Friday, November 14, 2014

Always Finish What You Start

     On Wednesday it was sunny and in the 60s. Then last night B and I took our dog out for her evening walk . . . and it was snowing! Just the first flurries, but enough to signal that winter is coming.

     There's nothing like curling up with a book on a snowy night. And last night I started reading a new book. B and I always read for a while before we go to sleep, sometimes only for ten minutes, other times for half an hour or more. But we both find that reading a book is absolutely the best way to fall asleep.

      But last night I was having a bit of trouble -- not falling asleep. Something else. Let me explain.  

"What's that white stuff?" asks our fall scarecrow.
     Maybe this seems familiar to you. First, about two weeks ago a friend of mine -- the friend I call Peter -- gave me a book to read. "It's really interesting," he said. "I'd love to know what you think."

     The book is The Burn Palace, a novel by Stephen Dobyns. I'd never heard of this writer before, but he's written a couple of dozen books, so he's not exactly new. The book is a mystery that takes place in Rhode Island, and the problem is: I did not like this book at all. I got through to about page 200 before I thought about giving up on it completely. Then I thought, well, I'm halfway through, so I should finish it. Besides, Peter's going to want to know what I think, and I can't tell him if I don't even know what happens at the end.

     So I plowed on, day after day -- because I find that if you don't like a book it takes a lot longer to read. I felt like I was doing homework the whole time. But I'll be seeing Peter tonight at our monthly poker game, and I know he'll ask me about the book, so I had a deadline.

     I dutifully went back to the book, over and over, reading maybe 20 pages at a time before giving up again. Finally, on Wednesday, I forced myself to finish it. Done! But then, I thought, why do I feel like I have to finish a book if I don't like it? And what am I going to tell Peter (who obviously liked the book)?

     So anyway, last night I joyfully picked up another book. This time I wanted one I would actually like. I grabbed In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien, which was sitting on my son's bedroom bureau. It has an intriguing cover -- and I thought I'd read something by Tim O'Brien before, and liked it.

     I went into the bathroom, washed up, brushed my teeth, then slipped into bed. I showed the book to B. "Have you ever read this one?" I asked.

At least this one I will enjoy
     "Oh, yeah," she nodded.

     "Is it any good? I need something that will really hold my attention, something I can get lost in."

     "That should work," she replied. "It's a really riveting book."

     "I think I read something by Tim O'Brien before. Something about Vietnam, maybe?"

     "He had that other bestseller," she said. "I don't remember the name."

     I looked at the book cover. "It says he also wrote Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried."

     "The Things They Carried. I think that was on Vietnam. A big bestseller."

     So I opened the book and started reading. And . . . wait a second, this seems familiar. John Wade and his wife Kathy are on vacation in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota. Wade has just lost the primary election for U. S. senator: "loser by a landslide" at age 41. Then there was a section called "Evidence" and his mother says, "He was always a secretive boy." And by about page 10, I realized I'd read the book before, only a couple of years ago.

     I don't know if that's ever happened to you. But boy, did that make me feel stupid.

     And yet, by now I had started the book. So I have to finish it!


DJan said...

Years ago I read all of Pat Conroy's books after enjoying one a great deal. Then a while back I saw one I had missed. Well, I had indeed read it way back when, and it wasn't until I was into the last part that I realized I had indeed read it before! Very embarrassing. I know what you mean. :-)

Mona McGinnis said...

I'm like you; I'm compelled to finish a book even when it's like pulling teeth. I don't know what it is. My friend scoffs at me, saying - life is too short to read a bad book!

Olga Hebert said...

I have had that experience of deja vu in books!

My sister gave me a book that she was so, so excited about. Said she laughed through the whole thing--A Short History of Small Place--I think was the title, something like that. I could not get through it at all. Found nothing amusing about it and thought the writing style was tedious. I finally gave it back to her and said we obviously just don't have the same taste in books.

Stephen Hayes said...

Unfortunately, my time lately has been divided between painting and writing; my novel reading has fall by the wayside. I need to make time in my day for more reading.

Tabor said...

I watched a foreign film that a friend recommended and which she sent as a gift. It was so abstract that I never really understood why anybody was doing anything in the film. I told my friend quite honestly that much of what happened was over my head and I really did not understand it. She seemed to accept that, but I wish I could have found something redeemable in it.

Anonymous said...

I read 'The Things They Carried" at the time it was published.

My first husband (deceased) was a Marine, and stationed in Japan at the time. The second an Army major with the pacification forces in Vietnam (two tours). I am still angry about the way our troops (and their family) were treated by the public and press. I thoroughly dislike Bill Ayers to this day...what a jerk.

The book was a sobering revelation of the sacrifice of the troops. Very poignant reminder of the ordeal in that god-forsaken place. BTW...all the press about the ethnic vote for Dems...Vietnamese Americans voted in droves for McCain.

I have given myself permission to give up on a book I dislike, and tell the truth, Which reminds me, I read two chapters of Atul Gwande's 'Being Mortal," gave up, sent it back to Amazon. While waiting in my doctor's office, discovered it on my Kindle, began reading it again, and finished it. Liked it so much I bought hardback copies for my kids.

Anonymous said...

PS its okay to reread a book. Why else keep them around? Best Short Stories series from the 1980s contains many by O'Brian. He frequently wrote for the New Yorker, I think.

Peter Schneider said...

For once I will make an exception to my rule of never commenting on my friend Tom's posts, especially when I'm featured in the post.

I am "Peter." (That actually sounds like the title of a religious or science fiction movie.) My actual name is Peter. So the first lesson is, Tom writes only the truth in his blog -- there are no "imaginary friends" or conflated incidents.

Though I find Tom's opinion of THE BURN PALACE to be a sad, sad thing (something I will communicate to him at tonight's poker game), he has a perfect right to state it. I've now learned that I should in the future only recommend to Tom such wonderful sagas as "Green Eggs and Ham" and "Danny and the Dinosaur."

Stephen Dobyns is a wonderful poet as well as a novelist -- one of his previous novels, "The Church of Dead Girls," is an almost perfect mystery.

As to rereading books, I do this all the time. There are some books (like Peter Straub's GHOST STORY) that I've read four or five times over the last thirty years. There's always an appreciation to be gained from rereading something that you know you liked -- though there has to be enough intervening time to allow for ancient brains such as mine to forget most of the plot elements.

So, that's about it -- I've said my piece and will now return to my usual policy of never commenting on Tom's posts.

Barbara Bomberger said...

I would not feel bad. People are allowed different opinions in books. And this often happens with the same author (I loved the Pillars of the Earth but found the sequel much more difficult to wade through, for example). I've reread books by accident. And no mater how many times people recommend some books to me, umm no.

Linda Myers said...

Generally, if I don't like a book in the first ten pages, it's not going to get any better if I go further. So I don't.

I had a friend recommend l read "Matterhorn", about the Viet Nam war. I put it off for ages, and she asked me if I'd read it. I read it. What a book!

On the other hand, I'm not much of a reader of light fiction, so some authors I just say, "I'm not a big reader of that person." Seems to be enough for the person who recommended it to me.

Janette said...

I , like Linda, will put a book down after ten pages. I read the first five pages. If they don't get my attention, I read five from the middle. After the ten, judgement is made. I hate reading a book that isn't good!
We used to watch movies often. A mutual 70 yr old friend ( we were in our 20's) asked us to view a movie and give her our opinion. We went to The Formula. George Scott, Brando, Keller. Simply the worst film we had ever seen (we still compare movies to it).
We returned to Phyllis to tell her, prepared for her to be hurt. She laughed. Now that she knew we had the same taste and she would gather our suggestions for her movie viewing in the future. We kept touch until she passed in her 90's.

June said...

Far too many times, I've picked up books I thought looked good and realized it HAD, in fact, been good the first time around. I never EVER remember titles, so if I don't recall the story from the cover blurb, I'm stuck. Sometimes I reread, sometimes I don't.
I'm waiting another year or so before I start intentionally rereading Susan Howatch's Starbridge series.

Douglas said...

First, let me say to peter and his comment that not liking something you like is not a character flaw on the part of Tom.
I have reread books from time to time and find I can glean different meanings from the plot, characters, and story line because of how I view things on the reread that I didn't have the background for the first time around. But, yes, some time must pass (many years) between the first read and any subsequent one.

Anonymous said...

I never finish books I dislike. Why waste precious time?

Friko said...

Yes, me too.
Or I think I’ve read something I haven’t read.
It’s the age, you know.

At the moment I am reading for practically hours every day, finishing a book in two days max. The luxury of it.
It’s the age, you know.

Kirk said...

The first two chapters of War and Peace are rather dull, but set the scene and characters for the rest of the book. So giving up after 10 pages here is a mistake that certainly millions of readers have made.

Gabbygeezer said...

Our chief reader in residence, beautiful wife Sandy, has gone through so many novels she keeps a computerized list to reduce chances of a repeat. I, however, just blunder along and several times have had that "Aha" experience of learning I already knew the plot.

Anonymous said...

I read the I of The Needle and thought it to be a really good box. So good I recommended it to friends. Years later I ordered to book to give as a gift. But I couldn't resist reading a few pages and found myself reading it all over again. Problem was I didn't phase me like it did when I first read it. There was passages I remembered and some I didn't remember. It was still good but not as good as I once thought. Go figure.