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17th March
2011
written by Steph

Just because I’m not writing about books here for the moment, that doesn’t mean I’ve completely forsaken them! On Tuesday I got together with some of the wonderful women who work over at BookPage and sat down for a podcast in which we discussed Lionel Shriver’s most recent novel, So Much For That. It was a vibrant and spirited discussion, which really helped to remind me why it is I started this blog in the first place: so that I could connect with others who are passionate about reading. As much as reading can be a solitary activity, I think the best books are the ones that get us thinking and talking and ultimately connecting with others. Not all of us responded to Shriver’s latest work in the same way (I may have been a contrarian for much of this podcast… as in life), but it was still a really thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion, and yes it was a lot of fun! If you’d like to hear four passionate readers take off their gloves and throw down, you could do no better than listen to our discussion! I won’t spill the beans and say whether or not I actually liked this book… you’ll just have to listen to find out. [And really, it's the first question we answer, so you don't really have to listen for very long if you don't want to... I encourage you to listen to at least the first 5 minutes of the podcast for not just the answer to this very important question but also to listen to the awesome "Pemba" music at the start! ;) ]

Listen to the BookPage So Much For That Podcast by following this link!

Ok, I know not all of you have 50 minutes to spare listening to strangers gab about books so for those of you, I offer this brief summary of my feelings on the novel (but it’s not the same as hearing me vociferously proclaim them, so just know you are missing out! :D ): I don’t regret reading it, but I had significant issues with the book and am not entirely certain it completely works as a novel. My main issue with the book is that I felt it was more of a vehicle for Shriver to get up on a soapbox about the current American healthcare system and too often sacrificed the fictional story as a result. I had the same issue with Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, so I guess I just don’t like it when authors get preachy. I think you can still convey there are huge issues with the healthcare system without being so deliberate and obvious about it, and I often wished she had just written an op ed piece for a newspaper and saved 450+ pages of paper.

That said, it’s certainly a provocative book that, like all of Shriver’s novels, demands that you respond and have an opinion, so it certainly wasn’t a complete failure and I did get something out of the reading of it. I just ultimately felt that given how clever Shriver is, I think she is capable of writing a smarter novel than this wound up being.

I could say more, but I think that was my biggest issue with the book. But of course, if you listen to the podcast, you will hear others disagree vehemently with me on my reaction to the novel (don’t worry – we all left as friends!), so your mileage may vary! Rating wise, I give SMFT a whopping 3 out of 5.

7 Comments

  1. 03/17/2011

    I’m listening to the podcast now! I have shied away from this one because I did wonder about the subject matter and how and why the author chose to write about it now.

  2. I haven’t listened to your podcast because the mere mention of this book makes me angry!! I had similar issues to you and so didn’t actually make it to the end. I felt as though this book was one long rant against the health care system with too many characters with convenient different health issues. There wasn’t any plot, just vague links between different rant. I wish she’d just written a breif newspaper piece too!

  3. 03/17/2011

    I’m just starting the podcast now, but I totally agree with what you’ve written here. Too much (obvious) polemic that made the characters feel like mouthpieces for specific positions. I did think it improved in the latter half when it got away from politics and into issues of what life means. I liked the writing well enough to read more Shriver, though.

  4. 03/18/2011

    I am going to be reading this very soon, and am a little bit saddened to hear that it’s not Shriver’s best work. I loved Kevin, as you know (even though it scared the bejesus out of me) and had been hoping for a lot out of this one. I will have to check out this podcast later this afternoon when I have some time to sit down and listen.

  5. JoV
    03/18/2011

    I borrow the book from the library but return it back without reading it. I love Shriver, but some of her books are better than other. Healthcare system is something I’m interested with, but one of this days I’ll give it a go and see what this book does for me. :)

    I was intrigued to know “We Need to talk about Kevin” is going to be made into a movie. Must be dark and scary..

  6. 03/18/2011

    I’ve wanted to read him but I couldn’t get into this book because I am not being interactive enough with all that he is trying to impart in me. Ha! That said, I do enjoy Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom—so far—but decide that I cannot peruse the book on a daily basis.

  7. 03/21/2011

    @ Kathleen: Yes, I think that when authors tackle topics that are all over the news it can be difficult because people may feel like they’ve already heard so much about the issues.
     
    @ Jackie: I remember how much you didn’t like this book when you talked about it on your blog, so I am not surprised by your reaction!
     
    @ Teresa: Polemic is exactly the right word (and the one that kept eluding me). I agree that I think the book improves as it goes on, but if I hadn’t been reading this for the podcast, I am not sure I would have finished it. Those first 300 pages were rough!
     
    @ zibilee: I think that Shriver is really provocative and really forces her readers to think and feel things… she did that in Kevin and she does it here too, but I think there were some distractions as well given the frequent editorializing. It’s a book that is worth reading, but that’s not to say it isn’t frustrating.
     
    @ JoV: I think Kevin as a movie is going to be terrifying. I am not sure if I can handle seeing the book made real… It’s sort of like how I feel about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Some things need to stay safely on the page!
     
    @ Matt: LOL! Lionel Shriver is actually a woman! She changed her name when she was 11 or something because she felt “Lionel” suited her better!

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