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Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Discussion: What Do You Do When You Are Not Enjoying a Book?

Part 1:
Today's Monday Discussion is a bit different.  I would like to combine it with my What I'm Reading post on The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus.  Back here I posted about how excited I was to read The Flame Alphabet.  Well, I read it (sort of; see Part 2) and I am sorry to report, I did not like it.

The plot has to do with a alternative reality where the speech of children is slowly killing adults. Marcus uses this plot to contemplate the larger philosophical concepts of language and expression.  The narrator is a father.  He and his wife have a teenaged daughter.  He is trying to figure out why he and his wife are so sick.  There is also this under current of a story about a very weird form of Judaism.  (Frankly, I found it a bit anti-semitic; and I know Marcus is Jewish, but so am I and I didn't like it.)

Even after reading my own description of the book, it sounds like I should love it, but here's the main problem though, this book has no character development.  There is no one here I cared about, nor did Marcus try to get me to care.  Also, the plot doesn't move.  I only got 150 pages into the book (more on that in Part 2 of the post) and nothing happened.  I am fine for a book that doesn't really go anywhere, but only if there is character development.  (See my review of Swamplandia! to see what I mean.)

But, as I have said before, these reviews are not about me and if I liked the book, they are about who I could suggest the book to.  Therein lies another problem.  I can not think of someone to give this book to.  Jose in Circ is trying it, and will let me know.  A woman in Kathy's book club who likes more dense books couldn't finish it though.

So, I am stuck here too.  Which leads us to Part 2 of this post in a moment.

Three Words That Describe This Book: experimental, philosophical, relaxed pace

Readalikes: Marcus has been compared to other authors who are also more experiemental like George SaundersNathan Englander, and David Foster Wallace.  Someone else said he was similar to Jonathan Lethem.  Maybe, but I really like Lethem.  Click here to see more about him.

Part 2:
That's my report on reading the book, but let's move on to the Monday Discussion part of this post.  As I mentioned above, I was very torn about giving up on The Flame Alphabet.  I really thought I should like it.  Many of my favorite authors (Lethem, Safran Foer, and Chabon) all had wonderful things to say about it.  The entire plot intrigied me.  It is an experimental book about language and expression which is normally perfect for me.

Now, normally if I am not enjoying a book, I skim through the middle and read the end to get a sense of how it turns out. As I tell my patrons all of the time, if you are not enjoying a book, there are many, many more; simply close it, bring it back, and we will give you something else.  I almost always take my own advice.  As a rule, I have no problem giving up on a book.

But with this novel, I felt like I should keep plodding away on it.  I even took a 2 week break and went back to it.  But in the end, I couldn't do it.  I returned it half done and did not skip to the end to see how it turned out just in case I give it another try on audio. We will see.

What about you.  For today's Monday Discussion, share what has happened when you tried to read a book you thought you would love, only to find yourself very disappointed.  What did you do?  How did you react?  Or, just share if you are one of those people who can return a book unread, or do you finish everything, like it or not.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.


Betty said...

I no longer feel I have to read a book just because I checked it out.

I couldn't finish Jeffery Eugenides book, The Marriage Plot because I just couldn't feel any connection to the characters. I just wasn't interested in seeing what happened to them. I don't think I'm going to try it again.

The same with Charles Frazier's Nightwoods. I tried to make that book magic happen, but no. And I loved Cold Mountain so much....

Donna said...

For the sake of the book club, I finished "The Corrections" even though I did not like it at all. Several years later the group chose "The Other Boleyn Girl." Now I had started and quit that book before, but "for the sake of the group" I determined to finish it this time. I got about 50 pages farther (maybe to page 100) and quit again. And I like historical fiction; I like the Tudor era. I just didn't like the writing style of this popular book and couldn't bring myself to finish it.

Chris said...

I used to feel compelled to read every book that I took home with me, but not anymore. The good ones outweigh the bad, so if, after about 50 pages or so, I don't care what happens to any of the characters, back to the library it goes.
FWIW, I totally agree with you about Swamplandia. I loved it, but it really had no actual story to it. I didn't even realize until I tried to tell someone what it was about and just kept talking about the characters. Great book, though!

Anonymous said...


I have always been a reader
who finishes every book. I
start. Luckily, I have rarely
chosen books that I have to
give up on. However, one book
came close to changing my
philosophy. The Bear by William
Faulkner was one of the most
boring books I ever read. It
was an agonizing read akin to
dental work or a car alarm that
won't shut off.

Necia said...

Giving myself permission to abandon a book has really helped expand my reading world.
It makes searching for new authors and genres and books more enjoyable because I'm not afraid to take something home that I might not like. And knowing what I don't like is helpful too. I also feel like I'm more aware of what people are reading and more knowledgeable in general.

I put down a lot of books. Most recently I’ve put down When She Woke by Hillary Jordan and The Night Circus by Morgenstern. One that I dislike, but forced myself to finish happens to be Swamplandia! ... I really, really wanted to like it.

Becky, you were so excited about 1Q84 and I’m curious to see what you thought of that one. I just finished it myself and can't quite put my finger on if I liked it or not. Looking forward to your eventual review.

Becky said...

Thanks Necia. Unfortunately, I have not read the Murakami yet since it sells itself at my library. In fact just on Monday Kathy and I noted how it was the first time we saw the book on the actual shelf since it came out. But, I plan to read it soon.