If it's taking me a year to read a book, I probably shouldn't be reading it.
Case in point: The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber. I started this book in June of last year while we were on vacation in Minnesota and am currently on page 178 of 466. I've read dozens of books since last June, but why oh why can't I finish this one? Because it's good. Gruber writes very well, and his style is interesting and masterful. The pace and plotting work rather elegantly, and even if the whole "lost Shakespeare play" theme has been done before, Gruber adds interesting twists that make for entertaining fiction.
So why don't I like this novel enough to finish it? I'll tell you. The characters deeply, profoundly annoy the hell out of me. I'm serious about this. I want to like characters, want to feel for them, dream for them, pull for them. They can be conflicted, flawed, and make mistakes (even large ones), and I'll forgive them easily if they are, at some level, trying for something better. I adore Leopold Bloom, for instance, who's a pathetic loser in the grand tradition of tragedy. He tries.
I need a character...just one, really...in a novel who doesn't, at the very least, make me want to dope-slap him or her. Is that asking too much? It's certainly asking too much of novelists like Thomas Hardy and Ernest Hemingway. They have excellent things to say about the human condition, our fallen state, the hopelessness of pursuit of happiness, the cruelty and cynicism and stupidity of life. These are important things to write about, but without giving reference (solid, balanced reference) to their opposites...grace, mercy, joy, kindness, and compassion...a novel ends up sounding like the evening news.
I don't watch the evening news anymore.
I've only read a third of Mr. Gruber's skillfully written book, yet I'd be happy if the main characters contracted Ebola and bled to death from their eyeballs. (Okay, I exaggerate, but not much.) Not one is nice or good or even trying just a tiny bit to be nice or good. They are complex, carefully developed, and fully believable, but they are motivated by selfishness, lust, greed, or stupidity. I. Just. Don't. Care.
That's why I'm not finishing The Book of Air and Shadows. My sincere apologies to Mr. Gruber, who has written a smart, interesting, and masterful novel that I, sadly, cannot enjoy.
Instead, I'm rereading the delightful book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. If you want to read a book that makes you smile and want to be friends with the characters, pick up a copy.