A Book A Week, Until Bovary
I began this year with the intention of reading a book a week for the entirety of 2011. I was doing quite well until I decided to tackle “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert. It’s not that I don’t like “Madame Bovary;” I do, very much so, but the language is so archaic that it takes me a while to get into the “zone” each time I pick up where I left off, especially when I’m reading on the bus.
I’m reminded, in my struggle, of the time I decided to start jogging every day. I did just fine, for three whole days, until it rained. I’m afraid that Madame Bovary is going to be my rain—and the downfall of my edification process— if I don’t get my act together this weekend.
Of course, my previous picks haven’t been all the edifying. I began the year with Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea, Chelsea, Bang, Bang.” As you might gather from the title, this wasn’t particularly high brow. In fact, it comprised mainly practical jokes (which were rather cruel) and drunken encounters (with enough potty humor to satiate an entire college campus) and, the piece de resistance: an entire chapter on adolescent masturbation.
Nonetheless, I found it rather amusing (although I’m rather ashamed to admit this publically) and if I wasn’t so put off by book jackets with fluorescent lettering, I might even recommend it.
I tackled Tracy Chevalier’s “Remarkable Creatures” next. I’m a huge fan of Chevalier (who is best known for “Girl with a Pearl Earring”) mainly because she writes very tasteful (but nonetheless titillating) sex scenes and the historian in me can never find anything to complain about in her depictions of medieval tapestries, Victorian undergarments, and, most recently, the exploits of girl-fossil-hunter Marry Anning.
(This is probably because I didn’t even know Mary Anning was a real person until the neighbor who loaned me the book mentioned her biography.)
I like to think that I’ll write like Tracy Chevalier someday. In fact, I like to think that I used to write like Tracy Chevalier. I wrote a lot of historical fiction back in the day, with a voice that was obviously very different from the babbling-about-boyfriends to which you’ve all grown accustomed. My sex scenes were, well, a hot mess (aka teenaged-angst gussied up in some sort of historically accurate eighteenth-century outfit) but the writing was good— I think. Having never attempted to publish any of it, I don’t really know.
Following Chevalier, I read “Russian Winter” by Daphne Kalotay. If I remember correctly, it was Kalotay’s debut novel. I have no idea how someone can write a “debut novel” that over’s 500 pages (and in truth, I don’t even think it was over 500 pages) but it was long—sick in bed, downing Sudafed long. Fortunately, it was good, mainly because it combined six of my favorite things: sex, scandal, history, antiques, Communist Russia and ballet.
(Note: I wouldn’t ordinarily count ballet amongst my favorite things, nor am I a Communist, but the two combined make for great intrigue.)
On my way home from Miami, I read “One Fifth Avenue” by Candace Bushnell of Sex and the City fame. It reminded me of “Rent”—not because the characters bore any resemblance to one another in terms of their socio-economic status (quite the opposite), but because I didn’t like any of them. Nor did I particularly care for Alexandra Penney, author of the best-selling memoir “The Bag Lady Papers” (which was my most recent conquest, prior to attempting Flaubert). Her premise was basically, “Woe is me, I lost all of my savings in a Ponzi scheme but God forbid I let go of my housekeeper or sell one of my two houses or stop getting Botox injections.” I could have abided the rich-girl pretentions if she’d had a sense of humor about them but she didn’t, so instead I decided to stop reading commercial gibberish and head back to the classics.
This, of course, would explain why I find myself lugging “Madame Bovary” around in my bag for the third week in a row, completely thrown of my “a book a week” course. Maybe there’s something to be said for the “gibberish” after all?
18 Responses to “A Book A Week, Until Bovary”
Could. not. get. through. Madam Bovary. Gave up. Life’s too short, and there are too many other books awaiting my love.
I feel the same way about Atlas Shrugged. It has taken 6 years just to get to page 46 of the book and I can’t seem to push myself past it. I’d like to think one day I’ll pick it up and it’ll all just click into place for me. Until then, I have several copies stashed around the house, one in my car and another at work for those days when boredom strikes. While the writing is not archaic but rather long-winded, it still becomes rather daunting after a few pages.
My suggestion… put down the book, pick up another. Then when you finish whatever’s next on your list, try again.
Meh, some books just take time. But it depends which ones you’re choosing – The Old Man and the Sea is also a classic and clocks in with regular language and about 100 pages. On the oher hand, The Count of Monte Cristo is a weighty 1000 pages, but is so good and easy to read, you can blow through it in a couple of weeks. What’s more important? Quantity or quality? A noble goal this is, nevertheless. Good luck! 🙂
Do you ever read young adult books? I recently finished The Hunger Games trilogy- so good! You’d be able to read the three books in a week, easily, so if you ever finish Madame Bovary, these books could make up for lost time.
I used to try to finish every book I started, but I’ve given that up. Everyone and their uncle seemed to love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I’ve tried several times to get into it, but I just can’t. Oh well!
I’ve never done YA (I mean not since I was a YA…) but if I find myself needing to make up for lost time after Bovary, I might give it a try!
I notice over the last few years that there are just some books that are really hard to get into and sometimes, you just never get into a book till the last 2 chapters… that what happened to me when I had to read “The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho” for an English class that I was taken…. Even though it was a short book, it was very hard to get into just because there is not to many action or anything really interesting in that story… I really don’t recommend this book unless you want to be bored to death reading it!!
I felt that way about Great Expectation. Took forever (and then some) to get going but the last 50 pages? So worth it!
What translation are you reading with the Flaubert? If it’s not Geoffrey Wall’s translation, you might want to give that one a try.
I’m reading it in the French of course! Not… 🙂 Mine’s the Lowell Bair translation (aka, the paperback I picked up at a yard sale for 50 cents years ago).
Reminds me of my experiences with “The Count of Monte Christo” and “Swann’s Way.” I had to simply put down “The Count…”. I did manage to get through “Swann’s Way,” but the leisurely pace of the writing was a continuous lesson in patience. Novels are like people: I have come to realize that I can’t get along with some of them, but can get along without them quite well 😉
Now the book a week thing – last year it was dates as I recall – I admire your discipline, but darling, you should cut yourself a break once in a while.
Sigh… I don’t really do “breaks.” In fact, it’s been only recently that I’ve stopped “celebrating” my birthdays by recounting all the things I’ve failed to accomplish 😦
Ditch Madame Bovary, at least for a while. There’s plenty of other stuff (including French novels) which is decidedly more titillating, even when we’re speaking about 19th century fiction!
Im currently in the process to try and get throught three different books all at the same time – Total Fail. In Cold Blood, Wuthering Heights ( Because the whole mysteriousness of Heathcliffe drew me in) And also To Kill a Mocking Bird. The thing is I love the whole Sitting in a cafe trying to look sophiosticated whislst reading Vintage books – Maybe I need to get out of the mindset of doing this.
A few actually to recommend to you to read are – Precious – Extremely Harrowing but fantastically written, The Memory Keepers Daughter ( the film actually did in now way do this book Justice) And also The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Series . If you want a bit of Epic Romance go back to the classics like Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and also check out Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. But im sure youve read probably most or all of these by now 🙂
You’re right: I read “Precious” in ONE SITTING because it was so damn captivating and repulsive at the same time; I had to get it “over with” because I knew I’d had nightmares if I went to bed before I knew how it ended! Still haven’t seen the movie and I must admit, I’m kind of afraid to.
As for “Wuthering Heights,” it took me three tries, over a span of several years (no joke) to get past the first chapter. But once you get through the whole bit with the narrator explaining how he came to find himself at the Grange, etc. etc. it picks up.
I’ll add Memory Keeper and Dragon Tattoo to my list (although you’ll have to duke it out with streetlightpeople12 🙂
Don’t bother w/ “Of Human Bondage” either, just finished it for my book club, wanted to stick a fork in my eye—forced myself to read 200 pages a day just to get it DONE…whine, whine, whine, although there was one page that was memorable, the only thing I will be able to discuss at the book club w/out being petulant. I think you would like “House of Mirth”.
A book a week? I think that is quite a high goal! Considering that you are writing, and reading other things in between- and oh yes, having a bit of a life.
!!! I cannot believe I didn’t realize that Tracy Chevalier had written another book!!! And in 2009!!!! I literally stopped reading this post in the middle to go buy it off of amazon. Even though I told myself yesterday that I would stop spending so much money on books. So really, I blame you. 😉
Haha, you’re welcome 🙂