The Last Half is the Hardest

People, I just can’t handle a whole book anymore. I don’t know if I’m softening in my not-actually-old age, or if motherhood has ruined me, or what, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to read the second half of novels. I love reading. I love it so, so much. It’s like getting to live a whole bunch of lives. What I read becomes a part of who I am. My mother commented once that I would never really be alone as long as I had my books. “Your books are your best friends,” she pointed out. Probably you feel the same way, at least about some of your books.

But the experience of reading is becoming painful for me. Especially in a book like The Goldfinch, where I love the protagonist SO MUCH and he keeps making such TERRIBLE CHOICES, right up until the end, and afterwards I’m just destroyed. I mean, catharsis is one thing, but lately it’s  like nuclear warfare in there. Cato the Elder is tromping all over my heart, getting ready to sow the salt, shouting “Carthago delenda est!” Khrushchev’s pounding a shoe and threatening to bury me. Just like… whew. It’s bad, friends.

It’s the suspense I can’t stand, you know? I love these characters so much, and I just have to know that they’re going to be ok! Authors are notoriously cruel to their characters, and I just can’t trust the author to bring me through the experience of reading safely. So I flip ahead, seeking reassurance, and, given the type of book I read, inevitably there is only complication after complication, so much so that it almost doesn’t matter that what happens in the last 2 or 5 or 10 pages is actually pretty perfect, and quite satisfying. Because it’s like, to get to that point, I have to read A LOT OF SUFFERING. It doesn’t matter how long the book is. While reading The Goldfinch, I hit my wall around page 400 (about halfway). Currently I’m reading The Storied Life of AJ Fikry (it’s fantastic), and I’m on page 162 (about halfway), and I just can’t bear it. But there’s still another half to go!  What’s a tender reader to do?

Alas, it has been my experience that novels that are uniformly pleasant are, with few exceptions, uniformly unsatisfying.  I may have to take up television, with its nice balance of predictability and non-suspense. But not Mad Men. That thing tears me up, too.

Given that, let’s assume I’ll be an emotional husk by the end of the month and read the following together in October:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This is a trilogy– choose any one of the three, or all three if you like. I’m going to be reading The Magician’s Land, the concluding book, but probably will want to read the other two again because I love them so much.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley . I’ve wanted to read this since it came a gazillion years ago (in 2009– don’t judge my math-ing). I almost chose The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, because it seemed more literary, but then it also seemed possibly more boring, and I’m descended from Waldensians, which I guess is something of an issue in the book, and you know what? When you’re resorting to genealogy to explain why you don’t want to read a book, it’s probably time to admit that you just don’t want to read it. I just can’t handle it this October. Flavia de Luce it is.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Because no October reading list is complete without him.


Let’s help each other through the second halves, shall we?


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