Books I've started and stopped lately

* John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River. His newest book is better, at least in its first 50 pages, than the abysmal Until I Find You, but still doesn’t that umph that animates The Hotel New Hampshire, Garp, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, which seem to me his best books, although I still haven’t read The Cider House Rules. Yet.

* Nicola Keegan’s Swimming, which has an interesting premise about a rising Olympic swimmer and her obsession with the pool and, presumably, how that does and doesn’t translate to dry land. Only the dialog is rendered in annoying italics (a minor point, but still), and, at least in the early sections, too many parts say things like, “The window sits still, boring a hole in the flat sky. Why are you mean to me all the time?” Overall, Swimming is tough to get into and awakens a strong, almost irrepressible urge to read Lolita instead, which is perhaps the ultimate novel dealing with obsession (among other things). Really, why resist?

* Robert Kaplan, Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts. An up-close look at the parts of the military that work, and probably a useful corrective to hit’n’run media coverage of foreign places (Yemen is in the news again! Give me a 30-second soundbite!). As with Imperial Grunts, Kaplan delves deep, but stretches read like the spec sheets in Tom Clancy, and I’m looking for more… what? Synthesis? Something like that? Tough to say. The book isn’t bad, but it doesn’t feel essential, as something like Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience does, although that covers a wholly different subject.

I’d write more, but I just can’t summon the energy for it. As Orwell said:

[…] the chances are that eleven out of the twelve books will fail to rouse in [the reviewer] the faintest spark of interest. They are not more than ordinarily bad, they are merely neutral, lifeless, and pointless. If he were not paid to do so he would never read a line of any of them, and in nearly every care the only truthful review he could write would be: “This book inspires in me no thoughts whatever.”

I don’t think of myself as a reviewer—I prefer to imagine myself someone who happens to like to write about books—but the truth is that the works above inspired few thoughts in me whatsoever. None is outright bad. They just leave me… unfeeling. Too many books leave me feeling, or at least knowledgeable, to spend a lot of time on those that don’t.

Books I’ve started and finished lately:

* Francine Prose’s Touch and Goldengrove. Why didn’t I read these earlier?

* Most of Alain de Botton’s oeuvre, including On Love, The Architecture of Happiness, and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. This is half pleasure—everything de Botton has written, except The Romantic Movement, is enormously pleasurable—and half for a project I’m working on.

* A.S. Byatt’s Possession, as discussed at the link.

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