How hard is your reading? By 'hard', I mean reading that pushes you beyond merely pleasurable entertainment, works that make you pause to savour a sentence's sheer grace or provocative power.
Mine could be more challenging. I try to choose carefully; each weekend, I scan the New York Times Book Review, and check online reviews. Sometimes I search "best of" lists for the current or preceding years or dive into the late-life reading of a classic that I missed. But my research can fail.
Praised in the Book Review, Amber Dermont's "The Starboard Sea" was so leadenly-plotted that I jumped ship. Other well-reviewed books which didn't satisfy included Chris Pavone's "The Expats", Frank Langella's "Dropped Names"
(which I chose for good dish, but Langella is neither consummate
chef nor charming maitre d'), and Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl", which was almost there.
I flogged my way through Edward St. Aubyn's three Patrick Melrose novels without pause: the delineation of pain was nearly unbearable, the writing a glittering Waterford tumbler... smashed on the floor. I bore "Alys, Always" by Harriet Lane and "The Sense of an Ending" by the always-excellent Julian Barnes with more ease; both are idiosyncratic but stop short of St. Aubyn's unremitting abasement.
The rich, historic world of Amitav Ghosh's "River of Smoke" and "Sea of Poppies", followed by Katherine Boo's unsentimental "Behind the Beautiful Forevers", gave me my fix of India, past and present.
But last year, too many books felt insubstantial, and I have only so many reads left. When my mother was 95, I found her reading E.L. Doctorow's "The March" at her dining table because she couldn't hold the book. What an example!
My friend Michel is listening only to Beethoven these days; he says he's not wasting his time on inferior music. I'm importing his attitude to books (though not reading solely one author), declining junk food novels and pop-tart tell-alls.
But I do want the page to turn; I shy from novels as tortuously inscrutable as "The Island of Second Sight" by Albert Vigoleis Thelen, now on Le Duc's side of the bed.
I'll tackle those after I finish Louise Erdich's "The Round House" and Alice Munro's "Dear Life", though most Munro stories will be re-reads. Anyone reading in French? Eric Dupont's "La fiancée américaine" is a must!
Are you happy with your level of reading? What's "hard" for you? Have your tastes changed?