I pride myself on always finishing a book, no matter how arduous it is. There have been plenty of bad juju page-turners I’ve eagerly slogged through over the years…cough cough – The Da Vinci Code – cough cough – The Ruins. Hell, I even got through the vile piece of trash that was Clive Barker’s Mister B Gone. I don’t know if it’s the writer or the masochist in me – but I always finish a book.
Well…almost always. Some books I just can’t seem to pick up after putting them down – those anti page-turners. Some of these may actually be good books but just not my cup of tea, and I struggle to return to them when a Raymond Carver collection is sitting on my shelf or the latest issue of The New Yorker has just arrived.
Right now I’m suffering through a double whammy with two novels that couldn’t be farther apart in theme and style -Steve Earle’s new psychedelic Baby Boomer ode to the 1960’s, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive; and the uber-classic big thick novel that is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Despite my most valiant efforts, I can’t seem to finish either one of them, and I fear they may join my short list of dun dun dun….
Books I Will Never Finish Reading
Title: I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
- Author: Steve Earle
- Sample Piece of Prose: Then sometime in the deep of the third night, Doc sat bolt upright and wide-eyed to find that he had outrun some unnamed denizen of his dreams only to awaken in the palpable agony in the world of light. Pains the likes of which he had imagined in only the most twisted medical-school horror fantasies assailed him, as if his spinal cord had been neatly but not necessarily painlessly removed, leaving him raw and empty for an instant before the hollow was filled with alternating layers of fire and ice that froze him and burned him…(pg 120) In other words…he was going through withdrawl…yadda yadda yadda…now he was clean.
- Reason I Wanted to Read It: I was totally suckered in by the cover and the glowing blurbs from other writers I enjoy (most notably Ron Rash). Steve Earle is a hella-cool musician and I liked the idea of a singer-songwriter taking a stab at writing a novel – an experimental novel about a heroin addicted back-alley abortion doctor in early 1960’s Texas who is haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams.
- Reason I Put it Down: The charmingly clichéd misfit characters from classic rock, blues and country songs don’t translate into real people when populating a novel. The druggie counter-culture of the 1960’s has been done to death, though Earle’s attempt to create philosophical miscreants ala Deadwood did hook me at first, and after about 60 pages of this stuff…I couldn’t have cared less. The Kennedy Assassination backdrop is forced…as are the bits of gritty magical realism. Bottom line – Earle creates a vivid and colorful sense of “stuff” but not of characters worthy of a full-length book. Maybe short stories are the better brethren of song lyrics?
Title: War and Peace
- Author: Leo Tolstoy
- Sample Piece of Prose: Each visitor performed the ceremony of greeting this old aunt whom not one of them knew, not one of them wanted to know, and not one of them cared about; Anna Pavlovna observed these greetings with mournful and solemn interest and silent approval. (pg 17) And I pretty much feel about this old novel the same way Anna P. feels about these greetings.
- Reason I Wanted to Read It: Umm…hello…it’s War and Peace, yo! I felt it my duty (as I had with Ulysses a few years back) to read this sucker at some point in my life, and I when I found I could download it for free through iBooks onto my iPad, my worries about having to lift weights before I could tackle its burdensome 1,000+ pages were vanquished and I thought, “No better time than the present!”
- Reason I Put it Down: I’m actually still trying to get through this thing. Maybe it’s the stilted nature of this particular translation, or maybe it’s just the characters (there are too many of them…and too many that are similar…and none that I find particularly fascinating)…but I can’t help feeling like this is a reading assignment in high school…and I always hated being forced to read things in school. Maybe it’s my own little piece of personal revolution battling with the sense of pride I feel whenever I tackle the big classics of world literature. I want to conquer this…but I just don’t think I have the will or the way.
Title: The Alienist
- Author: Caleb Carr
- Sample Piece of Prose: Kreizler turned away with an expression of mild disgust. “My God, Moore, I should like to get the particulars of your infancy someday. This irrepressible sexual mania -” (pg 76) I shant like those details, thank you, very much, sir!
- Reason I Wanted to Read It: This thing was praised to high-heaven and became a best-seller in 1994 when I was just entering high school and going through my “I’m fascinated by anything super dark” phase. There were even talks of adapting this gruesomely massive tome to the silver screen…though that never came to fruition.
- Reason I Put it Down: Detailing the complex tale of a crime reporter trying to catch a heinous serial killer stalking young prostitutes in 1896 Manhattan the novel was thick with historical atmosphere and graphic details of the murders…too thick for my blood. When not being revolted, I was numbed by the stilted style of writing and lack of engaging characters. Carr’s novel committed the greatest of crimes – boring the reader to death.
Title: The Poe Shadow
- Author: Matthew Pearl
- Sample Piece of Prose: How startling, how uplifting that was, such a lofty visionary bringing himself to personally address a mere reader of three and twenty years! … There was the very nature of the raven’s shadow explained just for me! (pg 13) Privy to ones that would such romance Elaine from Seinfeld, I fear thee use too many exclamation points at the most excitable age of three and twenty years!
- Reason I Wanted to Read It: It sounded like a win/win proposition. I love Poe – and I loved the idea of having fictional characters trying to solve a real historical mystery surrounding Poe’s death.
- Reason I Put it Down: For the same reasons I put down The Alienist – the stilted style of writing and the stuffy characters bored me to death.