Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What NOT to Read

Why do people persist in insisting that their book recommendations are going to change my life? I hate the smug superiority of the people in my life who relentlessly recommend books to me using words like "amazing" and "profound" and "beautiful prose." Fuck all that. The word "profound" turns me off, just so you know, if you happen to be reading this. And I'm not interested in "beautiful prose." Give me compelling characters any day over "beautiful prose." And I'll fucking decide what's amazing and what's not. And please, never, ever tell me that a book is going to be life-changing. Because frankly, I'm pretty happy with my life the way it is, gas prices notwithstanding. So I'm not going to intentionally do something to change it, like read some boring-ass book that contains nary a single ingredient to hold my interest past page 19.

Books that actually suck but a bunch of people lied and told you they're good:

1). Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier. Well, I think that's his name. Whatever. It's not even readable. Any time I have to re-read a paragraph six times to figure out what it's saying, then the prose is crap, not beautiful. I packed it in after page 22. I have some unfortunate friends who felt like they had to be missing something and struggled through the whole thing. Any time you have to struggle, it means you're not missing anything. Just put it away and move on to the next one.

2). The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen. Another work containing "beautiful prose." This time, I made it through the whole thing, having fallen victim to the "I've got to be missing something" mentality. I'll tell you what I missed: about 18 hours out of my life that could have been spent catching up on the entire season of Will and Grace that I missed two years ago.

3). The Deep End of the Ocean, Jaquelyn Mitchard. What a piece of tripe disguised as a novel. This thing was no better than the average Silhouette Classic. Awful. Just awful. It was garbage like this that made Oprah's Book Club such a joke for a long time. And to make up for it, now she's torturing people with William Faulkner.

4). Anything by Cormac McCarthy. Again, if one must go over and over the same page, it's simply unreadable. It's not uber-creative. Anyone can spew out run on sentences and random bursts of Spanish. All right, perhaps not anyone, but you get my drift.

5). If it's published by Red Dress Ink, it's crap and your 12 dollars would be better spent on any of the following: a Dead 60s cd; a manicure at the local beauty college or nail salon sweatshop; M&M's and some magazines; chicken tikka masala; two matinee tickets to Wedding Crashers; a couple of gallons of gas. Don't ever let your romance-reading friends trick you into thinking romance can be smart, witty, or well-written. Of course it can be... if it's by Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters.

6). Memoirs of a Geisha. Sorry, but no, it did not change my life. You must have forgotten who you were talking to when you recommended this one. To refresh, you were talking to me, the person who took a Literature major in college, and was thus compelled to take not one but two semesters of Asian literature. So no, I didn't learn anything new about a particular culture from this one, and no, I didn't gain any particular sensitivity that I didn't already have. Want Japanese culture? Try Banana Yoshimoto.

7). The Nanny Diaries. What in God's name were you thinking?? What have I ever done to you to warrant this?? First off, this book is NOT FUNNY. It is DEPRESSING. If you can't see the difference between funny and depressing, I have a list of people I can refer you to for medical attention. Second, this book is not well-written. Third... I'll get even with you for this one. I really will.

8). Ditto The Devil Wears Prada. Not funny -- depressing. Mainly depressing how bad the writing is.

9). And seriously, once and for all, if the jacket blurb contains the phrase "political intrigue," you really need to refrain from telling me how much I'll love it.

Mad props to my mom, who subtly leaves books she's enjoyed on her kitchen counter with random other stuff she's set aside for me, so when I'm going through the other stuff, I'll pick up the book of my own accord and decide if I'm interested in it or not. Then, when I ask her ever so casually "Is this any good?" she'll respond in kind with "Oh, it's not bad," and tell me about a character or two that she enjoyed. And as sure as I'm standing there, I'll truly enjoy the book. If I decide it's worthy of my time.

What irritates me the most is when someone nags and nags me to read something that doesn't sound very interesting, and I resist solely on principle (and because it doesn't sound very interesting), and then like 6 years later I finally read the tome in question, and it's really amazing and life-changing, and then I'm just kind of mad that I didn't read it sooner. I blame that nagging person, for depriving me of the pleasure.

So, in the spirit of one who just read something fun (but not life-changing), I'm going to gently suggest Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini. These books can be summed up thusly: a boy and his dragon, swords, elves and dwarves, and an evil king. If you're not into any of those things, skip it.

Happy reading!


Georgias Maximus, Feline Esq. said...

I'm adamantly opposed to reading either recommended or required books, which is why I have always tried to stay ahead of requirements and recommendations. My weakness is book jacket better written than the book itself. There are a dozen books on my top shelf leering at me for having bought, then not read them... What's a neko to do?

melissa said...

I liked Memoirs of a Geisha.

Honestly, book culture is just a trend anymore. A lot of people don't read things that they themselves find interesting or entertaining---they read what Oprah tells them to. When she changed her book club titles to all classics, it was funny because all these women came in thinking that John Steinbeck was going to be beach reading and were shocked when they found it to be so long and...intellectual. I had one woman ask me for the "new author Jim Steinberg." I laughed in her face. I couldn't help it.

Maybe I'm just kind of a book nazi, but I really don't like reading things that are really "popular" (such as the Nanny Diaries or the Devil Wears Prada) because they seem kind of...mindless (and it seems that you've just confirmed that they are!). I get annoyed with people trying to capitalize off of the fashion thing, too. Just because it worked for Sex and the City doesn't mean it's going to work for you, too.

Sorry, kind of ranty and scattered. Hope that makes sense.

Btw, I really do want to read Eragon and Eldest. I've wanted to for a while now.

Shannon said...

We're all about ranty and scattered here... don't worry. But you're totally right -- books have become trendy. There's no other way to explain the success of books like "The Nanny Diaries" and "The Devil Wears Prada" or the fact that Red Dress Ink even exists. Ah well -- geeks like us have been reading since before it was trendy, and I guess we'll still be reading after the trend passes.

Don't get me started on the evil that is the book jacket written better than the book itself.

Kate said...

I like Memoirs of a Geisha, too. But then I have not ready anything else about Japanese culture. And, I thought the author did a wonderful job of describing the scenes.... I like it when I can see the story in my head.....

I really don't think ay book has "changed my life".... so I won't ever tell you that.

I had great fun reading Undomestic Godess and In Her Shoes lately.... reading's all about fun (hee, hee).

I'll try Eragon next.... Ella's totally into Dragons (she can read it when she's older!)

Shannon said...

Ohhh, Jennifer Weiner kicks ass!! But then, she's not published by Red Dress Ink, either. I also love Meg Cabot's books geared at the late-20/30something set. She's the chick who wrote the Princess Diaries series.

I'm so glad I could alienate everyone based on my Memoirs of a Geisha comments. LMAO.

Kate said...

Not alienated! You can have your opinion and I can have mine.... :o)

Shannon said...

Dude, I totally wish we lived near each other so we could go see the "In Her Shoes" movie together! It looks SO good.