Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Packing for a weekend at the lake house, I threw together a stack of reading materials that a speed reader couldn't possibly get through in just two short days.  Glossy design magazines, a few sad-looking New Yorkers begging to be read, every potty training how-to guide published in the last decade, and a new book called Commencement, by J. Courtney Sullivan.

I am often overwhelmed when searching for a new book to read, digging through old NYT book reviews that I've set aside to signal a future read, scrolling through my Amazon wishlist and considering their recommendations based on my reading history (seriously? some of their choices make me seem insane.), and poring over online reviews in hopes of hitting the proverbial literary jackpot.  After reading a handful of glowing reviews, I ordered Commencement with little internal debate.

Unfortunately, I didn't hit the jackpot with Commencement, which turned out to be a frustrating coming of age story chronicling the lives of four women at Smith College, during and after their graduation.  While the writing was compelling at points, Perhaps my college experience at a massive, co-ed Big 10 school was so vastly different from one at a private women's college that it was impossible to identify with the characters enough to invest in them.  Their incessant rehashing of feelings, strange tales of women's college antics, and endless pages of alcohol-filled bad behavior had me threatening (to nobody in particular) to put the book down and move on to something else. 

I did eventually finish the entire thing, thanks in part to a plot twist later in the story and part to a stubborn hope that the reviewers knew something I didn't, but in the end I was left wishing for my $20 and 9 hours back.  I have a great appreciation for authors and complete respect for a difficult craft that a good writer can make seem easy.  Commencement was not a bad book, but it didn't live up to its reviews and it wasn't the book for me.


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