One of the best things about finishing grad school a year and a half ago is that I’ve become a reader again. Don’t get me wrong, I read a ton during grad school — journal articles, books on research methods, other people’s dissertations — but I barely read for fun. Reading for pleasure just made me feel guilty for not working on my dissertation. But now I’m back to my old self, which means I have a book in my purse at all times and a giant stack of next books lined up.
When it comes to books, I tend to think of myself as a pretty generous reader. I don’t expect every book to be the next great American novel. I’ll give a book at least 50-75 pages to suck me in and I’m much more likely to finish a so-so book than set aside. This is partially because I’m a pretty fast reader so even a bad book is only a commitment of a day or so and partially because my heart’s biggest hope is to someday finish writing a novel of my own.
(Have I ever admitted that here? I can’t remember. I’m fairly bashful about this dream, like I’m wishing to become the world’s first plus size 39-year-old Olympic gymnast. I fear being given gently concerned looks in response to sharing this tenderest hope.)
The hopeful novelist in me feels like every book, good or bad, can tell me a little about how to be a writer — how to write dialouge that actually sounds like how people talk, the merits of writing in first versus third person, how to give your characters a sense of place, and so on. So I don’t usually give up too easily, which is how you know that Best Supporting Role by Sue Margolis is TERRIBLE
The story is supposed to be about a woman whose husband, a gambling addict, dies. She is penniless and ends up running a lingrie store and trying to rebuild her life. I am on board with this premise as a light weight, easy read, romantic comedy kind of story. Here’s what happens in the first 10 pages:
- We get the entire story of how the main character and her husband met to the day he died.
- We find out that the husband loved her because she “looked like a Jewish princess” but, not as the author points out, a “JAP” with a fake nose and plastic boobs.
- A major plot point happens when the main character, the one who looks like a Jewish princess, is out Christmas shopping. For Christmas presents. So, is she Jewish but celebrates Christmas for a reason not mentioned? Or is the author kind of anti- Semitic? These are not questions I want to have to consider on page 7 of a book that should be light and airy.
- The reader discovers that the author doesn’t know how to write dialogue that sounds like how human people who are married to each other talk.
- The husband character is found out to have massive gambling debts. The wife confronts him, he promises to do something about it. He is panicked and distraught. They fight. The police show up (on Christmas Eve) and inform her that a suicidal person has jumped from the 30th floor of a building. The reader already knows he is gonna die, so suicide seems like a believable possibility. Only, that isn’t how he died. The jumper LANDED ON HIM. Yes. The jumper, who survives falling 30 stories and landing on a plot device, squashes him flat and he dies instantly. In his pockets are gambling notes (whatever those are) and several hundred dollars — for Christmas presents. Oh c’mon now.
This book is terrible. It made me actively angry with myself for spending $4.98 to buy it on the clearance shelf. The only upside is that if more than one person thought this was worth publishing (and IT ISN’T) then maybe there is hope for my as yet unwritten novel.
On the total other end of the spectrum was a book that I just found delightful, filled with characters I was rooting for. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell will be your jam if you are the kind of person who enjoys watching the movie You’ve Got Mail on a rainy day while you are sick.
I really enjoy Rainbow Rowell’s books generally and one of the things I think she does really well is write ordinary characters who are living unexceptional lives. Nobody in this book is going to change the world or do something that makes them famous or special. Their story is simple — how do two people find their ways to each other — but I just liked the characters so much. The ending was also wholly satisfying.
I also just finished Landline by the same author and it was fine. But I read it after Attachments, so it was a bit of a let down because I liked that one so much.
Have you read any books you’d recommend lately? We’re entering peak reading season for me. I have some upcoming travel, sans children, and I plan to bring far too many books with me but I can always add one more to my suitcase if there is something you’d suggest!