December 5, 2013 in Book Reviews

I am lucky to be surrounded by so many good books that I have yet to read, so I find it baffling when I wind up in one of my reading slumps. It’s not so much that I don’t want to read, it’s that I’m not exactly sure what I feel like reading.  And when that mood takes over, the only way to satisfy it is by reading a book that I feel like reading…whatever that is.

In this particular slump, I thought it would be Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire. It was Halloween, after all, and it had plenty of blood, violence and the eroticism that you’ve come to expect with vampires these days. Yet, about 100 pages in, I put it down and haven’t touched it since.

I turned to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, a memoir about a young woman’s quest to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with no experience whatsoever in an effort to make sense of what her life had become. I was excited to read it: I love hiking and stories of women conquering all. Except…her inexperience and the choices she made with a bad relationship and heroin drove me nuts. She’s better than that! Of course she is, or she wouldn’t have written a memoir where she comes out magnificently changed on the other side of the journey. I wanted to keep reading to see that happen, but I just…put the book down.

Clearly, I needed something riveting to jolt my system. Enter Atul Gawande’s Better. He’s a surgeon, and I thought it would be a series of vignettes about medical mysteries and how they solved them in time to save the patient’s life. It is, in a way, except the mysteries aren’t about specific patients. Instead, he has created a meticulously researched Malcolm Gladwell-esque series of essays on how doctors can become better, from something as simple as washing their hands more frequently to whether or not they should be involved in the process of lethal injections in court mandated executions. I love Malcolm Gladwell and I might like this…someday. But not right now. I put the book down. (I did go back and finish this book…and I loved it! I can’t believe I ever put it down.)

I took drastic measures and picked up a book I had been dying to read: Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda. It’s been hailed as a “riveting literary mystery,” which was exactly what I was looking for: a page turner that took me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go until I finished the book because it was that good. This book is good. The language is languid and descriptive, setting an eerie tone as two young girls float along on a raft in the fog-drenched bay at night, trailing their fingers in the murky, oily water. I knew from the book jacket that only one of them would make it back to shore, but I never got that far because it wasn’t a page turner. It didn’t jump—BAM!—right into the action. It was a lusciously slow build up that I will return to one day, but for now… I put the book down.

Four unfinished books in a row? This was bad news. My reading slump had achieved emergency status. I needed a riveting, compelling book to finish, and I needed it fast. I stood in front of my bookcase, studying and rejecting titles right and left until I descended on The One: John Green’s YA novel The Fault in Our Stars. Everyone who has read it has loved it; everywhere I turned friends, blogs, and reviews were recommending it. I pulled it off the shelf, packed it in my bag, and took it with me on my trip to New York…where I didn’t even crack it open until I got on the plane for the trip home. There, high in the sky above the United States, my reading slump came to an end.

The Fault in Our Stars is a beautiful love story between sixteen-year-old Hazel and Augustus, an extremely cute boy she meets at her Cancer Kid Support Group. Hazel’s cancer is terminal. She walks around pulling her oxygen tank on a cart behind her, destined to never be without it again and hoping that she can stay alive a little longer to spend time with Augustus.

Augustus’ cancer is in remission, but it came with a price: he is missing one leg. His outlook is good, but Hazel’s is not, so they enter their love story knowing it will be a short one. And it is: their time together is much too short, but every minute is a poignant delight to witness.

I loved every word—and there are some big ones. These kids have cancer; they are not stupid. Be prepared to crack open your dictionary, but be equally prepared to fall in love with these kids and to cry copiously at the end.

Thank you, John Green, for pulling me out of my reading slump so forcefully. Your book was exactly what I needed.