I like to read. I'm not a fast reader. If you ask me a few days after I finish a book who was the main character or what was the plot, I probably couldn't tell you.
I don't have much of scale for why I like a book or not. It's usually an emotional reaction. I don't look for literary flair, or big words. I like a story that grabs me at the start and takes me on a journey. I particularly like memoirs by and about women. Like Joan Anderson who spent a year by the sea, or Cheryl Strayed who walked the Pacific Coast Trail, or Elizabeth Gilbert who traveled around the world and got paid for the story of how she found herself.
That's why I picked up Gilbert's most recent novel, The Signature of All Things. Gilbert went back to her fiction roots. I'm sure there are lots of people who will say they enjoyed this book. But I gotta tell you it was a long hard read for me. Sweetie kept asking me why I didn't just put it down and read something else. Good question. Somewhere in my life I made a rule that if I start a book, I have to finish a book. I've broken that rule a few times, but not very often.
So I plodded my way through 514 pages night after night, waiting for the book to get better. In my opinion it never did. If I hadn't been reading it on my Nook, I may have thrown the story across the room when I finished the last sentence. Huh? I thought to myself. Really? That's it?
The Signature of all Things is about a woman in the 1800's who studies plants … moss(es) to be exact. She has troubled relationships - especially with men. (There's something I could relate to). She also diddles herself alot. I only mention that because Gilbert makes a big deal out of it, for no reason that I can see advances the story.
Here's what Steve Almond of the NY Times Magazine* had to say: "The book’s heroine is Alma Whittaker, the brilliant, restless daughter of an imperious botanical explorer. Its prose has the elegant sheen of a 19th-century epic, but its concerns — the intersection of science and faith, the feminine struggle for fulfillment, the dubious rise of the pharmaceutical industry — are essentially modern."
I suppose if I read with eye for deeper meaning, all that would have made sense to me. I didn't get the "feminine struggle for fulfillment" part. In fact, I would have said Alma was fulfilled by her studies in a time when women took care of the house instead of wondering in the woods watching moss grow - or not grow as the case may be. Perhaps I just don't appreciate the elegant sheen of a 19th century epic. What do I know?
I'm not saying don't read the book. I'm just saying it wasn't my cup of tea. I wish I'd realized that before the tea got cold. The subject and the style may not have appealed to me, but it is evident Gilbert did tons of research. Plus she does have a way with words. For example:
"Beatrix had always sat - and was startled by the nothingness. It was like looking at a spot on the wall where a clock had hung for years, and seeing only an empty space. She could not train herself not to look; the emptiness surprised her every time." pg. 159
…"And yet Boehme said the God had pressed Himself into the world, and had left marks there for us discover." pg. 248
"She herself did not forget her woes, but she sewed up the rents in the fabric of her life quite as well as she could, and carried on." pg. 310
There is a level of grief so deep that it stops resembling grief at all. The pain becomes so severe that the body can no longer feel it. The grief cauterizes itself, scars over, prevents inflated feelings. Such numbness is a kind of mercy." pg. 316
The air across the beach snapped and shimmied like a bed sheet shaken out …" pg. 410
Perhaps that is why I continue to read books that seem to drone on. Like panning for gold, I can usually find some shiny nugget of wisdom that makes it all worth while, or turn of phrase that makes the writer in me say, "wow!" I have few books that do not have dog eared pages or not marked by yellow highlighter.
What are your reading habits?
*Eat, Pray, Love, Get Rich, Write a Novel No One Expects, Sept. 18, 2013