Monday, October 15, 2007

A Question of Bibliophilic Ethics

An Army at Dawn
by Rick Atkinson

This book made me want to shove bamboo under my fingernails. Or rearrange my sock drawer. Or awaken a sleeping baby, even a colicky one. Anything to alleviate the crushing boredom. It's a military history about the North Africa campaign when the USA first entered WW II. For some reason, I thought it could benefit me, because I know so little about that part of the war. I still know so little about that part of the war, because try as I might I just could not get interested in the story line ("They moved the tanks 25 feet . . .there was a dust storm . . .they had to clean the gunk out of the tanks . . .they moved the tanks another 10 feet.") In fairness to the author, it is well-researched, well-written and, if inch-by-inch descriptions of battles are your thing, this is the book for you. It did win a Pulitzer, so clearly someone liked it.

In spite of the fact that it was like walking through molasses with galoshes on, I slogged my way through all 541 pages. Why? Because I felt like I had to. I've always been this way - there must be a name for this disorder. Textbooks I could skim. Biblical commentaries I can read the relevant sections. Books that I start for my own pleasure or edification, I have to finish, no matter if I think it is the worst thing I have ever read. WHY? The person I am married to has no qualms about shelving a book if it does not grab him. Several times when I have complained about a book he has rather impatiently said "Sweetie, why don't you just dump that thing? Really - nothing bad will happen!"

What is your opinion on this? Is it OK to give up on a book? If so, how many pages should one read, hoping it will get better, before being ethically able to declare the book a dud and move on? Are people who insist on finishing just over the top?

Along these lines, here are some other questions to ponder:

Name a book that you quit because it was too boring or otherwise did not suit you: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I still regret this, and intend to try it again someday. Too many readers whom I respect say it is wonderful. (SEE? By quitting I might be missing out on something that is terrific. You JUST NEVER KNOW!)

Name a book that made you laugh out loud: Raney by Clyde Edgerton.

Name a book that made you cry real tears: Black Mountain Breakdown by Lee Smith, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Name a book that inspired you to try to do some good in the world: There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene.

Name a book you have given more than once as a gift: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

Reverent Reader


At 10/15/07, 10:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm with you, a member of the if-I-start-it-I-must-finish-it club. It's kind of a pain but I feel like I have to finish it to comment on it. By the way, you are missing out by not reading Lonesome Dove. It's excellent, one of my favorites!!


Quit: Moby Dick. I was about three weeks post partum and started it for a book club and got about five pages in and couldn't take it. All due respect to your husband, though. I also quit that awful Celestine Prophecy book after about one chapter but that barely even counts.

Laugh Out Loud: Handling Sin by Michael Malone; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irivng

Cry: Handlins Sin; Owen Meany; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry; pretty much anything by Wendell Berry; The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

Inspiring: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder; Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch

Gift: Gilead

Other questions

Name a nonfiction book that you couldn't put down: Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson; Into Thin Air by John Krakauer

Name a fiction book that you couldn't put down: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Name books you've read multiple times: Handling Sin (3); Owen Meany (4); Gilead (2); The Shipping News (3); A Confederacy of Dunces (3); Anne of Green Gables (10 plus); Little Women (10 plus)

An author that is a lot of work but worth it: Robertson Davies

"Fun" authors: Armistead Maupin, Jennifer Weiner

I'll try to think of other's a fun way to remember books you've read.



At 10/16/07, 6:43 AM , Anonymous EGT said...

Erin, how in the world could you possibly give Moby Dick - the greatest American novel - only five pages!? Even those of us who are not averse to dumping a book summarily try to give it more than that.

I certainly agree about The Celestine Prophecy. And now I am on the verge of abandoning Wuthering Heights, which I finally got around to.


At 10/16/07, 8:07 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Erin - I'm glad you told me about "Handling Sin." I've now got it in the "soon to be read" queue. As far as discussing books, in the book group where we met, my beloved husband once said (long before we were married or even an item) "Not having read a book has never kept me from discussing it." Different strokes for different readers.

I totally agree with your "can't put down" choices, and to the non-fiction can't put down list I would add "All Over But the Shoutin'" by Rick Bragg.

I have read most of the ones that you list multiple times, except "Confederacy of Dunces" - once was enough on that one. Recently, in preparation for a "Faith in Fiction" sermon series I re-read "The Sparrow," "Four Spirits," "The Kite Runner," and "Children of God."

Sometime will have to give Robertson Davies a try.

Ed darling - Darn! I had gotten you a copy of "The Celestine Prophecy" for your birthday (NOT!).

At 10/16/07, 10:55 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Ed on this one. I mean, if my iPod is playing an a less than stellar song comes on, I skip it. I have turned off/left movies before. It doesn't happen often, but I have only quit a couple of books. And even at that, I still have my place and will hopefully go back and finish them someday. One was a Civil War book that was the driest thing ever.

LOL- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Cry - Old Yeller. enough said.

Inspiring - The Kite Runner. Makes you realize there is a lot of bad stuff out here and makes you want to treat others with respect and dignity.

Gift - The Battle Cry of Freedom. The best Civil War narrative out there. Every American should have an understanding of that period in our nation's history.

nonfiction - Since this is mostly all I read, several. I second Shadow Divers. Great book. Also Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz and Under the Banner of Heaven by Kratuhauer (sp?)

Fiction - my mind is blanking...get back to you.

Mutiple times - Only a few books as a kid.

author who is a lot of work - Tom Robbins.

Fun authors - Brad Meltzer, Chuck Klosterman.

At 10/16/07, 11:25 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

ANONYMOUS - is that you, Chan? Sounds like the things you like to read, but cannot understand why your name did not come up. If it's not Chan, welcome to the blog. Whoever you are - I have to agree about "Confederates in the Attic" - great book! Man, there are some strange folk in this world. "Where the Red Fern Grows" - also a major tearjerker, along the lines of "Old Yeller." Another "fun" author is Carl Hiaasen - hilarious!

At 10/16/07, 11:53 AM , Anonymous Chan said...

Yes that was me....and I actually meant to type in "Where the Red Fern Grows"...not Old Yeller. My morning coffee hadn't kicked in yet.

At 10/16/07, 7:58 PM , Blogger Tarzan said...

its inthe genes, am just now getting where I can quit one. Go back and do Lonesome Dove. Agree on Tim Robbins but love him. Having great difficulty with Mary Doria Russell You also have to do some of Jim Harrison,he's my favoite. LOL only Dan Jenkins

At 10/16/07, 8:49 PM , Blogger reverendmother said...

I realize this makes me a heretic in some circles, but one book I finished and wished I hadn't? Gilead. Bo-ring!!!!

I like your new blogname, BTW. So when are you going to join the Writing Revs?

At 10/16/07, 9:26 PM , Blogger Flounder said...

Yes, Tarzan is correct on the Dan Jenkins. Lol raunchy funny.

At 10/16/07, 11:30 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Reverend Mother -

I will forgive your heresy - Gilead is definitely a book you have to get in the mode to read. I did like it, and so got her previous book "Housekeeping" to read and HATED it. Talk about boring! AARGH!

I am interested in joining the writing revs, as well as the clergy gal blog network. Can you give me details on either or both of those?

At 10/17/07, 6:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot another Laugh-out-Loud one: Straight Man by Richard Russo. HI-LARIOUS.


At 10/18/07, 12:20 PM , Anonymous Nancita said...

I agree with Erin on Straight Man!
Given more than once: An American Requiem by James Carroll A real story of life during the Vietnam era.
Also recommend his Secret Father, fiction set in Cold War Germany, and The City Below.

At 10/18/07, 12:38 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Good call, Erin and Nancita, on "Straight Man." I read that on my honeymoon (funny the things that stick in our minds!). I remember sitting on the beach hooting over that book. Need to put it on the re-read list!

At 10/18/07, 7:39 PM , Anonymous Pam said...

Books given more than once as gifts -- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner and The Samaurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama -- my two favorite books EVER!

Quit -- lots of them....too numerous to mention. The latest one was Emperer's Children by Claire Messud. Got great reviews -- am I the only one who couldn't stand those entitled 20 somethings???

Funny -- Straight Man -- I think on your recommendation! Loved it! Am going to start his new one -- Bridge of Sighs.

LATEST book I really loved and read twice this past year -- Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

At 10/18/07, 8:36 PM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Pam - GIRL! "Eat Pray Love" is next on my list after "Whole World Over." You actually gave ME "Crossing to Safety." Remember - that's what started our friendship! That reminds me that I love everything Stegner. I've also got "Emperor's Children" in my stack. I'll read it sometime soon and get back to you! Love right to ya . . .


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