To the Authors I've Shelved
I made a painful decision. I struck two books off my currently reading list on Goodreads.
I weighed the heft of Beth Macy's book, Factory Man in my hand, flipped to where I stopped, page 231, fanned to the end, page 408, and slipped it onto my finished reading book shelf.
I met Beth Macy over a year ago. She was teaching a master class as part of the James Rivers Writers annual writing conference. She was fantastic. Her methods of research, her personal story, and how she engaged with the group were inspiring. As a non-fiction writer, I felt I learned something valuable for my own bag of tricks. She talked at length about Factory Man. It was a national bestseller and there were whispers Tom Hanks was going to make it into a movie. I eagerly bought the book.
But, over a year later, I can't get past page 231. It was the book I reached for to put myself to sleep, not the one that I stayed up all night reading.
I feel bad!
Most people shrug when they cast books aside. "Not for me. There is too much to read." But as a writer, I know it takes an editorial village to write a book. It starts with the author and his or her research, the people and places they travel and time to fill in the idea. After the manuscript is complete, there are readers, an agent, a book editor, art and layout, publicity, and on and on. The book at the store is more than the pages. I feel I owe it an author to read to the end.
Factory Man is an interesting story. As a Virginia resident, I learned a lot about the history and the people and lifestyle of the southern part of the state. It's a David and Goliath story. But I couldn't read to the end.
I won't give up on Beth Macy. I will seek out more of her work.
Why I stopped reading.
The story had too many details. It felt as if I were reading about every breath that everyone in the Virginia factory towns took. I was dizzy reading about the pregnancy, birth, first footsteps, dating, wedding, and factory ownership of an entire family, many who share the same names. Who was backstabbing who again? Additionally, I didn't enjoy the authorial asides where Macy would talk about how she was able to get someone to speak to her about sensitive material. This breaking of the fourth wall didn't fit with the omniscient reporting I wanted.
And, I feel bad!
Having heard Beth Macy speak and experienced her enthusiasm for her subject I wanted to like the narration.
A Simple Habana Melody by Oscar Hijuelos - the Pulitzer Prize writer of, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.
This story had the promise of literary richness. A famous Cuban composer is arrested in Paris during WWII and sent to a concentration camp. The story begins with his return home and his lost romance. That's about as far as I got. I plodded through this page after page often rereading paragraphs looking for something to connect me to the character.
I never found it. I put it aside and in the time since I started it, I read four other novels. It stared at me on my nightstand, my favorite book mark poking through the top waving at me.
Why I Stopped Reading
The pacing of this story was too slow. While I don't need two-page chapters and car chases in every book I read, I do need the story to move. The granular details of this story were hard to wade through. I felt lost in this literary world and not interested enough to find a map.
In thinking through my decision to shelve these books, I realize both authors have taught me a lesson about pacing and research details. My preference is for faster stories and details that add to the characters and stories, not become the story. Again, my preference and others may disagree. At that, I will shrug, and add, "there is too much to read," put it down and find something new.
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