Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unfinished books

I have always been quite a voracious reader. I get lost in books...when I'm really into a book I pretty much tune out everything around me. One time in elementary school we had a fire drill during free reading time. Now, free reading time was way cool because we all got to read a book of our choice, but most importantly we could go anywhere in the room to read. We didn't have to stay at our desks. So, I decided to lie on the floor of the carpeted area of the room under a table. Cozy, yes? Well, when the fire alarm went off, I was so absorbed in my book that I honestly didn't even notice what was going on. I stayed under the table, unnoticed, happily reading away until my teacher came back to the room searching for me when I didn't show up in her head count. I got in big trouble with the teacher (who thought I was lying and had just decided to skip out on the fire drill), but my mother, who was used to my incredible ability to tune out the world while reading, just shook her head and sighed when she was informed of my misbehavior. She did, however, vow to quit buying me books at some point because they were, in her opinion, a waste of money since I read them so quickly.

I like to think that my tastes are quite varied. I love all kinds of books...horror, sci-fi, fantasy, non-fiction, classics, chick-lit, graphic name it, I'll probably read it and enjoy it. That's why it is rare for me to run across a book that just doesn't grab me. It's a pretty short list, but here are the ones I can think of off the top of my head that I just didn't care for:
  • The Red Badge of Courage - I had to read this in high school and it was pure torture. Mostly what I remember of it today is that I just wanted to smack the main character the entire time...what a whiner!
  • Brick Lane, by Monica Ali - I was briefly a member of an ill-fated book club that I never made it to a meeting for and this was the book we were supposed to read. I did finish it, but it was work. I think it was meant to be character-driven rather than plot-driven, but I didn't really feel for the main character at all, so it didn't really work for me. Plus it was just damned depressing.
  • The River, by Edward Hooper - This is a nonfiction book about the origins of HIV. Usually I love this kind of thing, but this book should have ended a couple of hundred pages before it did (it is loooong). The author offers up an interesting hypothesis and some evidence supporting it, but then kind of veers off into weird conspiracy-theory-land.
But, see, I actually finished all of those books. Even though I hated them. Some part of me just wouldn't let me leave the book unfinished, so I slogged through them and breathed a sigh of relief that I could finally read something else instead when they were over. I think this is some weird personality flaw of mine that I can't NOT finish a book. I mean, c'mon! It's supposed to be fun, right? Reading for pleasure is supposed to be just that...pleasurable! It's not an assignment! (OK, except for The Red Badge of Courage...that was an assignment.)

...which brings me to the current book I'm reading. I had this cool themed book-block all planned. I read Persepolis and Persepolis 2, then I was going to read Lolita before reading Reading Lolita in Tehran. Cool, huh? Well, I plowed through both Persepolis books in about two days (they're awesome, by the way) and then promptly went to read Lolita, but....I hate it. It is not at ALL what I had expected. From all the cultural references to it, I guess I thought it was going to be...less sick. I kind of expected some kind of taboo mutual attraction between a middle-aged man and a a high-school aged girl. Instead, for those who have not read it, it's actually about a pedophile who has, his entire life, been attracted to girls about 9-10 years old. Mostly, so far, the book has been about him stalking one girl in particular (Lolita). Perhaps it takes pedophilia for me to get turned off enough on a book to actually not finish it. I'll keep you posted.


  1. Anonymous7:52 PM

    The entire point of Lolita is how frankly morally repulsive Humbert is, as well as how Lolita herself manipulates him and others. If there's a single likeable character in it, I don't remember. The movie is every bit as skin-crawling.

    Just because a device has a point doesn't make it pleasant or even necessary to read, though..

  2. Ugh, no, all the characters are awful! You haven't forgotten any good ones, don't worry. Even the style of writing is self-indulgent and off-putting and since it is in Humbert's voice it just makes you hate him more, which I admit is a neat literary trick on Nabokov's part.

    I just keep feeling like I should read it because it is so frequently referenced that I am missing out by not actually having read the whole thing.

    On the other hand, I would be willing to bet that the majority of people who reference it haven't read it and only have the vaguest idea of its content...which is probably why I didn't really know what I was getting when I cracked it open!

  3. Anonymous5:44 PM

    my apologies for brick lane and lolita... i have to admit that i had an incredibly tough time getting through both of them. but, like you, i have some ridiculous compulsion to finish books even if i don't like them. or HATE them!

    and for the record, the red badge of courage was awful.