Is that it?
Are we done?
Is it over for another year?
Are we properly into the twenties yet?
Gone are the days when I anguished over these things but should I have finished up all outstanding reading by the end of the year, or just let it all dribble over the line and into another year?
In the end I have two books that are certain finishers eventually so they have bridged the decade and will come with me into 2011's reading lists, South Riding by Winifred Holtby and A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel.
But I do like to choose something gentle as my last read of the year, so I was in a bit of a panic on New Year's Eve when it looked like The Humbling by Philip Roth might be my final completed book of 2010.
Philip Roth is one of the Big Scary Male Authors that Kirsty 'Other Stories' and I are planning to tackle at our leisure through 2011, no pressure...just when we feel like it, but it does mean we will occasionally be foregoing our cherished Virago Modern Classics and our beloved 19th century women in the interests of putting some girl-spin on these big guns and their books... except I've almost fallen at the first hurdle and had to pick myself up and dust off smartish.
So has anyone out there read The Humbling?
If so, and had this been your introduction to Philip Roth's writing, would you ever have picked up another one?
Would you want a wonderful year of reading to end with this book?
Are there some things you just don't want to read about too?
I might have thrown in the Philip Roth towel with immediate effect had I not read the other three in the Nemeses series since Christmas. Though I can see that the explicit content in The Humbling may all have been part of Roth's masterplan for the humiliation of his main character, and doubtless designed to shock and disturb the socks (at minimum) off his reader, I just couldn't take this part of the book seriously. I'm not a prude (I've worked in casualty after all...you'd be amazed) nor am I morally censorious, but I read on with eyes half-closed and therefore couldn't see past what seemed like the embarrasingly voyeuristic and dare I say silly, to get to the literary. It was all enough to put a girl off a nice pot of a tea and slice of marzipan Stollen.
Everyman, Indignation and Nemesis, secured Philip Roth's redemption because I really enjoyed each one, so all is not lost and more about those soon but I can see that I may just have to pick and choose my way through his writing. On this basis I wonder if the Roth experts out there can advise which others I could happily avoid? I've already ordered The Ghost Writer, American Pastoral & The Plot Against America... will I cope? And I wonder too whether I might eventually see The Humbling's place within the greater Roth oeuvre when I have read some more, I'll let you know.
So on the evening of New Year's Eve I also set aside A Place of Greater Safety. I'm almost halfway (400 pages in) and it's completely superb, the French Revolution a la Wolf Hall, but I was entering the early stages of head rolling with Hilary and I just knew she'd do it with some gusto. Our 'ilary's good on gore and the heads are taking their leave but without the help of a guillotine just yet, so it's all needing a bit of elbow grease through sinewy necks and arteries and other bits in the way, and thinking I didn't want to sully New Year's Eve with decapitations either I picked up Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Gaskell instead.
'...I never thought of resisting, but went on my errand, though I remember feeling as I would rather have had my head cut off...'
and wondered briefly whether this might be a case of out of the tumbril and into the pony and trap, but of course it was fine, just Mrs G having her little joke. Cousin Phillis proved to be a perfect end to a perfect year of reading and more about it soon but might this be a first?
Mrs Gaskell and Philip Roth sharing a blog post?