On Disappointing Reads

6 Apr

I love books. I love the smell of book stores. And I love walking out of that store with a shiny, crisp new book in my hand. It’s disappointing when I start a book and then lose interest or motivation to finish it, and my disappointment lies mostly in myself rather than the book that is too uninteresting to keep me engaged. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a book that took me seven years to complete. This was a small accomplishment for me, because I had gotten bored or distracted from this book years ago, and I had just decided to pick it up again this past November with the firm intention of finally finishing it no matter what. Geek Life was not the only book on my shelf that sits there unfinished. In fact, there are a lot more than I care to admit to or acknowledge, but there are a couple that stand out for sure:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
I’d heard countless times that this was a book that everyone had to read at least once. I had really high hopes that this was going to be a profound book that would change my life. The last thing I remember reading before putting it down for good is “and then the ship sank,” or something to that effect. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough, but fundamentally, it was a boring and tedious read for me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always struggled with literature with anthropomorphic characters (ie. animals with human attributes and motivations). Well, unless it’s children’s literature like Winnie-the-Pooh or Charlotte’s Web. And perhaps I quit the book at the exact moment that it gets good and starts changing my life forever. I’m not sure that I will pick this book up again and give it another try. For now, I will admit defeat against Life of Pi. It was good trying to get to know you.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
No matter how hard I try, I can’t even try to pretend to enjoy Margaret Atwood. When I am in a conversation in which people are talking about the latest Atwood, or about her body of work, it’s almost as if they carry an air of superior intellect. Is it because I lack the intellectual capacity to enjoy her work? Anything that I’d ever read of hers was for school. Never by choice, and definitely not for pleasure. I think I picked the hardcover of The Blind Assassin up off the bargain table at the bookstore, or maybe it was given to me as a gift when it had first been published. I remember looking forward to reading it, so that I too could join the ranks of those intellectual readers of this author who is so fundamentally Canadian. I mostly looked forward to it because it was not required reading. I don’t remember much of the novel at all, so evidently I didn’t get too far into it. I’m very sorry to say that I know definitively that I will never enjoy Atwood’s books, though I’m always interested in hearing about her works.

Then, there are the works that I am surprised that I finished and enjoyed at all.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
One of my required courses in University was British Female Authors of the 19th Century. We’d started the year with four of Jane Austen’s works, and because we were required to read these novels at a rate of one a week, compounded by my other literature course at the time, The Works of Thomas Hardy, and the other classes I had to keep up with, it wasn’t hard to fall a little behind on my readings. Over my Christmas break, I’d resolved to get a little ahead of my required readings for my classes to avoid falling behind even more. I picked up Jane Eyre, and was really surprised to have enjoyed it as much as I had. I rarely ever call books “page-turners,” but this was one to me. I was completely engrossed by this novel about this strong woman who suffered so much in her life, but fought so hard to survive  and meet all her challenges with integrity and strength. It was emotional, intriguing and passionate, and her circumstances infuriated me at times. It was a completely different experience from the works of Jane Austen and the other Brontë sisters. I always name Jane Eyre as my favourite classic novel, and it’s usually at the top of my list of recommendations when someone asks me for one. In fact, my office mate also just read it for the first time, and she had the same sentiments about it that I did. She had taken it with her on vacation, and would not put it down until she finished it. She reminded me how good the books is, and has inspired me to re-read it sometime soon.

And then there are the books that I’m embarrassed to admit are on my shelf.
Angels and Demons, The DaVinci Code, and The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Let’s face it, the books in the Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown are really easy to digest books that keep you engaged because of the intriguing subject matter and all the fictionalized accounts of mysterious secret societies and conspiracy theories. To me, the writing is bad and trite, and I get annoyed by Brown’s episodic style of writing. You can almost hear the suspenseful “dum-dum-dum” with the final words of each cliff-hanging chapter. Okay fine, I keep coming back for more, on my own accord, and I’ve read all 3 of the Robert Langdon books. Each time, I’ve been pretty embarrassed to pull the book out of my bag on the train, and even more so when the person across from me is reading the same book as I am. The only thing that these books have going for them to me is the suspense that Brown is able to create. Other than that, the writing is pretty trite, the characters clichéd and only exist to advance the contrived plot. With each subsequent book, it’s become fairly predictable so that the shocking twist can be seen and anticipated far in advance. What’s even more laughable is his novel Deception Point, which is a book that lived in our bathroom. I will say that I finished reading the book, only that my time with it was contained to my stints in the washroom. My apologies to all Dan Brown fans out there, and I don’t mean any insult or offense, because I know that there are a lot of you out there.

Are there any books that you had high expectations for, and for any number of reasons, just could not finish? Or, are there any books that completely surprised you in how much you ended up enjoying them?

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3 Responses to “On Disappointing Reads”

  1. Kat April 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    i had a hard time with life of pi but picked it up at mark’s cottage bc there was nothing else better to read… then i couldn’t put it down! you have to get through the first 100 pages or so and then it gets really good.

    i’m with you on atwood. the only one that was pretty good was handmaid’s tale but again, a forced read bc of school. the movie w/robert duvall was even more disturbing and gross.

    i was surprised about a prayer for owen meany. i had passed by that book hundreds of times at the bookstore but never bought it. it was only when i went to italy and bought it in a store at the airport and then i just couldn’t put it down. we were supposed to go to the see the coliseum in rome but i wanted to stay in the hotel and read instead! hahhaha!

    books i just can’t get in to: time traveller’s wife, a fine balance, fall on your knees, perfume. there’s a bunch more. most of the books are sitting on my shelf and i visit them every few months to see if it’ll interest me but so far, nothing.

    • Steph April 9, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

      I hear that all the time about Life of Pi, that I just have to get past that long start. Though if a book isn’t good some hundred pages in, I just think that I’ve already invested too much time into it and there is no sign of any kind of pay off. I may try again. It’s another bright coloured book on my shelf that screams for my attention! It just goes to show you how personal and subjective books are, because 2 of my favorite books of all time are A Fine Balance and Fall on Your Knees. I can see how A Fine Balance can be hard to get into. I found it hard to connect with any characters at the start – I hate to say this – because of the foreign and confusing names!

      That’s another good one – A Prayer for Owen Meany! Must’ve been a phenomenal read for you, to want to pass over the Coliseum so you could continue reading it.

  2. Leesh April 20, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    I have lots of books that I start and don’t finish. I said to myself from now on, I will only stick to books I like and know I will enjoy reading. This means chick lit and teen books. I really should start reading more serious and meaningful books.

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