yiddishwater-for-elephants“The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” Michael Chabon (2007) 411 pages, started January 22, abandoned February 14

“Water for Elephants” Sara Gruen (2007); 335 pages- Started February 14, finished February 20.

I suppose when working (or um, attempting to work) on a project like this, its an important thing to know when to cut your losses. And that is exactly what I had to do last week. I actually like Michael Chabon just fine, and started one of his recent works for a book group that was going to meet on Feb 8. But I should have known better. A few years ago I read “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” and it took me no less than 6 months. On again, off again, until finally I mustered the time and determination needed to complete the novel. Although I ultimately liked it, I just cannot read Chabon quickly. And after weeks of reading just a few pages at a time of “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” (and a week after the book discussion, after which I became newly determined…) I decided to call it quits. I thought that the writing was good– although I don’t always see what the fuss is about with Chabon– but his ability to create a scene, and in this case, an entire alternate universe– is incredible. No doubt he is talented, and most of the fellow-readers in my book group enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll pick it up again after the completion of this experiment…  but for now, I just had to stop before it completely derailed my goal.

Speaking of which, even without the Chabon problem, things aren’t going all that great on the 50-books project. The distraction of a new season of TV is not helping matters (American Idol, Lost and Big Love seem to be taking up a disproportionate amount of time these days) but I refuse to give up. The novel “Water for Elephants” had been on my list since before the summer, and I had a feeling it was going to be what I needed to get back on track. And it was terrific. A quick read, but well-told and compelling. An old man reflects on his time spent in the circus during the depression, and tells the tale of wild adventures while traveling with the Benzini Brothers Spectaular Show on Earth. This novel is a gripping love-story, and fascinating, well-researched look at life “on a show”. The life he describes– and this novel itself– is often exciting but also very sad. Anything told from the perspective of a ninety-three year old is guaranteed to make me cry, but I’m pleased to report that I remained strong; the waterworks didn’t kick in until the last few pages. (Compare this with my recent viewing of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, which had me in tears for at least the last third of the film; even weeks later just thinking about that movie and I start to well up…)

One last thought… I have purposely tried to select books that skip around from genre to genre, but as I catalog all the books I’ve read, it is quickly becoming obvious how connected they all are. Completely by accident, the two novels I’ve read most recently are depression-era coming-of-age tales. Strange coincidence, no? Actually not– most people probably wouldn’t categorize “Water for Elephants” anywhere near “To Kill a Mockingbord”, but when you read them back to back, certain similarities start to emerge. There was a great line in the MFK Fisher book that I read a few weeks ago about how when you become newly aware of something/someone, you start noticing references to that thing or person everywhere. And so it is with many of the books I’ve covered so far– little bits of one keep reminding me of the others.