It did not take me 13 years to read this book.

Although at times I thought it might.

It did, however, take me over three years. In fact, the only New Year’s resolution that I made this year was either to finish it, or to stop even trying to read it. And I’m finally done.

I feel a huge sense of accomplishment, not least because I’ve already in my life abandoned one of Jane Smiley’s books (The Greenlanders—oy, the names, it’s worse than a Russian novel) , and I like her too much as a writer to have two unfinished books by her on my shelf.

Now, having finished it, I wish I had read it backwards. But first, the back story from the dust jacket:

…in the wake of 9/11, Smiley faltered in her hitherto unflagging impulse to write and decided to approach novels from a different angle: she read one hundred of them, from classics such as the thousand-year-old Tale of Genjii to recent fiction by Zadie Smith, Nicholson Baker and Alice Munro.

If I had read it backwards (or if Smiley had organized the book differently), I think I would have had a more successful experience, and not felt the need to drag out my reading of it for such a prolonged amount of time. While there’s no question that Smiley is more widely read than I am, it would have helped me, in reading her analysis of various forms of fiction, to have first read her essays about the 100 novels she read in the post-9/11 world.

It’s not that I expected that both of us would love the same books. But it might have, for example, helped me to understand her writing about writing better, had I known in advance that she is not a fan of The Great Gatsby, which is one of my favorite books. I can’t explain my love of that book in as clear a method as she explains her disdain for it, but still, knowing her feelings about that–and the other books that are in her 100 that I’ve read–would have helped me to better understand the arguments she was trying to make about the novel.

That being said, I’m happy to have read it (and happier still to be done with it). And now, I can finally go back to reading her fiction—I’ve had a copy of Ten Days in the Hills for about six months, but I vowed to get through this opus (or give it up for good) before I cracked the cover.


May 8, 2008. books for grown-ups. 2 comments.