When Reading Doesn’t Feel Good and Other End-of-Year Grumblings

Hey ——,

Hope you had a great Christmas! And thanks for sending the article. I hadn’t heard about the nanny book until now, but I’m definitely going to pick it up once it comes out. Always down for a killer-nanny and – not that this has anything to do with how good the book will be – the writer is stunning.

I’ve now read two books at Tom’s parents house, both by Celeste Ng: Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. Both were disappointing. I can’t believe how much press the latter is getting. I suspect mostly because it has a pretty cover and it’s a fast read with juicy premises: “Abortion! Adoption! Suburban malaise!” It already made its rounds in women’s magazines and is now popping up in social media left and right.

Every time I see a friend post about it I want to say “Unlike!” Granted, esp. with social media I sometimes fall into that camp myself (I almost Instagrammed it before I read it because Mrs. Ward had kindly put it along with a few other books she’d thought I’d enjoy over break on our dresser) but man, it REALLY bothered me that everyone is raving about this book, saying things like, “I didn’t want it to end!” “I was getting so attached to the characters!”

Not sure if you’ve read it yet, but I sort of want to advise you to save your time. Tom’s mom had both books and while she liked the first one more – I did too, but only slightly – she wanted to see what I thought about Little Fires.

I read the first few pages and thought, “Okay. I think I know what she’s getting at.”

I didn’t find the characters believable or relatable or even likable. It was like watching a poorly scripted TV show based on rigid stereotypes, and the writing was, for lack of a better phrase, very MFA. Which is sort of my shitting on my own education, but whatever. That “sameness” everyone is afraid of when it comes to MFA programs – sometimes it’s a real thing.

Mrs. Ward said, “You could kind of hear her think, as you were reading it, ‘Oh here’s my book that will turn into a movie.'” And I nodded, “Yes! That’s exactly it!”

It might be one of those books that ends up a decent if not good movie because the characters are so one-dimensional in the book the actors could take the outlines and flesh them out themselves.

After I’d finished the books, I mulled over this strange feeling of false productivity.

“Reading should make you feel good!” I said to Tom, “Finishing a good book should make you feel, in a small way, over a long, lazy holiday, somewhat accomplished, like you didn’t just laze about and eat cake and watch shitty TV.”

But reading two whatever books in a row – and yes, indulging in a piece of Yule Log Cake or two while doing so – is kind of the same feeling. You close the book and think, “Oh god what did I do with my day?”

“People are allowed to have bad taste,” said Tom.

And I sighed, because he was right.

ANYWAY. Rant done.

I’ve now moved onto meatier fare, also by a Chinese-American author: Amy Tan’s memoir, Where the Past Begins – pretty good so far –  which Tom’s parents gave me for Christmas, along with the complete works of Flannery O’Connor and mug that says, “I’m a Writer. What’s Your Superpower?”

From Tom’s brother and sister-in-law I received a fancy pen and a luxuriously papered German-designed notebook, which I’m looking forward to filling up in the New Year. And from Tom’s sister and brother-in-law, a bottle of rosé and a cozy blanket with the word “BOMS” stitched onto a corner. Collectively, they are telling me to read, write, and relax more. Worthy goals for the New Year, I think!

What about you? Did you get anything cool for Christmas? Is that a very thirteen-year-old question to ask?

As for the New Year, I didn’t make resolutions for the past two years just because we were traveling and I wasn’t all that reflective. Sure I make the obligatory goals to write more, but entering my 32nd year, with the thought of children not too far off… I’m like, “Whoa I really need to do something.” Make a list of priorities, that sort of thing.

Starting, actually, with watching more movies. It’s weird to me, looking back to when I was obsessed with movies, how few of them I watch now. So yes, let’s watch “The Post” when I’m back, and “Ladybird” too, if you haven’t seen it yet??

love,

Betty

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