Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flabby Reading

A few weeks ago, fingers (nearly) poised over keys, I had every intention of writing a post about books and titles after having had a discussion about just that with my ten-year-old friend L. She had been curious about the book I was reading, Mo Yan’s Big Breasts & Wide Hips.

But soon after our talk, I was struck with, what is turning out to be, an extreme case of flabby reading AKA reader’s block. It seemed minor at first: I had been truly enjoying Big Breasts, a family saga set in China starting sometime around 1937, and was halfway into the 500 page book. I kept careful track of the numerous characters (the protagonist, Shangguan Lu has eight daughters and one son), dutifully flipping back to the List of Characters. And then one afternoon, I started getting lazy—reading without always knowing whom I was reading about, skipping to familiar characters, and then… the death knell, skimming over pages at a time. You know the rest. One evening, already drowsy, I started a chapter and no longer really knew where I was or who was doing what to whom. So at page 270ish, the “oh, just stare at the ceiling fan, it takes much less effort” part of my brain cajoled me into doing just that and has had me in its thrall since. The reading part of my brain has taken muscle relaxants, flopping about drunkenly, grasping for something comfortable to lean on.

The victims have been numerous the past couple of weeks: Where the God of Love Hangs Out, a collection of connected stories by Amy Bloom about couples (though I don’t really know, since I didn’t make it past the first story); The Polished Hoe, a compelling story (but not to this fickle reader!) about a respected young plantation worker on a West Indian island who murders the plantation owner; The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Wallant, a quiet story from the 1960s of a milquetoast landlord who becomes involved in his tenants’ lives; and Jim Crace’s All That Follows, a friendly enough novel I was enjoying until an implausible plot point derailed my attempts to become involved in a book rather than comment on it.

Those who have recently experienced their own bouts of flabbiness prescribe the equivalent of that stay-up-all-night-to-finish Richard Price New York crime novel Lush Life, but offer no titles, though Henning Mankell’s Wallander series has been mentioned by more than one. Alas, there are no copies of Wallender books to be found in my local NYPL branches and the Strand is out. Perhaps the city is in the midst of an epidemic of flabby reading and I am not alone.