So. I’ve started a blog. How incredibly original.
Five years ago, while I was on my first attempt of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, I was bombarding a friend with my thoughts on the book. I’d read something like 25 pages, then compose an email to her, beginning with chatty news and devolving into what I’ll only call the roughest first draft of an essay. I can’t help it — I have an English Lit degree but have never used it. After some number of these exchanges, I received this message:
B, you should write a blog.
Of course, I came up with 70 reasons why I shouldn’t. What would I say? Who would read it? I can’t really remember my CP Style as well as I should; what if there was a — gasp! — grammatical error on my page? And so on and so forth.
So years went by. I continue to read a plethora of books and have a plethora of thoughts regarding these books but no outlets. I can find any number of people willing to discuss Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey and while I have read both series (yeah, I did), I don’t really have much to contribute by way of conversation, not anything that fans of these books want to hear anyway. I’ve looked into book groups over the years: the first never got off the ground; the second, when I went to join, were reading Harlequin Romances (not that there’s anything wrong with that); the third seemed to read the really important books of our time, specifically, only Oprah’s Book Club picks (one day I’ll have my Oprah rant, but not today). So, no book group really seemed to fit me.
Then I found Goodreads, the lovely web site that has subsequently been bought out by Amazon. It seemed wonderful at first, all of these people reading all of these books. I joined a couple of groups. I was really excited to discuss books with like-minded individuals. But it didn’t really work out the way I’d hoped.
My first group was set to read classic literature. Every month, group members first nominate, then vote on what they’d like to read. There are almost 4,000 members. So, on occasion, I may not be reading what I’d like to read. Fine. The first book we tackled after I joined was Anna Karenina. I quickly learned that I loathe this book. I got to page 73, decided I hated all but one of the characters and began to marathon Joss Whedon shows on Netflix (please, please, please, don’t make me read that book!). So much for that idea. I tried to stay with the group but after Tolstoy they reached for Dostoyevsky, during which I discovered that it’s possible that I don’t like Russian literature. Alas!
Subsequent time on the site led me to discover that most people can’t talk about a book without rehashing the events of the story. I’d read a plot synopsis (online version of a jacket cover) and say to myself “Self, this book sounds good.” Now, for anyone unfamiliar with Goodreads, there’s reviews on the site. This excited me to no end: I can find out if the book reads as well as it sounds like it will! Hurray! Save myself the hassle of discovering painful prose and barely outlined characters! This, unfortunately, is not how most reviews read. Most reviews read like an extended jacket cover, reiterating every plot point but failing to comment on those things that drive me to love or hate a book (prose & characterization, if you’re only on your second cup of coffee like I am). A review should not read like you’ve just asked a seven-year-old to tell you a story: “. . . and then . . . and then . . . and then . . . and then.” Oy.
Plus, here’s a hint: you can love a book but hate the events that occur within. Take, for example, The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III. Perhaps you’ve seen the 2003 movie starring Jennifer Connelly & Sir Ben Kingsley. I have. I remember struggling with the movie, with how the events played out, but hey, it was only like, 90 minutes of my life so I stayed the course (read: I stayed on the couch. I lived in Prescott, Ontario at the time, so what else was I going to do?). Mid-January of this year, I was trolling the library and came across the book. I decided to try it out, see how it compared to my dim memory of the film. Well, it took me a record 12 days to read this 368 page novel. Why so long? A whole pile of reasons, really. I hated everything that most of these characters did. Seriously. Each new event seemed to be propelled by Kathy saying to herself, I should do this, but instead I’ll do that. It made me shake my head, my fist, and cry No! aloud (I gave up reading this novel in public, by the way). I didn’t like Kathy, I didn’t like Les, I didn’t like anything they did and wanted to give them both a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
So why did I keep reading this book, albeit slowly and intermittently?
First off, the writing is excellent. It’s absolutely beautiful. A creeping prose that wraps itself around your brain, evoking a fog rolling in over the California hills where the story takes place. It made me want to read every word, which is amazing as I am a somewhat lazy reader and will speed through long passages. I blame years of post-secondary school with all of those intense reading lists — I speed read everything and can’t really help it. But this book slowed me right down. In a good way.
Secondly, while I hated what these characters were doing, I understood why. A sign of excellent characterization is that a reader understands a character’s motive as well as the person who created said character. Though I’m sure Dubus III knows these people more intimately than I (I mean, I spent 12 days with them; he likely spent at least 12 months creating them.), I never once stopped reading and asked myself why anyone was doing what they were doing.
And finally, these hateful actions were excellent at driving the plot forward. I mean, let’s be honest, bad decisions make for great stories.
So … how’s that for a review with absolutely no plot spoilers? But alas, as I’m reading reviews online, I find that most are critiquing how the story plays out, as opposed to how the book is actually written. And then and then and then and then.
So. I’ve rambled off the point into a rant about a book. This happens a lot. At least with the written word, I can somewhat redirect myself back toward my point. Which is, what possessed me to take on a blog after all of these years?
I read. I read a lot. And I think a lot. And sometimes I get lost in my head thinking about all of these books that I read a lot of. So, in the name of clearing my head, I will spew its contents out onto the internet. And maybe people will read it, and maybe people won’t. And maybe people will read it to see what I’m reading, what I’m thinking about what I’m reading, what I’m ranting about this week, or just to see if they can find a — gasp! — grammatical error. Whatever brings you here, welcome. This frustrated English Lit major and failed writer hopes to entertain you.