Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Creep Factor

I pick up a new book. I begin to read. I love it or I hate it or it's okay...not great...I am not committed one way or the other. How long should I wait to see if, having started out slowly, the book will improve? I do not like giving up on a book I've started, so I'll try to wait it out. Of course, if there are multiple new books that I am excited to read, the time span I'll allow a so-so book is significantly shortened. And, let's face it, as I get older the time I have left for doing anything comes with more of a premium.

I remember opening the box that contained The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle, The Book Thief, and Sea of Poppies. I began with the much-hyped Sawtelle. I forced myself to finish it, suffering the seemingly endless journey in excruciating pain, praying for the end...which finally and mercifully came about a week later. I declared it to be the worst book I had ever read, impossibly overwritten, badly in need of editing, and boring. Most of us can overlook some of those defects, but there is no forgiveness in my heart for boring. Many people loved the book, comparing it to Macbeth. The comparison makes me shudder. I have read Macbeth...Macbeth was a friend of mine...and Sawtelle is no Macbeth.

My Sawtelle experience occurred a few years ago, but it was brought to mind recently when I picked up The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. They were on sale at Barnes & Noble for $4.98 each - which, if you look at it from one angle (my favorite angle) - represents a savings of at least $20. Of course, viewed from a different angle (from which I can never see clearly) one could say I am $10 out-of-pocket (with tax) for two books that could have been rented from the library.

I picked up the Tropper book right away. It sounded like a winner to me. The Siebold was a different story. I picked it up. I put it down. I walked away. I walked back to the table upon which it was displayed. Picked it up again. Fanned the pages. Put it back down. Wandered around the store. You know the drill. I did not like the theme. I have always avoided books involving the murder or abuse of children. It was against my better judgment that I finally carried it to the check out counter. Bones had received very good reviews and it was on sale, but from the beginning I felt I made a mistake.

The book is well written and is not in the least boring. In fact, I made it half-way through in less than a day. Nevertheless, I put it down and started This Is Where I Leave You, the theme of which is a Jewish family with "issues" whose members are forced to endure each other as they sit Shiva (seven day mourning) for their dead husband/father. It is very clever and funny and I'm enjoying it very much.

How do I describe my reaction to Bones? It is not a book one particularly "enjoys." Having said that, I can't say I "enjoyed" The Book Thief either. Nevertheless, I would recommend that book without any reservation to anyone who asks me for reading suggestions. From what I've read of the Sebold book, thus far anyway, except for the disturbing first chapter most of the story (which is told in a child's voice) is not as difficult as I feared. I figured that if I got through the first chapter it would be smooth sailing. Perhaps therein lies the heart of the problem. The innocent voice that speaks the story is the same voice luring the reader to a dark place where a malevolent character stalks around its edges. In short, there is an unrelenting essence of creepiness mixed with childhood innocence that I, as the reader, am finding very unsavory and I am unsure whether my reading time might be better spent elsewhere. From the first few pages, I fully realized what I was getting into, i.e. that George Harvey would be lurking behind the curtains for the duration. Perhaps if I were made of stronger stuff...but returning to that neighborhood might be a little too unsettling to make it worthwhile.


  1. I've never read The Lovely Bones, so can't give an opinion on that (oh come, come, I hear you cry - when has ignorance ever stopped you before? ;) )and I saw the Jonathan Tropper myself and hesitated over buying that one (I walked away, but could be persuaded to return...?) But oh I do know the problem of uncertainty in the reading experience. It's so hard to know whether to carry on sometimes. Do you have a page limit, Grad. that you read to? I know lots of bloggers will give a book 60 pages or so, and give it up if they're not fully engaged by then. Although it does sound to me as if, really, you've had enough of it.

  2. I've not read Lovely bones. My husband has and liked it but wasn't wowed by it. I know well the difficulty of deciding to not finish a book you start. I used to slog on to the bitter end no matter what but in the last few years as the book piles have gotten bigger and I've gotten older, I refuse to slog through another book. so if Sebold doesn't work for you, then move on I say and donate the book to your library so you don't feel like you completely wasted your $5 :)

  3. I can't remember where I read this, but one reputable critic agreed with you in having mixed feelings about Bones: she felt that it pretended to deal with the nitty-gritty, but really didn't.

    As for me, the nitty-gritty I would just as soon avoid.

  4. I really don't think there's anything at all wrong to put down a book due to irreconcilable differences. I absolutely avoid films, books, advertisements and news items on subject matter alone. Sometimes I know it's just going to do more harm than good than go there, so why should I? I read The Lovely Bones and it depressed the hell out of me. It also bugged me, and I sort of resent it now because it's really the reason I am not reading The Room, which is supposed to be brilliant. But it has that same horrible premise of an abused child at its centre. Hard to overcome my aversion for that kind of material, and I'm really not sure why I should when I do have so many other worthy options in the TBR pile. I used to persist at all costs, now I figure life is too short.