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2017 Wrap-up

2017 Wrap-up

2017 wasn’t a stellar year in my quest to read 1,500 novels before I croak. I read 13 books in the past twelve months, which was a bit below average, but quantity wasn’t the main issue. The big problem was quality. Hardly anything I read, at least over the second half of the year, really grabbed me.

Here’s the rundown of all the books that I read since this summer:

The Gene, an Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, didn’t impress me much. Partly I suppose, because the science was too dense for my liking, and more than just a tad beyond my inherited intelligence. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

Talk about something over my head, The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell, totally sailed above my comprehension zone. I was able to get into one of Mitchell’s earlier best sellers, Cloud Atlas, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this highly regarded contemporary British novelist is more interested in being an avant-garde intellectual than being an authentically good storyteller. I don’t think I’ll bother trying to battle my way through any more of his time traveling convolutions, which I think are pretentious and overrated. I give this book a measly 2 stars out of 5.

The Novel, by James Michener, kept me interested mostly because it is set in the part of the country where I now live, and because it explores the ins and outs of the publishing world, which is something I’ve just experienced. So, unless you happen to live in Pennsylvania Dutch country, or you’ve written and tried to publish a novel, I wouldn’t recommend this snore and give it a lackluster 3 stars out of 5.

 Time and the Town: a Provincetown Chronicle, by Mary Heaton Vorse, was another merely so-so book that I breezed through this fall. I bought and read it because I had just spent a wonderful weekend in that wonderfully wacky town, and wanted to learn more about its history, and why it became such a magnet for the gay community. Turns out, Mary Heaton Vorse died a decade or so before her beloved town turned into THE place for gays to be themselves and have a ton of fun. So, while the history of the place before its current loveable iteration was quite unique and interesting, and even though Vorse is an okay writer, the book came up short for me. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

American Fire: Love, Arson and Life in Vanishing Land, by Monica Hesse, isn’t great literature, but it is the best of the so-so’s that I read this past year. Vorse’s telling of this true story about a pair of arsonists, who terrorized the poor folks in Tidewater Virginia with their five-month arson spree, is compelling enough. I looked forward to taking it up each night, but in the end, I thought it was a book with a lot of sparks but little fire. It reminded me of a cable TV station’s 24/7 reporting of a big “breaking news” story that turns out to be nothing quite so big or breaking as the breathless reporters try to make it sound. If I’m feeling generous, I’ll give this nice little book 4 stars out of 5.

Finally, there is Annie Proulx’s 700-page whopper, Barkskins. There’s no way you can categorize this ambitious saga of hers as a “so-so,” novel, or talk about it in the same breath as the books described above. It’s a work of historical fiction about the 300-year-old logging industry in North America, and it’s damn good. I especially enjoyed the early parts set in Canada and Maine during the 16 and 1700’s. Proulx really knows how to create an atmosphere and spin an epic tale with a colossal cast of captivatingly original characters. Proulx’s vision here is as dark as ever. None of the characters in the two family trees she chronicles grow old and die contentedly in their sleep. But in spite of Proulx’s typically edgy grimness – all those untimely deaths and the unrelenting destruction of all that virgin timberland – I was completely swept up by this tome until I got to the final chapters. I felt as though Proulx lost interest in both the story and her characters as she worked her way towards the present day, and I could have done without the last 100 pages or so. Were it not for this flaw, I would have given this book my top rating, but as it stands (no pun intended) the best I can do is give it 4 stars out of 5.

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