Thursday, March 01, 2007

More critique with an extra helping of snark: Bookclub Part 2

In light of Lauren’s recent post about our bookclub, we thought it might be fun to visit the ghosts of book clubs past. You’ll find that our opinions are strong. We’re a love it or hate it kind of crowd.

Despite winning the Booker Prize, Miriam still thought one novel was “a cynical smirk of a narrative. Its only saving grace, in my opinion, is the fact that, at under 200 pages, it’s only briefly painful. As I put this down with a sigh of relief for the last time, it occurred to me that the only thing worse than a bad book by a bad writer is a bad book by a good writer.”

Taking on another award winner that fell short of expectations, Miriam noted that “this could have been a great piece of fiction, but like endless foreplay that goes nowhere, it’s just a quiet disappointment.”

One blogger turned novelist received a ton of buzz for their debut, but Jim thought it was “Trash. This may not be the worst book I ever read, but it is the worst that I have ever finished.”

Michiko Kakutani loved it. Michael Bourret didn’t. “I hated this book. Trite, shallow, and without any intelligent commentary. At least it was short. I wallowed through quickly, hoping that there would be a moment of clarity or interest. There wasn’t.”

It was pitched as the modern Great Gatsby. Let’s just say that Stacey disagreed. “Hated it. Hated everything about it. The characters are rich, privileged, and pretentious. Their shallow musings and fervent banter never lead to much, other than a supposedly tragic ending. This fell way short of my expectations.”

For one book club, we read galleys for books publishers were really excited about that would be coming out the following season. Excitement, as Lauren points out, is not always contagious. “Accomplished? I suppose. Charming? At times. Tedious? Oh, yeah!”

We didn’t let up when we took on favorite books of our colleagues. One agent felt it was the best book of the past five years. Another thought the author was “given to overthinking his characters’ motivations and painting them into dramatic corners. The protagonist’s precociousness grows wearisome. He’s like the kid always with his hand up in the air in class – the one you want to smack and tell to shut up. The ending of the novel feels unsatisfying and overly arch and some of the big moments veer into melodrama.”

When she took the time to read a recent novel that garnered a lot of attention and a mid-six figure offer, Jane’s reaction was as balanced and thoughtful as we all try to be. “This definitely had aspirations of becoming the next The Da Vinci Code. It is original and very well researched. It is also incredibly confusing. An early review called the plot ‘sinuous,’ which it certainly is—and in my opinion, not in a good way. There were no characters here I really cared about—none I really got to know. Having said that, I am a sucker for this kind of thing—the juxtaposition of fact and fiction, very well done. Still, I didn’t personally love this. It just wasn’t as good as the hype made it out to be. In the end, idealist that I am, I do believe that if the book ‘isn’t there,’ especially for a first novel with these high expectations, it isn’t going to work.”

Sometimes we fall head over heels for something. Michael said, “It’s a rare novel that captures both the imagination and the heart, and The Line of Beauty is one of them. Written with a sly wit and a keen eye, this epic meditation on wealth, power, class, sexuality, politics and beauty is truly a masterpiece.”

Stacey really enjoyed Lucinda Rosenfeld’s What She Saw, saying, “I loved this book because I could relate to so much in it. Rosenfeld’s writing is accessible, simple and smart, and her style is breezy and light. She doesn’t wow you with extraordinary prose, but her characters and story are effective and memorable. She also has an uncanny ability to describe simple details with humor and flair. It’s a fun read, with a very likable protagonist.”

With The Hours, Miriam found an award winner that she did admire. “Mr. Cunningham is a lovely writer who finds his way into his characters’ souls and makes the drama he finds within universal and poignantly human. Virginia Woolf would have applauded.”

Jim fell for Dennis Lehane’s first book during the mystery bookclub. “The protagonist’s brazenly un-P.C. views on ‘white rage’ and what causes it are at times a bit unnerving, but they never feel less than honest. Dark, moody, and aggressively paced, A Drink before the War is a detective novel rank with intelligence and soul.”

And sometimes we’re so effusive that it sounds like we’re trying to sell the things. “A novel of incredible scope, daring vision, and dazzling prose, Arthur Phillips’s Prague is, quite simply, an incredible achievement.”

7 comments:

  1. I LOVE this post!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. "It was pitched as the modern Great Gatsby."
    In Terre Haute, Indiana (And don't get all giggly over _that_. The Haute is the "Crossroads of America" and we have an official looking plaque in the center of our, ahem, downtown,to prove it.)We would appreciate hearing from you or one of your club members on just what a modern Great Gatsby pitch might be.
    The entire county of Vigo is reading Gatsby, sending everyone into gin binge fits as we lash out at each others interpretations of Jay, Daisy, Nick and the Owl man in the library. Half the town has put up a green light on their porch and the other half has taken to saying "Old sport" at the end of every sentence uttered.
    So send Gatsby comments of any sort along to:
    Read Gatsby - Discuss Gatsby
    http://readgatsby.blogspot.com/

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  3. I can't tell you how much I would love to be a fly on the wall at a book club composed of book pros. I can imagine that the snark has an extra edge from people who's living is having opinions on the written word.

    So often, people feel restricted in what they can say about books. If something is hailed as 'so intelligent' or 'brilliant' (or the like) people sometimes feel constrained to say that they like it, sometimes to be polite, but I suspect more often in an 'emperor's new clothes' kind of way.

    Or, alternatively, they say they hated it, or they wouldn't read it in a fit, just to be ornery, without having any genuine feeling about it.

    Long live those who have opinions and who are willing and able to express and defend them. The world could do with less rhetoric and more exchange of real opinions.

    IMHO! LOL!

    And on that note, as we say in OZ - havagoodweekend.
    Imelda

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  4. TOTALLY agree with this:

    With The Hours, Miriam found an award winner that she did admire. “Mr. Cunningham is a lovely writer who finds his way into his characters’ souls and makes the drama he finds within universal and poignantly human. Virginia Woolf would have applauded.”

    I loved avery inch of this book! And the filmw as just as good.

    Carrie Kabak

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  5. >>“Hated it. Hated everything about it. The characters are rich, privileged, and pretentious. Their shallow musings and fervent banter never lead to much, other than a supposedly tragic ending. This fell way short of my expectations.”

    I completely agree. I think I stunned my English teacher when I said, in our discussion "This is classic literature? It's a bunch of rich kids whining." It was an incredible let down.

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  6. I loved this post and the intro post just before this one.

    I'd love to read your book club picks, and your thoughts on the novels you really enjoyed, as you move through the year.

    Thanks!

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