Sunday, March 30, 2008

To finish or not to finish?

Every time I admit to my terminal evil, I hear squeals of outrage, but I think my wicked ways probably save me a bit of time. However, I clearly feel some guilt about the issue. Here it is, my flaw. I am an end-reader. I can't help it. I pick up a book, and I start reading, determined this time not to do it, but then helplessly, inevitably, without even realising I am doing it, I flick to the back of the book and whoops... I've read the end. Without having read the middle.

Usually, it happens when I've read the first third, and I just have to settle with myself what is happening. With really good writers, this doesn't matter - the last few pages are so dependent on what has gone before that I realise I have to read the whole thing to understand the last few pages (that is called good plotting, and it is surprisingly scarce).

But with books that I am not wild about, quite often, I find myself reading the first third, the last third and then forgetting about the bit in the middle.

I am finding myself somewhat in that situation at the moment. I'm reading what has been described as a literary space opera by a feted and successful author of contemporary literary fiction who has taken time out to create an even more popular series of sci-fi novels dealing with issues of culture and the role of gods in a space-age society. It's got a name taken from TS Eliot and ideas. But I just can't do it. I've read my statutory first third, I've read the last couple of chapters, and I think I can see why people regard the books as so interesting and stimulating and important. The thing is, and I think this may be a guy-versus gal-thing, I just can't take the space place seriously. All the inhabitants of the world are genetically evolved humanoids. Some are furry, some are spiky, the lucky ones have sexual equipment that equips them for Tantric marathons on a scale never dreamt of by Trudy and Sting, and they have really funny names. Gobbledeygook names that just make me giggle. And none of the characters really have characters. They have physical characteristics and a few emotions tossed in like salad dressing. But the salad dressing is shop-bought and carries a tang of MSG about it.

The book was published in the late 80s, and has recently been reissued. The most captivating thing about it was that it reminded me of Firefly. It features a rogue spaceship piloting about the universes which is cobbled together and occupied by opportunists and misfits. But, and here's where the differences come - Firefly had jokes and people. Real people, real jokes, real fears and somehow, real appeal. As a way of passing 10-15 hours, Firefly is considerably more effective and interesting than the novel. Especially as I get to check out Nathan Fillion who is after all cute as a box of Neuhaus pralines. Maybe cuter.

So now I find myself thinking the (for me) almost unthinkable thought that I shall just put down the book and not finish it. I just can't see myself wading through another 200 pages of laser zappy guns and warp leaps and people called Grunta Bunta Ferdoodling or S'iipal Gerthlockety. (No those are not the actual names of characters from this series - I am doing my best to mask the identity of the book and the writer, because dissing them is not the point here.) But my inner Stakhanovite-meets-Plymouth Rock Puritan is shouting "Read that damned book - you bought it, you read it, you idle cow".

The last book that made me feel like this was Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl, which was long and overblown and also full of characters about as appealing as a two-day old Happy Meal but was hailed as a work of genius, certainly in the US, though not so much in the UK, where I don't remember seeing it in the 3-for-2 piles or the standard review pages of the papers.

I didn't read that one right through either, and you can see, the guilt is there. I read the beginning (in the case of STCP - oops, it sounds like an amazing new feminine hygiene product when acronymed- a labour almost equivalent to reading an entire book, since the novel was an effing doorstop), the end, and flicked through the middle until I realised that it was a horrible soup of transsexual Holden Caulfield meets the Dead Poets during the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie's Blair Witch Project with some Manson-murder hooey on the side. And then I stopped.

Still, I have a TBR pile with some really good books waiting to be read, so I think I will give the rest of Godparent of Firefly a miss and make some inroads into something else. O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!


Amy Addison said...

I hate when books let you down. Especially when they're supposed to be so great and wonderful.

Life's too short to waste your time on books that annoy you.

Really, it is.

Move on to something else.

Anonymous said...

You're right!

I used my reading time last night on a new Belgian Bande Dessinee which is the opening of a trilogy and sorting out my thinking on Reading Lolita in Tehran, which seems even more interesting second time around.

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