As a reader, I mean. I haven't every attempted to write one, a poem of three or four pages being about as long as I have been able to extend a literary structure. But after years of not reading novels very often, I have been on something of a roll lately. I had looked forward this spring to two in particular, Richard Powers' Operation Wandering Soul & Phillip Roth's The Great American Novel. I gave up on each for similar reasons: they're full of set piece comedy & love-me-I'm-an-asshole characters. To put it in something closer to critical terms, neither novel was able to establish a bond of sympathy for either its characters or its situation. Powers lost me with the misanthropy of his central character (no doubt to be redeemed in the last hundred pages) & his overly clever writing. Roth lost me with the whorehouse scene where guys go to be bathed, dressed in diapers & treated like an infant. It was probably funny, or at least "daring," in the sixties, but it just seemed dumb. I pushed on a bit, to a scene where a last-place major league baseball team -- it's a baseball novel -- plays an exhibition against the inmates of an insane asylum. Both narratives traffic in emotional clichÃ©s & literary exhibitionism.