Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Why Can't I Remember?

Life is filled with small pleasures and one of mine is sitting down with a good book. I wish that I could tell you that I spend all of my down time curled up on the couch with the latest bestseller in my lap, but that of course would be rather disingenuous. Any devoted consumer of books will tell you that reading comes and goes in waves. Some of this phenomenon is truly time bound. The busier I am in my "real life" the less time or inclination I have to sit down and devour a book. I am also incredibly affected by the weather. The warmth and sun factor are directly proportional to my literary inclination. When I am in the southern home during the miserable months, I find that I am able to read 5 or more books in a month. When I return to the wretchedness that is Toronto in January, my reading immediately ceases. I simply cannot muster up the energy to do much more than carbo-load and watch TV! So, when summer returns to these parts, I have my stack of books ready to devour. But, something interesting has happened on my way to playing "Let's catch up on the reading"! I got stuck in neutral!! I haven't experienced a situation like this one in many years. Herein lies my problem.

The husband, being the devoted and sweet-natured man that he is, ordered me a book from Amazon that he thought that would be right up my alley. Having read a review in the Sunday New York Times, he purchased Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon-and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller. (Sounds like something I would like, right?) This weighty book is basically the well-researched and thoughtfully considered biographies of three of the most iconic women of rock music. Given that all three of these gifted women made their marks at or around the same time, Weller uses the feminist revolution as backdrop for the book. Without getting too deep into the book itself, (I am not starting my own book club!) I will say that it is well-written and fascinating, especially since I am a true fan of all of these women and their music. It is also interesting to note that all three travelled in the same social and musical circles, so that many of the anecdotes told (and lovers encountered) involve musicians that I grew up admiring if not idolizing! (James is pervasive in this book!!) So, what is the problem, you may ask? Well, I started reading this non-fiction albatross sometime around Mother's Day!! Yup! You read that right! I have been reading this particular book for almost 2 months!! This is very much out of character. When I like and get into a book, it usually takes me no more than a week to journey from cover to cover. This thing is taking me a dog's year to read and I am truly frustrated. I will grant you that it is long; almost 600 pages, but that really shouldn't be holding me up for two months. After about a month, I started on a journey of self-evaluation so as to discern what the problem is concerning this book, and I think that I have finally hit upon the issue. I am aging and can't remember crap!!!

This problem breaks down into several parts. Firstly, I am not usually a non-fiction devotee. My normal reading material is fiction. I can lose myself in the stories and locations without fear that I am losing names and dates in the process. In non-fiction, the people are real and the locations and dates are of primary importance. I find myself losing track of who is who. "Is that the Jake that was Carly's friend from camp, or is that the Jake that was one of Carole's producers?" As well, the author is an expert on all of their songs and liberally quotes from them throughout the book to give credence to her thesis as to their importance within the context of the feminist movement. I feel like I need to go back to all of the liner notes of every album and listen to each song discussed in order to get the full weight of the author's meanings. I am constantly flipping pages trying to recall all of the characters involved and as a result, it sometimes takes me hours to read a few pages. Not only that, but the author spices up many of the pages with footnoted stories at the bottom that either move the narrative along, or provide a bit more history to some of the outer circles. While these asterisks are not necessary to read, they are fascinating. They flesh out more of the history and add time to the reading!

A second problem with the book is the manner by which Weller lays out the story. Rather than give each biography individually, Weller chooses to tell their stories in chronological order and thereby jumps from artist to artist within the confines of a few years at a time. I am consistently lost. I cannot remember who went where with whom and when they did it. Further complicating this mess, is that they all had the same friends, lovers and musicians. James Taylor was Carole's best friend, but was dating Joni around the time that he met Carly. And these are just the famous people!! It is all of those that I have never heard of that are giving me fits! I need f#$@*&g post-it notes and a highlighter!! I have a hundred pages to go, and I am starting to think that it may take me the rest of the summer. What has happened to my memory and my staying power? I don't when it happened! When did the edges start getting fuzzy? When did my quick mind and steel-trap memory (believe me-trivia is my forte!!) start to abandon me? When did I start needing lyric sheets in front of me and crib notes in order to read a book? After this book grinds to a completion, I think that I will delve into something mind-numbing! Chick lit? After this experience, Jane Austen will seem like a cake-walk!!

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