. The thought excites me more than a little bit.

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    1. I have a feeling that you'll love it, Mary.

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  3. I was nodding my head along with you through the first two paragraphs and then stopped short when I saw you were referring to "Life After Life." Darn it. I managed to finish it, but that's all I have to say about it.

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    1. Well, one thing I've learned to do in my middle age is stop reading when I don't enjoy a novel. Life's too short AND too long to "manage to finish it."

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  4. Yep Janet. As my mother would say "that's what makes horse races". Wanted to love but loathed Life after Life. Tore thru The Goldfinch adoring it.....Annie

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Annie! I wonder what made you loathe "Life After Life?" I didn't loathe "The Goldfinch." I found it incredibly tedious after an exciting start and wondered why it had to go on so long. Also, I find the expression "wanted to love" hilarious -- why did you want to love it?

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    2. I wanted to love it because I found the premise so intriguing. Would have been wonderful to read a compelling to me book with such a story. Instead I found it cold uncompelling. Which is why I loathed it. A beautiful idea which for me was ruined... Annie

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  5. Had it from the library as an audiobook; worked well in that form.

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  6. OK, this is interesting, because I LOVED "The Goldfinch" and literally could not put it down, and I've heard negative things about "Life After Life." (I also found "To The Lighthouse" incredibly tedious.) Maybe we have diametrically opposite reading tastes?!

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  7. I loved "Life After Life" too. It's a messy book, wandering back and forth, something I like. My mother lived through World War II in England and the book brought the London bombings to life for me. Have you read "The Book Thief"? It would have to be in my top ten.

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  8. How can I NOT read this book now. I've just gone and placed a hold on it at the library to get it for my ebook. I too find myself more and more picky about which books I even want to start, let alone can finish. I hope it is that I am pickier and isn't the middle-age thing because not being able to read until I die will kill me.

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  9. I'm glad Steve commented because just as you said you couldn't suffer through Goldfinch, I remembered Steve saying he couldn't put it down. Funny thing about literature, that is. I'm waiting for the audio book version of Goldfinch to be added to the library at the college where I work, and now I'll add Life After Life to that list, too. I prefer audio books because I have such a long, daily commute.

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  10. I remember that, not long after turning 50, I thought dammit, I'll never finish a novel again! Maybe it's the awareness of mortality, as in How much time am I willing to waste doing something I'm not that into? I haven't read either The Goldfinch or Life After Life, but after this discussion I'm interested in both and they're going on my To Read list.

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  11. Oh, there is nothing like the pleasure of really loving a book and not wanting to stop reading it. I've read a lot of things I like lately, but for obsessive I only want to read this book—more than eat, more than sleep—it's Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. Which is, yes, a young adult book. Technically. But when it comes to love, there are no rules.

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  12. I suffer from the same affliction as you and your friend which is why I have resisted reading The Goldfinch. I did, however, just finish Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings" and loved it, despite a few slower sections. I don't often read fiction, though, so perhaps when I do, I treat it more as brain candy and read faster. Up next for me is Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez.

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  13. I loved Life After Life (listened to the audio version - very well done). I don't really know why, except that I kept waiting for what I thought would be the grand finale (a story of death) & it ended up being a story of life instead. Just floored me.

    I'm in the midst of The Goldfinch (on part 5 of 32 of the audio version). We shall see how it goes :)

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  14. Well, if you and Moye are having the same problem I'm having, then I feel hugely relieved. I read 1/2 a book (that I loved) during Spring Break, then it sat there for a month before I finally finished it. It pretty much takes me a trip involving an airplane and/or beach for me to read. I'm way too distracted at home, coupled with the 50-year-old brain. Glad you found a page-turner, I love when that happens!

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  15. I just loved Life after life. After the first few pages I started wondering how this novel could ever end, though...

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  16. Reading it on your recommendation and loving it. About half way through.

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  17. Life After Life is one of my all-time favorite books. I read the hardback - from the library - and returned it in record time. I think Atkinson is brilliant, anyway. Have you read Behind the Scenes at the Museum? Another book I stayed up late reading was A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. Yes about the Virginia Woolf reference, that ability to see small details through someone else's eyes. And speaking of dream life, have you read Love in the Time of Cholera? Wowie!
    And oh! Elizabeth! I get that thing about reading less as I get older. It's almost May and I haven't read an entire book in about 6 months, which is just so unlike me. WAH!!!

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