Monday, February 1, 2010

Should Have Bailed
My eldest daughter learned in third grade if you start a book and don't like it, it's okay to "abandon it." Most adults I know have a really hard time with this concept. We feel like once we start, we have to finish, regardless of how we feel about the book. Like there's some karmic literary retribution or fail for letting go of a book that just isn't doing it for us.

So, I'm in this book club, and I'm open to reading lots of different genres and usually agree to whatever the ladies present. Not this past month. The selection was a Pen-Faulkner winner, written by an author who's won accolades for her work, work which has appeared in many well-respected publications. Her writing was short listed for other prestigious awards. The ladies in the group who had read the book gave it high praise.

Hated it. Hated it. Visceral reaction, dread in the pit of my stomach, joy when I realized a conflict would prevent me attending the discussion. I did not want my disdain for the book to outweigh those who had a much different reading.

Two chapters in, I told my daughters I didn't like the book I was reading. Eldest said, "Abandon it." And laughed when I told her I would not. My reasons were sound. I wanted to give the book a shot. I had agreed to read it along with the other club members. It was important to try different things. She's twelve; I wanted to show her how to finish something unpleasant. The literary equivalent to holding my nose to swallow the over-boiled spinach.

I read the last pages of the book last night. The ending was as improbable as the rest of it. Big surprise. The characters remained hollow, without human depth or strength of character.

I could have stopped reading. I could have abandoned it. It would cost me nothing to quit in the middle. I mean, it's a voluntary book club and I'd be letting down exactly no one.


I wanted to finish the book. I wanted, so much wanted, the writer to finally give the characters some emotion, some real thought, some reason for their odd decisions. I kept thinking, "okay, surely now she's going to tell us why this diva is in love with the man who doesn't talk." But even her "in love" was ashes in my mouth.

I wanted to finish because I thought, "I must be missing something." I'd refer to the front of the book to verify I hadn't imagined the little sticker announcing it a winner of the Pen-Faulkner. Yep. Still there. I'd look at the soft focus author photo and think "well, she's a pretty enough woman. She looks like a nice person." I felt connected to her, like I didn't want her to fail. Clearly the awards committee connected with the book and the author because she won the praise. I was rooting for the book.

And yet. Hated it. Maybe that's okay. Maybe there's no bigger lesson here. It's okay that I do not agree with the critics. It's okay that others liked, even loved, the book. I could have let it go, but I chose to stick it out. I'm glad I did. It was not wasted time. It was time I learned what doesn't work for me in a book, how I responded to the content and the writer, how I thought of the book in terms of communal response. Even though every single page made me cringe, I'm glad I held my nose and choked it down.


  1. I have a friend that tells me that life is too short to read a book we don't like. I have always held your belief to stick it out, ut will get better. But I have since given up a book and put it on the recycle pile. I do feel better for it.

    Well done you for carrying on, but next time I say Bail.

  2. Suzi, I guess this is one more piece of evidence that my children come by their stubbornness naturally. Thanks for stopping by. What are you reading these days?