February and March have been The Time of the Half-Finished Novel. I’m getting increasingly frustrated with books that can’t hold my attention. I can’t stand when people recommend books and preface it by saying, “Give it 100 pages, you’ll get into it.” Isn’t the point of a story to simply be into it? Why does it need to be such an effort? Why are so many authors incapable of starting off strong?
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
I didn’t finish it. (It is 1,000 pages though, so cut me a little slack.)
The story did, however, make me desperately want to go to India. Hard. Like, it made me think about India every hour of every day for the two weeks I struggled through it.
Shantaram is the very long-winded story of a convict who escapes to India and has adventures. However, the main character, in conversation would say things like, “We used to wake with plaster on our faces from the pregnant ceiling…” I mean, really? DOES ANYONE IN THE REAL WORLD TALK LIKE THIS?! The absurdness of the dialogue brought me out of the story 60% of the time… every time.
Around page 150 the author writes, “I was thinking about another kind of river, one that runs through every one of us, no matter where we come from, all over the world.”
That’s when I put it down. There’s only so much cheese one girl can take. My motto is, if I roll my eyes every chapter, my time could be better spent elsewhere.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
It’s the story of a girl who grows up in foster care and becomes almost obsessive about the meaning of flowers. The book revolves around both her upbringing and her present-day reintroduction into the real world. Homelessness, weird family drama, abandonment, unhealthy attitudes towards sex – this book has it all if you want to hate the world. I wasn’t a major fan of the main character, but the story was well told and I’m glad I read it.
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
In a nutshell: White girl, orphan, slaves in the South, racism, etc etc. I remember liking it at the time, but let’s just say it’s not the kind of story that sticks with you.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I am so, so glad I read this (I was expecting to hate it). The story of a kid with Aspergers (I think), Extremely Loud is a story based on the time after his father’s death in 9/11. I couldn’t finish it fast enough.
I have to note, however, that I highlighted more parts I hated than parts I loved. There were a lot of inconsistencies that just seemed like Foer was adding quirky plot lines without actually thinking about how they fit into the story. There were whole sections that didn’t make any sense and paragraphs that exhausted me. One of my notes, halfway through the book, says, “I REALLY HATE COMING TO THESE SECTIONS.” Another note: “I have no idea what just happened in this chapter.”
But, then again, I highlighted more phrases I loved than anything I’ve ever read. The author’s points were so often beautiful without being cheesy and over-the-top. I want to share lines with you like, “I’ll wear heavy boots for the rest of my life.” Or, “Being with him made my brain quiet. I didn’t have to invent a thing.” But out of context these words that meant so much to me seem hollow.
I can understand if you’ve read and hated this book. If you haven’t read it yet, I really urge you to give it a go. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
What I’m Reading Now
I’m reading The Historian at the moment and am really slogging through it. I like the story – in theory – but why is it taking the author so long to get to said story? There are bits of awesome interspersed with really long, tedious bits of over-telling.
And – sadness upon sadness – I tried rereading one of my favorite books of all time, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I couldn’t finish that either. I forgot how methodical the whole thing is. It’s chapter after chapter of facts and plot points with no emotion whatsoever. I remember being obsessed with this book as a child. What happened? Note to self: Stop trying to reread your childhood favorites.
Learning What I Love and Hate
Writing about the books I read every month has been strangely good for me. I plow through books so fast, it’s been nice to reflect on what I’ve read, what I’ve loved and what I’ve hated.
I’ve found that I love slightly quirky books. Lots of perspectives and to-the-point writing.
I hate flowery prose. I hate the word prose. Why say “her shining emerald eyes” when you can just say “green eyes”? And why are we talking about her eyes anyway?
Why turn everything into a metaphor when we perfectly understand what you mean without them? I’m of the school of thought that you “show, don’t tell”. And as I get older, I’m getting grouchier and grouchier about books that overcomplicated and over-share. I’m all for gorgeous imagery and meaningful phrases, but their overuse is a sign of a bad and incompetent writer trying to make up for a lack of real skill.
What have you read this month?