Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


According to Nancy Pearl, you ought to give a book 50 pages to win you over, and if it's not working for you by then, set it aside. That happened to me a lot this week, and sometimes, I didn't even make it to 50 pages.

First, I started to read If You Want Me To Stay by Michael Parker. This is one of those books that potentially falls under the category of 'Right Book, Wrong Time.' It's about three little boys who live with their mentally ill father, and lock themselves in the family truck when he's having an episode. During one of these episodes, he takes one of the kids hostage and cuts off his earlobe, so the other two drive off to find their mother a few towns over. It wasn't bad, I just didn't like the narrator's voice or the pacing.

Next, I took a stab at How I Became Stupid by Martin Page, which has an interesting premise: clever young man decides to abandon intellectualism in an attempt to become stupid enough to function in modern society. Unfortunately, it is one of those annoyingly precocious books by a young author who does not do a very good job of separating his own identity from the protagonist's. This results in lots of moments where you suddenly feel like you stopped reading the novel and stumbled instead onto the author's unedited journal entries. Yawn.

Then, I picked up Lancelot by Walker Percy, which was the most frustrating experience of all because this book is almost terrific, and the film, American Beauty, owes a lot to it. The story is told to an unknown listener in the narrator's room at the psych ward, and it's about a failed civil rights lawyer who, upon discovering his wife's infidelity and the fact that another man fathered his child, becomes free. Suddenly, he sees himself as a man who's been hibernating for years and has let himself go slowly to seed, and starts to remedy some of this. As much as I liked parts of it, I had to put the book down after about 150 pages because it's pretty racist. Maybe Percy was doing this on purpose, but I didn't stick around to find out. The whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Finally, in desperation, I picked up Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer. This is the first book in a successful series that went on to become the highest rated program on PBS. I only lasted 10 pages into this one because, although I like cats and peppermint tea, I am not a senior citizen. Also, it turns out that I am not a fan of books about stodgy English barristers with domineering wives.

So much disappointment this week, but I am not discouraged. I returned to the Fiction department at the library during my lunch break today, and emerged with four more books. Surely, one of them won't suck. I really hate not having something good to read.


Gwen said...

I've been having this problem too. I started "Confessions of an Economic Hitman," which started out great--I mean, it's a fascinating look at how we manipulate other countries' economies. But I got so frustrated with the author's "gee, whiz, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe it was bad to help destroy the economies of developing nations. I thought about this all week while I sat by the pool in my luxury suite at the Hilton" tone, and the expectation that we should sympathize with him for taking so long to realize what he was doing was wrong, that I couldn't finish it.

Now I'm reading "The Sex Life of Food." I like parts of it, but sometimes it wanders off into Freudian psycho-babble about the symbolism of women putting food into an oven (an *enclosed space*--like a WOMB, get it?) that annoys me so much I'm not sure I'll be able to stick with it.

I really feel anxious and edgy when I don't have a good book to read. It doesn't even matter if I actually have time to read it--if I know I don't have a book to read if I wanted to, I'm sort of ill-tempered and restless.

I hope the 4 books you got turn out better. I'm going to stick with "The Sex Life of Food" for a few more pages and if that doesn't work, I'm starting a natural history of ice.

johnmurry said...

Hey Mary-
I wish you could've finished Lancelot. It takes a nice turn. Try "The Second Coming" next. You'll make it through, I promise. John

johnmurry said...

I forgot to say this, though. Nothing Walker Percy ever wrote after "The Moviegoer" ever matched it's genius (or even came close). I think his obsession with Charles Pierce's semiotic theory and his need to insert existentialism and linguistic theory into everything afterwards must have been a bit crippling as a writer. I don't think he should've pulled a Salinger or a Harper Lee because some of his later books are still great but once called an "existential writer", he must've felt the effects while writing. Strange since "The Moviegoer" was by far the most "existential" of his books. John