May missteps and milestones

I think the fact I couldn’t get settled in with a number of books just before and after Memorial Day contributed to the abandonment of one of this month’s missteps. The other I had actually started once before and, while I made it much further this time, still couldn’t see my way to the end about one-fifth of the way through. And I also have to admit there wasn’t really a milestone this month. That I attribute to a couple novels not living up to their pre-release hype — always a risk with me.


I enjoyed John Boynes’ The Absolutist and generally favorable reviews encouraged me to embark on The House of Special Purpose. It also didn’t hurt that St. Petersburg, one of my favorite cities, is the locale for part of the story. But then I hit one of those points where I was asked to suspend my belief far too much. The narrator is taken to St. Petersburg at age 16 after saving the life of a member of the Romanovs. He is taken directly to the Winter Palace and, wandering a hall or two while waiting to meet with an unknown character, he sees Rasputin counseling Tsarista Alexandra. And who was he waiting for and then met with alone? Tsar Nicholas II, of course. Sorry, far too contrived for me and the book was put down at the end of that chapter.

When I first received a copy of Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle: Book One last year, all I knew was that it had done exceedingly well not only in his native Norway but elsewhere in Europe. It did seem odd, though, that an autobiography of a writer barely in his 40’s would be so popular even though it evidently was considered controversial. And when I discovered this was the first of six volumes of autobiography totaling some 3,600 pages, I did think it a tad pretentious and moved on to other things. This year, however, it seemed to be showing up on a number of book award nomination lists so I decided to give it another go. I’ll leave it for others to judge whether the effort truly is pretentious, but to call it minutely detailed is an understatement. While I love learning about other countries and peoples, Knausgård looks so closely at routine events that it begins to feel like minutiae. While I made it much further this time, I gave up less than one-third of the way in.

Good books are all too rare; flawed ones, common; and terrible ones, ubiquitous.

John Sledge, Southern Bound

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