Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Unfortunate Reading Experience

Last week, I encountered an unfortunate reading experience.

This unfortunate experience occurred while I was reading Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. After having finished Anna Karenina and some critical reading from James Wood earlier this summer, I thought I was in the mood for something different: violence and bloodshed, open spaces and descriptions of land, people living hardscrabble lives. I also looked forward to opening my first McCarthy novel, as I had heard much about him and quite enjoyed the film version of No Country for Old Men. But I had sold myself short on my own reading desires.

At first, things were going well. I loved McCarthy’s idiosyncratic writing style, and I liked the lead character, John Grady Cole, and his traveling companions, Rawlins and Blevins. The story intrigued me, and the scenes in the middle where the boys struggle to survive in a Mexican prison, made fantastic reading. But as I got to the last thirty-five pages of the book, I had a revelation. I didn’t really care about these people anymore. Rawlins had left the action earlier, and upon his leaving, I just didn’t really care enough about what remained to finish the book.

I’ve quit lots of books in the middle of the action. Life is too short to spend my time reading books I don’t like. But I’ve never gotten this close to the end of a novel before stopping in my previous book-quitting experiences. It took me awhile to figure out what was the problem. And when I finally got my best answer, I felt a little bad about it. I was frustrated with reading a book about men, for men, by a man.

The last thing I’d call myself is a feminist. But I have a pretty stubborn streak of feminine pride, and I often tire of reading books where the only female character, the love interest, exists with no inner life beyond standing on a pedestal for the main character and boring the hell out of me. And that was how I felt about All the Pretty Horses. Good writing, good action, great settings; but ruined by my own gender boredom. Once my favorite character (Rawlins) left, the only thing left was the wrap-up of the love story and the final violent outbursts of the male characters. And by that point, I just didn’t care what happened anymore.

I feel guilty about this reading experience because on any other day, in any other mood, I probably would have liked this book or at least fairly enjoyed reading it. But because I was frustrated with such heavy masculinity dripping off the pages (made worse by an up-close encounter with a fairly misogynistic snob I’d recently met), the entire thing had been ruined. I am sure I will return to Cormac McCarthy eventually (he’s too important and interesting a writer to miss), but I think I will just write off All the Pretty Horses as an unfortunate experience and move on with my life.

And on that note, I am trying to read mainly women fiction writers for the next few weeks in order to get a taste of what I’ve been missing lately. So you can expect entries on Marilynne Robinson, Louise Erdrich, and maybe Anne Tyler. Hopefully I enjoy the next few books I read and don’t get bogged down too much by my own neuroses. Happy Reading, everyone!

Work Mentioned: All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy

P.S. Please take a look at a fellow reader's blog and join in on the July Quotation Month! I plan on participating every day, and I will try to fill you in with my choices and reactions here. Have fun!

1 comment:

  1. Dodie Smith's _I_Capture_the_Castle_ most definitely fits the bill for woman fiction writer. Not that I'm really pushing this book or anything... =)