When it comes down to it, I have not read many of the works contained on the annual Greatest American Literature lists put out by New York Times et al. While I have read all Hemingway's short stories, the only novel I was able to get through was "Old Man and The Sea". I really tried to get past the first paragraph of "The Sun Also Rises", but I just couldn't. Same goes for John Updike, although I like his short stories, and while I adore Truman Capote, I have yet to read "In Cold Blood". The only American authour I have read every work by is F. Scott Fitzgerald. To my credit, I did manage to get through "Washington Square", but that's because my Secondary 4 professor assigned it. (Considering all the Canadian authours she could have chose, I'm still puzzled by the selection...)
So during my most recent trip to the BPL, I took out "The Sheltering Sky" by Paul Bowles. And unlike some of the other novels I've zipped through this summer, this one is slow going; you know the type- you keep checking to see when the chapter will end. True, I'm only up to Chapter 5, and things did pick up in the last few pages before I put the book down for the night.
I believe the common thread in my difficulty with these writers is the formal tone to their writing. And while other nationalities certainly employ such a tone, somehow the Americans' tone creates a distance that you have to overcome (at least in my case) in order to engage with the characters. Certainly in a novel that deals with disillusionment with society or a similar topic, such a tone is appropriate. Still, it makes the reading experience more cumbersome and mitigates the relaxation factor. Is it worth the effort? Undoubtedly. But it renders such books less suited for a Summer Reading list.
Right now, there's hope that I'll manage to finish the novel, since the setting is currently North Africa, a region that I have always wanted to visit. If and when I do, I'll be sure to let you all know. :)