The only book assigned to me in high school that I didn’t finish reading was Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. I made it far enough to write a term essay and also to know I didn’t need to finish reading it (to be fair, Pamela was published as a serial and Richardson probably wanted to finish the thing eons before he did, but popularity being popularity, the guy couldn’t say ‘no’ to churning out another excruciating letter).
I may not be in school anymore (!), but the guilt I feel in not finishing a book remains a combination of panic that I’ll be found out and a sort of bafflement that this terrible book had been assigned in the first place. Sure no one “assigned” Matthew Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves, but they may as well have: the book reviews proclaimed its excellence and compared it with the genius of Franzen.
And this is why you shouldn’t bother with book reviews. As I committed another day’s worth of reading to this interminable and ponderous novel I kept reminding myself how well it was received elsewhere. Kept urging myself to find in the insufferable level of detail something akin to beauty or marvel. Kept assuring myself that this book had been awarded prizes and so had to be of some quality. The fault was mine, I thought, for being an impatient reader. Well, no more. 250 pages into an infinite waste of time, I stopped. I’d figured out where the plot was going (to give it it’s airing: an Irish-American family lives its life: the mother wants a bigger house, the father has early onset Alzheimer’s and the son is an undefined, ill-described mess of wanting to hit someone) and I didn’t care enough to force myself through the purchase of the overly expensive house, the unravelling of the Alzheimer’s mind and the (one can only assume) eventual character development of the son.
It’s very possible I’m wrong. That in my impatience for excruciating detail and an absence of conflict I’ve missed a gem of a novel. That said, I’d in no way encourage you to read this one. But then, this is a book review, and you’ve already stopped reading it.
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