Friday, April 4, 2008

How To Give Up On a Book

I gave up on a book last week, as some of you may have seen from my Facebook updates, and that practice is only the result of years of guilt.

When I was a kid, I gave up on books readily, tossing aside Twain and Melville like so much trash because I couldn’t understand them, dammit, and who wants to work that hard for fiction. It’s like eating around the bones in a sardine. The meat wasn’t good enough for the effort.

But by the time I got to college the brussels sprouts actually had appeal and my mind needed more of a challenge and I fell in love with the old white guys and their inside jokes and wouldn’t put them down. I read the thick books and re-read some of them, even the Russians, which were like learning a new language! Heady and high from the accomplishment, I would dive into yet another book like those my mother used to press flowers because she didn’t have time to read them. College made me literarily cocky.

And then I graduated.

If you don’t have an assignment due and you have neat toys like laptops and internet and fountain pens and journals, you tend to take fourteen years to finish books. I jumped on the Oprah Book Club, just to have some sense of reading accountability. I almost made them. Until a Russian came along. When she put Tolstoy’s Anna on the stand, I had to drag myself through passages, and despite trying to break it off into bites that I could chew with sections of paper in multi-colored clips, I only got half-way through.

Last week it was a book 1/16th the size of Anna but nearly as depressing, and if you go to Facebook you shall see why I rejected it. We have to be okay rejecting books, though. I don’t believe we should destroy them (no, not even the work of Henry James, who, for the life of me, STILL makes me angry with his obtuseness), but I think we don’t HAVE to read them, either.

Let the good storytellers make it, and the obtuse ones go to those who want a stranger language than “The Brothers Karamazov.” I will keep my Dostoyevsky and Camus and trashy romance about the Boleyn sisters. My mind finds its own niches, thanks.

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