It’s a Calamity Alright…

Last spring, I put out a call to book bloggers for some reading suggestions for my Summer Reading 2009 project.  I received many wonderful recommendations and am still slogging through the list.  There is an entire page on my blog–Recommended Reading–devoted to the list.

Right after the suggestions starting coming in, I borrowed 20 of the books from my local library with the best intentions.  I  managed to make my way through a few titles that summer and return to the list whenever I have a reading lull.

Recently, I spied one of the recommended books in the audio books section of my sister’s library and snapped it up.  Special Topics in Calamity Physics was recommended by Jill of Fizzy Thoughts, and at 16 discs, it’s a daunting listen.

Fast forward to today–I’m five discs in–and feeling like I’m on the outside of an inside joke.

The author, Marisha Pessl, is clearly fathoms, nay, leagues beyond me when it comes to esoteric literary references.  The novel is generously peppered with extremely creative figurative language, and I’m adrift on a sea of similes and metaphors.

After a bit of research, I determined that this debut novel was lauded by the press and Pessl touted as the literary It Girl of 2006, Media Darling extraordinaire.  Additionally, Pessl illustrated diagrams in the novel–which I’m missing by cheating with the audio version.

But can I tell you that listening to this novel is exhausting and leaves me feeling a bit daft–like when I read Jonathan Safran Foer novels (sorry, Meg!).  I present, for your consideration, two short excerpts in which the protagonist, high school senior Blue, describes her father’s dating habits:

Dad picked up women the way certain wool pants can’t help but pick up lint. For years I had a nickname for them, though I feel a little guilty using it now: June Bugs (see “Figeater Beetle,” Ordinary Insects, Vol. 24).

Dad’s romances could last anywhere between a platypus egg incubation (19–21 days) and a squirrel pregnancy (24–45 days). I admit sometimes I hated them, especially the ones teeming with Ladies’ Tips, How-tos and Ways to Improve, the ones like Connie Madison Parker, who muscled her way into my bathroom and chastised me for hiding my merchandise (see “Molluscs,” Encyclopedia of Living Things, 4th ed.).

I can’t help but thinking that Blue is just too precocious for words and Pessl’s writing a bit gimmicky.

Of course I can’t quit this book because to do so would be to admit defeat and announce my idiocy.  Instead, I’ll stubbornly soldier on, hoping to reach a truce with this novel.  I just hate the feeling that the rest of the planet is far more sophisticated and can appreciate literature in a way I can’t!  I’ll work on those issues too.

For now, I’m heading back to the trenches.


  • At 2010.10.17 21:54, rhapsodyinbooks said:

    I finished the whole thing but I pretty much felt the same way as you did with the too precocious and too gimmicky. The end of my review reads: “In fact, at the end, I wondered if anything important were said, and wished the book seemed less like chick-lit and more like the literature that it referenced and clearly aspired to be. … I loved the theory of the book; I was not so enamored of the execution (unlike the many rave reviews).”

    …a clear case of The Divergence of The Jills!!!

    • At 2010.10.17 21:55, softdrink said:

      Oh noes! I can’t imagine listening to this one, though. And if I remember correctly, many of the literary references are made up. I think. I hope.
      softdrink´s last blog post ..Sunday tidbits

      • At 2010.10.17 23:41, Rebecca said:

        Oh my. I don’t think I’ll be listening to this one!
        Rebecca´s last blog post ..My Old Kentucky Home

        • At 2010.10.18 00:56, Lisa said:

          I keep reading books sometimes for the same reason! I don’t like that I don’t get it but I certainly don’t ever want to admit that I so don’t get it that I can’t even finish it!
          Lisa´s last blog post ..All Things In Common – Reincarnation

          • At 2010.10.18 07:21, vivienne said:

            I hate to give up too. I know how you feel Natalie.
            vivienne´s last blog post ..Monday Mail

            • At 2010.10.18 08:34, Liz said:

              Ugh that sounds exhausting! Sometimes I think authors who write that way pride themselves on creating witty phrases without caring how it negatively impacts the actual story. Hope you can soldier through…
              Liz´s last blog post ..Its Monday-What Are You Reading

              • At 2010.10.18 09:29, Iris said:

                Hm.. I have this one on my shelves and have been pretending that I did not give it a try yet. But I did. And honestly, after the firt 50 pages or so I put it aside and have not picked it up again. I know it has been hailed as a great book, but I could not get into it. Like you, I did not like admitting that though, and simply pretend that it is still on my TBR list (which it is, in a way?)
                Iris´s last blog post ..If You Don’t Find Me Online This Weekend

                • At 2010.10.18 09:57, Dishy said:

                  I’ll give you props, Nat, for soldiering on.. but as for me? No thanks. I know I’m at least mildly intelligent, no need to be bashed over the head with someone else’s brilliance. If a book doesn’t engage me from the get-go, it’s gone.

                  PS: Thanks for the input on the layout — now, if you have a recommendation for a new wordpress theme, let me know! HAH XO
                  Dishy´s last blog post ..Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

                  • At 2010.10.18 10:11, Ti said:

                    I really enjoyed it as a book, but I remember having to flip back and forth a bit. You can’t really do that with an audio book. At least not easily. It took at least half the book for it to start clicking with me, but in the end I liked it a lot, as did my very conservative book group which surprised the heck out of me.
                    Ti´s last blog post ..The Sunday Salon- A Lazy- Rainy- Glorious Day

                    • At 2010.10.18 10:47, Steph said:

                      Well, I have certainly learned my lesson with the Sookie Stackhouse books that not all audiobooks are created equal – some that work fine in print just don’t translate well to the aural format. That said, for all the love this book has gotten, most people I know who have read this found it horribly pretentious and a waste of time. My tactic was never to try it so that I could never feel beaten by it! 😉
                      Steph´s last blog post ..Bacon-wrapped Dates… with a twist!

                      • At 2010.10.18 11:19, Erin said:

                        That I-must-be-dumb feeling is what I get when I read the New York Times reviews, and New Yorker magazine, and the book Ulysses. Too erudite for their own good.

                        • At 2010.10.18 11:27, Lenore said:

                          I LOVED this novel, but could NEVER listen to it on audio. Way too confusing.
                          Lenore´s last blog post ..Book Review and Author Interview- Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

                          • At 2010.10.18 13:37, Meg said:

                            That’s totally how I felt while reading The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time — this uneasy feeling of “everyone else in the world loves this, so clearly I’m missing something.” It was all too elevated and clearly above me!

                            And I don’t fault you for feeling that way about Jonathan Safran Foer, Nat; many do, and I can clearly see why! I think that if I didn’t find him ridiculously good-looking and brilliant, I wouldn’t have such a tender spot for him. (True facts.)

                            • At 2010.10.18 14:19, Connie said:

                              Well the excerpt you’ve provided is pretty funny…I’ve pretty much decided life is too short to keep reading stuff you are stuck on or that just doesn’t grab you…I don’t do well listening to books…I have trouble staying focused.

                              • At 2010.10.18 15:46, Belle said:

                                This one is currently in my TBR bookshelf. After seeing the excerpt you posted, it definitely looks like a challenging read, especially in audio. I’m not sure at all when I will get to this one myself.

                                • At 2010.10.18 19:29, Jenners said:

                                  This kind of sounds like a book that needs to be read … not listened to.

                                  And I’m with you on Safran Foer!
                                  Jenners´s last blog post ..Light Sabers- Bugs and Squirrels- Oh My!

                                  • At 2010.10.18 20:57, Jody said:

                                    Oh Nat you are much more stubborn than I. That book would’ve been tossed into the ‘holy crap I can’t believe I wasted time on that drivel’ so fast that’d it probably start playing backwards.

                                    Good luck finishing!
                                    Jody´s last blog post ..No vote-y- no bitch-y

                                    • At 2010.10.18 22:37, bybee said:

                                      That quote you chose is …too littered…there’s too much noise and not enough going on.
                                      This is on my TBR and will probably rest there a bit longer.
                                      bybee´s last blog post ..I Can Hardly Wait

                                      • At 2010.10.31 07:59, Marie said:

                                        I’ve had my eye on this book for ages- it seems like every time I go into a bookstore it’s there in the remainders section, or on sale, just begging me to take it home. You may have convinced me! LOL I don’t know if it would be the right audio for me (I’ve only just started reading audiobooks) but I might get it the next time I see it for cheap. 🙂

                                        • At 2010.11.04 19:07, Kathleen said:

                                          I hope when you are done you will be glad you stuck with it.

                                          (Required, will not be published)

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