Reading is a delight. It opens up worlds and concepts, ideals and philosophies, cultures and culture. But there are those times when a book falls flat. Those times are especially hard when the book’s reputation for greatness precedes it. You hear things about it that pique your interest and you launch into the book with anticipation of a great and satisfying read. But alas, there was no hook. Sometimes it isn’t necessarily that the book is bad. The book just isn’t to your taste. It was like anticipating a great steak dinner and having chicken masala placed in front of you. The chicken may be well prepared but it sure as hell isn’t a thick, juicy steak.
Other times you wonder if the people who recommended it or even the people who professionally reviewed it read the same book you did. There are these glowing reviews touting the book’s artistry, its pace, its creativity and when you delve into it you see none of those things.
Perhaps the author has a reputation and a large following and she’s been on your to-read list for several years and you finally get around to trying her work. Or the book is a classic and has been around for decades, maybe centuries and it appears on every must-read list you come across. And there are the books your closest and dearest friend has raved about telling how the book moved him and took him to a new level. So you pick it up and start. You allow that maybe the beginning is a bit slow and the hook is just further in. So you keep on. And the book doesn’t improve. Sometimes the book gets worse and you feel yourself slipping away. And you wonder a) what anyone ever saw in this b) why anyone thought you would like it, and c) is it large enough to use as a doorstop?
Any avid reader has a list of disappointments. Some we joke about. Some we shake our heads over. Some we want to use as a bludgeon on the person who either wrote it or recommended it. Some genuinely surprise you because you really thought you were going to like it.
My latest encounter with a disappointing read is Larry McMurtry’s Sin Killer. I like McMurtry. I am an avid fan of Lonesome Dove and rank it high on my list of personal favorites. I’ve read some of his earlier works including The Last Picture Show which swept me into its soap opera like drama. But Sin Killer, the first of a four book series called The Berrybender Chronicles, left me cold. The plot was clever enough; a spoiled and eccentric English aristocratic family decides to tour the American West which is just opening up. They get much more than they were prepared for. Along the way the eldest daughter meets and falls in love with Raven Brave aka Sin Killer, a self-taught evangelist-hunter-tracker-guide who received the call of God when struck by lightning. The problem with the story is there is no one to like. All the characters are either boring or despicable. I found halfway through that I no longer cared what happened to these people. There is little chance I will continue onto the remainder of the series. I am also wondering what I will encounter with the other unread McMurtry books on my shelf.
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Here is a list of some of my grandest reading disappointments with some random commentary.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I understand why this is the most popular book among serial killers. I wonder if it is also the most popular book among suicides. I was almost willing to kill myself or anyone else just to bring it to an end.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller – I didn’t get far into this one. I got as far as his description of his lover’s lice infested pubics are called it a day.
The Late George Apply by John Phillips Marquand – I read this as part of a project to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels. (I still have not finished and the bastards keep adding one to the list every year). What the book sets out to do it accomplishes with great success. I just don’t know why anyone would want to accomplish it.
South Pacific by James A. Michener – Another Pulitzer winner and by one of my favorite authors of all time. Why this was such a hit flew over my head like a B-52 bomber.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane – Okay, I understand that anti-war books are not supposed to be uplifting. But…really?
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – ‘nuff said.
A Clockwork Orange by George Orwell – Great movie, but when I read a book I don’t want to have to learn a new language to get through it. I really got tired of flipping to the glossary to understand the author’s created slang.
1984 by George Orwell – Dude, take some Prozac.
The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I love Fitzgerald’s work and I will grant that he died before he finished this one. I really wish he had lived long enough to polish it before it went to print.
Books by Mark Twain – I like two books by Twain; The Golden Age and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. The rest make good kindling.
Autobiography of Ben Franklin – I thought he would have more to say.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – I think the author had a good supplier.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – ibid.
© 2014 M. Romeo LaFlamme