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?