I have been keeping track of all the books I’ve read since August of 2007. As of last night, the count hit 400 with Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, which I admit, was a lovely book. It was so popular and so everywhere for a while that I did not want to read it at that point. I have no real issues with very popular books, except that I worry that the book might be… I don’t know. Annoyingly simplistic, perhaps? Poorly written? The Twilight series was both of those, and yet it was massively popular (and before anyone squeaks about how “You can’t judge a book you haven’t read!”, I did read it on the recommendation of a friend. I read them. All of them. It was like a train wreck- I just couldn’t look away, and the entire time I kept thinking, ‘does Bella ever get less useless?’), so I have this vague paranoia going into the reading of other massively popular books.
I can report that my fears were unfounded, and that Bel Canto, for all that its ending seems very rushed after the languorous unfolding of the rest of the book, is a gorgeous meditation on the strange connections of people and the odd circumstances that bring them together. I doubt I’ll ever read it again, but it was worth it.
I am having far more trouble reading The Book of Air and Shadows, however. After the fourth straight page of “my uncle was so-and-so, he looked like this, lived thusly, and now I’ll describe my mother..” I’m really losing faith in the book. In The Tiger’s Wife and Bel Canto, the long back stories of the characters’ families were vital to the story. In Book of Air and Shadows, it feels like a census one could skip over without losing anything that’s central to the plot. I’m going to give the book another twenty pages. If it fails to keep my interest at that point, it’s going into the “take to the used bookstore” pile.