Tag Archives: Book Review

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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Seven Years of Geek Love

24 Mar

Let the record show that I don't judge books by their covers. Not this one, at least.

There’s this book that I picked up in the Summer of 2003 that I had started reading then and just finished yesterday. I know that I bought it back in 2003 because I found an old receipt for my driver’s license renewal dated for September of that year, nestled in the pages, probably serving as a bookmark. The book is called Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, and it’s not like it was an unusually long or even that it was a difficult read. It was one of those books that I was hugely interested in reading and probably got distracted by something else about 150 pages in. For years and years, it sat on my bookshelf taunting me, making me feel guilty for not finishing it. I HATE buying books and not finishing them. It makes me feel like I’ve failed.

I bought the book off of a display table at Chapters because the summary on the back really intrigued me. It was unlike anything that I’d ever read before. It’s about the Binewskis, who are a family of genetically bred carnival freaks. The parents, Al and Lil, believe that there is no better gift to give your children “than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves,” and so create their own freak show for their carnival by using experimental drugs and chemicals during Lil’s pregnancies so that each child will be born horribly deformed. There’s Arty who was born with flippers in the place of limbs, Oly the albino humpback dwarf who also serves as the novel’s Narrator, Elly and Iphy the beautiful siamese twins, and Chick who while appearing “normal,” actually possesses powerful telekinetic abilities.

It seems to be a horribly sick premise, and it made me wonder what kind of person might want to read a twisted story like this. I had to take it home.

I picked it out of my bookcase again in about November and resolved to finish it. There were a couple of starts and stops again, and I actually read and finished a few other books in the meanwhile. It was only 348 pages, but the pages were so densely packed in its typesetting, that I think that it would’ve actually have been 900 pages had it been typeset like, oh I don’t know, a Stephenie Meyers book. This made the reading feel a lot more tedious than it actually was, and it was a struggle to finish, but because I had challenged myself to get to the last page, I had to keep turning the pages until I got to the end. Also a bit taxing on the brain was that the story was pretty complex, vividly detailed and not surprisingly, quite grotesque. It challenges you on your views on society, normalcy, family, love, and ultimately, what it is to be human.

The novel is obviously very unlike anything that I’ve read before. Would I recommend it to a friend? Probably not. Though I’m sure that this story will stay with me for a long time, and I’m glad that I finished it, even if it took me 7 years to do so. It’ll no longer taunt me from my bookcase and brand me a failure, that judgmental bastard that it was.

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