I read Overstory by Richard Powers for a book group. Many friends tell me they gave up on it as the 640-page tale of environmentalists lured to crime stretched too far. I have to say that while I grew weary at moments, I cared enough to keep going. But then I often like long novels – Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I have read twice; same with Anna Karenina and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
However, I am also a woman who gives up on a book after 100 pages. I believe it’s my life, my time and I refuse to spend it with a novel that dulls the brain. Just because it’s been well reviewed and is in the top ten bestseller list, that doesn’t point to a novel that I want to spend time with. I will not mention the novels in this category as someone, somewhere will have loved them. Quite simply, they weren’t for me.
Perhaps this is why I think reading novels as similar to making friends. Some we love to spend time with, hanging onto their words, while with others we can barely get past the brief get-to-know-you phase, simply having learned that their tone and outlook were a poor personal fit.
Someone gave me a gift of A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt. She wasn’t someone I particularly liked but my gosh did she let me into her life. Despite the title, Jean Lucey Pratt was not notable, but the 712-page diary covered six decades and she told me about her early boyfriends, her affairs and why they were always with the wrong men. It took me over two years to read it. I would put it down and not pick it up for months – but when I did open those pages, it was like having coffee with an old friend. I still pick it up and read excerpts, again feeling like it’s a friendly visit.
Maybe it's a sign that I spend too much time alone, but there are books out there and some of them are my best friends.