Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bookmarks That Really Are Not

Yesterday, I had a bizarre reading experience. I picked up the book I'd been reading, Scott Spencer's Man in the Woods. Although I'm enjoying it thoroughly, I'm not sure I agree with Patrick Anderson's review, in which he states, "'Man in the Woods' is one of the three best novels I've read this year -- the others are Laura Lippman's 'I'd Know You Anywhere' and Jennifer Egan's 'A Visit From the Goon Squad' -- and if you pressed me, I'd put it at the top of the list." So far, I would give the top honor to the Egan book.

But I digress.

So, I opened the book and read a few pages and felt puzzled. I didn't remember these characters. I read more and discovered references to plot points I didn't remember happening. I kept reading and feeling more confused. Sure, I read quickly, and don't always retain all the details, but for crying out loud! I usually keep track of everything for at least a day or two. I had last read the book just 30 hours ago.

So, I flipped back through the book to try to figure out where I had zoned out, only to discover that the envelope that I thought was a bookmark really wasn't. I saw the turned down page about 100 pages before the chunk of text I was reading. No wonder I was confused. As I left the waiting room where I'd last been reading, I'd shoved a pile of papers, including the envelope into the back of the book.

I was tempted to just keep reading, since I now had some plot knowledge. But I hadn't gotten to what reviewer Patrick Anderson assures us will be the powerful ending, so I dutifully went back to my real stopping place.

As a on-again, off-again novelist, I thought about my experience. What does it say about a novel that I could skip ahead 100 pages and not be completely lost? Is that a positive or a negative? What does it mean that I could piece together enough to be tempted to just keep plowing ahead to the end?

It's a good book, which was the deciding factor in my decision to turn back to my true stopping place. I've been reading some disappointing books lately. Much as I love Barbara Kingsolver, I just couldn't make my way through The Lacuna. And I'm happy that I checked out Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight from the library. What a thin little book. I'd read an article that later became this book in Oprah's magazine years ago, and it fascinated me. Unfortunately, that bit was the best part--although I'd probably find it more useful if I had a loved one recovering from a serious brain injury. My 2010 reading list hasn't been as fulfilling as the 2009 list. But happily, I'm not limited to those books. Happily, the publishing industry still survives and gives me wonderful books to read. Now, if only I could find more quiet moments tucked into the day!

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