Door Stoppage

Photo credit:  The Avocado

On Friday Steve suggested a book be used for a doorstop that Clyde needed.  My very first thought was Ulysses.  I was an English major at Carleton and there were two infamous lists.  One was the short list – about 100 titles that you’d better have read before your comprehensives at the end of your senior year.  Then there was the long list – this was about 500 titles – that the English department thought you should read if you wanted to be truly well-read.  I know, I know, incredibly  presumptuous.  I got copies of these lists in my sophomore year and kept them for years.  As you can imagine, Ulysses was on that list and while most of my brain knows there is no reason I have to read this, a little bit still thinks that I should wade through Joyce.

Three years ago when I started getting rid of excess stuff, I realized I had THREE copies of Ulysses.  Unfortunately for Clyde’s needs, I got rid of all of them, along with most of the guilt that I never could get through the first chapter, much less any farther.

But it made me think about what other books I could imagine consigned to doorstop-hood.   I pulled up my reading list to look for 1-star titles that I wouldn’t mind using to keep a door open.  I started keeping this list in 2007 but didn’t start assigning stars until 2013.  I actually don’t have too many two-star titles, and next to no one-star ratings (it’s a 1-5 rating).  Life is too short – if a book isn’t shaping up, it goes back to the library (or if I actually purchased it, on a pile to be donated to the library).

I do have a few one-stars, but they bring up a secondary problem… I don’t actually remember all of them.  So here’s a short list of my one-star doorstop recommendations:

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (not even a whiff of memory about this one)
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (I know that tim loved this one, but it didn’t have enough surrealism to support an unbelievable plot)
  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. I kinda liked the first few and I do like the Hallmark movies made from the series, but this one stunk and the main character stepped over so many lines (moral AND legal) that I couldn’t believe it.
  • Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. You all know I love alternate-reality future stories but this one did NOT satisfy.  Several concurrent stories, which did not ever intersect, did not wrap up  in any meaninful way and one that jut didn’t make sense.  (And in looking at the reviews of the tv series, they pretty much didn’t use 95% of the book.)
  • And then my one and only negative star title… Swamplandia by Karen Russell. I only finished this because it was a book club title.    Unbelievable set-up, unlike-able characters, tragic outcome and ending that could not happen in anybody’s reality.  There are actually good reviews of this book, but I can only say that hallucinogenics must have been involved.

Any nominees for a door stop?

111 thoughts on “Door Stoppage”

    1. The end of one of his books involved the necessity to find a code or something, to feed into the computer, in order to stop every evil force in the world from doing something or other. The hero and heroine, mathematical geniuses, had to find this code double quick. So here they are, about a minute and a half left to “save the world.” Let’s call them John and Jean. John has the answer! Of course! It has to be that. So what would you do? You’re becoming a bit anxious, aren’t you? You’re about to be surrounded by evil. I’d be nervous, at least. Maybe I’d even have my stomach twisted up in terror. Not John. Just another interesting exercise for he and Jean to play with. There’s a minute and one second left now. Plenty of time for party games. You’ve probably noticed how long those ultimatums take. The bracket holding the wire gives a bit more. There’s a couple of swordfights, maybe a few nasty words. All kinds of shenanigans going on. Only five seconds have passed. Let’s have a strand or two of the wire give way, try sneaking across the floor to get the gun, fail, get manhandled a bit. Another five seconds.
      So John knows he’s got all the time in the world to say “A+B=C, right? Do the math!” he says. He actually says those words. Do the math. I mean, A MINUTE AND A HALF! HOW STUPID CAN YOU GET? He’s figured it out, there isn’t a second to lose, you may be wrong for a start. What stupid, unrealistic crap, that could never happen.
      I think that was a Dan Brown book. If it wasn’t, I apologise, Dan.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I remember when Da Vinci Codecame out and everybody seemed to be reading it. I thought what the heck so I put it on hold at the library. It was very popular and I think it took almost a year for me to finally get it. I thought it was OK. I thought the next one was passable but the third one was kind of a stinker. I see that they made a movie out of the third one and I doubt seriously if I go to see it.

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        1. It was simply a page turner, without any other features like character development. Or dialogue, Or the beauty of an ancient setting like Rome. The character I remember best is the strange monk who had an obsession with atonement and pain. He appeared without explanation of his existence only as a foil for the action. Not much depth.

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  1. George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo for one. I’ll never understand why that book got positive reviews. And while you’re at it, pile on Robert Pirsig’s <Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? So sophomoric.

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      1. Therte are many ways his life parallels mine. U of Chi for one. His struggle with literature and philosophy and mysticism. I did enjoy it, liked the way his mind works. I would not reread it, but glad I read it. But should be on only esoteric reading lists.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Bill. I also didn’t care for Bardo even though at the point I read it several people I knew had lauded it greatly – although most folks couldn’t really say why they liked it.

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    2. I read that, well, I started to read it, and eventually I skipped the psychoanalysis bits and just read the motorcycle repair bits. It’s a better book then. And I was thinking I should read it again. He talks about gumption traps at one point, and I reference that often. So I know there is some good stuff in there.

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    1. Welcome to the trail. Actually when I very first mentioned Ulysses a couple of days ago as a doorstop it was only because of its heft not its literary value. Since I have not actually read it, I can’t put it in the company of the other books that I really didn’t like. I can only say that I have never been able to get through it!

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    2. Woot, woot! Welcome to the trail, MSW. Ulysses and other works by James Joyce have come up for discussion on the trail before, and I have so far been the sole baboon in the pro Joyce camp. God it feels good to have some company. Granted, I am also the only one of the group who had the good fortune to have had Edmund Lloyd Epstein as a teacher to
      help guide me and other overwhelmed students through Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses, that made all the difference in the world.

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      1. Sometimes a good teacher can make all the difference. I didn’t care much for Shakespeare in high school but then when I got to college I took a Shakespeare course because someone had recommended it. During the first class the prof read several pages aloud. I don’t even remember which play but I remember the sound of his voice, a deep bass, really sparked interest for me. Then of course I was very lucky at Metro State to find Lawrence Moe. Among other things, he taught Shakespeare and was fabulous. In fact I took every class that he taught, even religious architecture.

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        1. I agree. As you can imagine, when I was first introduced to Shakespeare it was in Danish, and I must say, a lot was lost in translation. Of course, it didn’t help that I was fifteen at the time. Ten years later, Dr. Griffin and reading Shakespeare in the original language made a big difference.

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  2. My erstwife is very bright and has generally good taste in food, music or books. But, man, we sure disagree about the works of Tom Robbins. For pretentious crap it would be quite a contest between Robbins and Dan Brown . . . or that’s my view!

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    1. My thoughts on Tom Robbins have evolved over the years. Early on when I’d only read a couple of his books I really liked them. I thought the plot and characters were quirky and different. As I got older and read more of them I realized that it was the same tired story, book after book after book – woman redeemed by sex with fairly obnoxious man

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  3. Let your inner Critic Shine Baboons,

    Finally, an invitation to be really negative! One book I really disliked has a title and author that have disappeared into the ether. So I cannot feel the satisfaction of panning it here. I will move on. Just know I really did not like it.

    1. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
    2. The Bridges of Madison County, by some professor at the University of Northern Iowa
    3. Anything by Anne Rice. Vampires are not my thing and I do not find them believable

    I do not like books that end in hopeless bleakness in which the “human condition” is revealed as forever corrupted. While there is a lot of that in humans, I live it out often enough that I don’t care to read about it in my recreational time.

    Our positive for the day is the great news that children, ages 5-12, will have a COVID vaccine that is FDA approved soon. There might be hope for salvaging Thanksgiving celebrations.

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    1. I quit reading the vampire series after about four books. I realize that constitutes a series for me but it just got so boring. Vampires were all powerful, there was nothing you could do to protect against them and no matter how nice they started out they all ended up corrupt. I didn’t want to read about vampires anymore. By any author..

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        1. I’ve told the story before but you haven’t heard ir Fenton, so I will repeat. But briefly. I was reading a great science-fiction/fantasy but it was getting close to the end and not wrapping up as fast as I thought it should be. Got to the last page and realized that it was a cliffhanger and that there was going to be another book. The other book was not written yet. I threw the book across the room. The only time I have flung a book.

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      1. I liked Interview With the Vampire, but she should have left it at one. I read the second one, and it had none of the atmosphere of the first, Didn’t bother with any others after that. It has been about forty years since I read Anne Rice, so I am not sure what I would think of her today.

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    2. Bridges of Madison County I have not read. Pulp fiction I am today. Written by Robert James Waller, college professor in Iowa and gifted essayist. So he made a good deal of money writing pulp. Good for him. Like professor at Harvard, I think, who made a ton of money off Love Story. (Is that right title.) Somehow as a Harvard professor he is stained forever for having five that.

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  4. Ulysses: did a graduate seminar on the book, which really sticks in my mind 40 years later. Glad I read it, but wonder why it is on a reading list under 1000 books. All the interior game playing he does was fun in seminar, but I did not see the point of that as much else but game playing. As a student of classical rhetoric, I enjoyed especially his rhetorical elements, especially how well he embedded so many schemes and tropes, which sort of proves the point that most schemes and tropes are really not meat for all but a few.

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      1. Either you or I must have misread Clyde’s comment. Shakespeare is full of plagiarized famous quotes? Either that or this is intended as a joke?

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        1. Considering how often a comment on here shows up in the wrong place, I just wasn’t sure whether Steve’s comment was intended to be about Shakespeare or someone else. We can agree, though, that we’re often not on the same page.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a hard time with him too. I guess the stories are good, but the language is so hard to read and comprehend that I can’t get past that. I’ve seen scripts with his verbiage on the left page, and on the right page is a clarified version. That helps.

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        1. I find a good actor an enormous help in reading Shakespeare. I’m particularly fond of Sir Ian McKellen’s lectures on Shakespeare. He delves into so many levels of meaning with such ease and eloquence that I’m drawn right in. Here’s one example:

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  5. I am apparently missing the ‘fan’ gene. Though a musician, I could count the musicians I appreciate by name on one hand. Though a writer, same for other authors. Entertainment has for me always been somewhat disposable – I consume it, and I move on.

    Your essay made me wonder if I’d ever read an entire book that I didn’t like. If I did, I don’t remember what it was.

    So, perhaps I’m also missing the ‘critic’ gene.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Actually I don’t have enough of a creative mind to come up with a decent conspiracy, Ben, but it’s entirely possible that JeanneJam and JD know each other, and I was just wondering if they do. It’s fine with me, either way.

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      2. I left? I didn’t know that! Not do I know JD. But that’s ok, I think your video substantiated my starment, if you have to take 10 minutes to explain what he meant in one line that is absolute proof Shakespeare is not worth my time!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. More power to you, jeannejam. Personally I appreciate all the help I can get to understand something that my own brain doesn’t necessarily get at first glance. I happen to think that both Shakespeare and Sir Ian McKellen are brilliant.

          I have absolutely no vested interest in you liking or appreciating Shakespeare. We are all different. I don’t happen to think that people who don’t appreciate Shakespeare are idiots. And I certainly hope they don’t think those of us who do, are. I do believe our chances of being friends are better if there is a certain commonality of interests and likes. At this point I don’t know you well enough to know which category you fall into. I am NOT the voice of this trail, I speak only for myself. As you would know if you check in regularly, we often disagree on things. That doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate that we each come at this complex thing that we call life from different perspectives. What we share, I think, is a desire to be part of community of shared values. We may disagree with you on certain issues, but we are not your enemy.

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        2. One more comment, jeannejam, this one from the man who started the blog. Hope it helps shed some light on who we are.

          “This feels a little “clubby”. I’m not sure it’s for me.

          That’s your call. The “babooners”, as they have named themselves, are a cross section of society that includes writers, teachers, entrepreneurs, pastors, farmers … you name it. People who read and comment on this blog tend to be civil and respectful towards newcomers, so please don’t assume that this is a private club. They would be horrified if they thought you were feeling excluded. Everyone is welcome. Read silently if you wish. Comment if you like. Our online community is always open to newcomers.”

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    1. My commitment to not finish books that I don’t like is relatively new. I struggled for many years because I had a feeling that if I started the book I had to finish it. I got over it My list was compiled from my spreadsheet which encompasses many years and about 150 books each year on average. So I’m reading almost nothing that I don’t enjoy.

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      1. If memory serves, one of the books you didn’t finish was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn’t either. Found her self-indulgent and shallow, but considering the books popularity, I must have missed something.

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        1. I did eventually finish it because my other book club really wanted to read it. It didn’t redeem itself. The really sad part is that I went on to read her next book which was really awful.

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      2. As I recall, vs, you have changed as you’ve aged. I think you used to try hard to finish any book you started, but now feel that a book that cannot win your heart might not be worth reading. That’s what happened with me, by the way. I’m quicker to drop a book that doesn’t work for me now.

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        1. You are correct Steve. I was reading Blood on the Snow, a book about the Russian revolution and it was just taking so long. Close to a year. And at some point while I was slogging through, I read something in a book industry trade magazine that said there are so many books published every year that even if you read one a day you’d never get through them in your lifetime. And I thought “I’m not gonna get all the books I want to read?” That was the last day I picked up Blood on the Snow.

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    1. Wes, thinking of you right now. Just turned on the TV after shutting down my work computer and discovered Princess Bride. They just ran into the swamp so I’ve missed my favorite movie line of all time.

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        1. Actually I think the movie is better than the book. I enjoyed the book great deal and I almost didn’t go to the movie because I thought “how could they improve on that?” I’m so glad I went. And I went the next night and the night after that too.

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  6. My top candidate for a doorstop is a tome. It’s a biography of Steve Goodman. Steve Goodman: Facing the Music, written by Clay Eals, I gave up on it without reading a single page because of it’s weight. It might be a good candidate for a Kindle. From what I read, it is well researched and written, but though I’m a huge fan of Goodman and his music, I’m just not convinced that I need to know that much about him.

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    1. I read a fair number of biographies, but for some reason I shy away from the biographies of contemporaries. In some cases, I’m sure it’s because I don’t believe their “celebrity” is enough to give them substance, but otherwise, I can’t say.

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      1. With few exceptions, I agree, but I’m not sure Goodman in his lifetime really made it to “celebrity” status. Now that I think of it, I’m not even sure how I’d define “celebrity.” To me it implies being well known for something but not necessarily all that accomplished. I suppose you can argue that at least some “celebrities” are in fact known for the quality of their work, but more generally they’re know more for their wealth, looks, and bad behavior. Don’t know if that’s a fair assessment?

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        1. I was using celebrity to categorize anyone well-known enough, for any reason, that publishers think they could sell a biography about them. Many of those “celebrities” are famous for being famous and that part of pop culture has left me far behind.

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      2. I’ve had good luck reading the autobiographies of contemporary entertainers. Examples: Michael Cain, Johnny Cash, David Niven, Kathryn Hepburn, Alec Guinness, Barack Obama, Kareem Abdul Jabar, George Plimpton and many, many others.

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        1. I think of autobiographies, if they are not ghostwritten, as more authentic. I think of biographies, especially if they are about current pop celebrities, as opportunistic ventures by the publishers.

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        2. Sorry, I answered the question I had and not the one you asked. Memoirs, I think, are not necessarily from birth but rather about a significant period in the life of the author.

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    2. In the realm of biographies as doorstops, I can’t think of a more effective choice than the three volume set of Mark Twain’s autobiography. Each of the three run about 700 pages, though about 250 pages of that is explanatory notes in the back. I say that only because of the bulk. I’ve read two of the three and enjoyed them, in large part because my prior reading enabled me to recognize many of the references to people and events he mentions, and I fully intend to get to the third volume some day.

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  7. I’ve been thinking about the lists of must-reads from the Carleton English department, especially about the 500 books one must have read to be considered well read. That is to say, of course, to be considered a well-read English major.

    Despite the fact that I read a lot, I have been singularly neglectful of the canon of books that would qualify me as well read in the eyes of the Carleton English department. That canon represents a particular perspective. Familiarity with it is presumably useful in literary discussions with other English majors. Outside of that, how relevant are they? Is the consumption of those books more essential than any number of other avenues one might take with one’s reading?

    My reading choices stem mostly from curiosity and oftentimes I’m led by incidental references through a string of loosely-related books—a rabbithole of sorts—until I am provisionally satisfied with a topic. None of that resembles ticking off must-reads from anybody’s list.

    No one else would likely choose the books I choose. Within the universe of the books I am drawn to read, I am the best-read person I know.

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    1. ‘Xactly!! Although I will have to say a lot of the books that you’ve mentioned over the years I have enjoyed. Although I don’t go quite as far down the rabbit hole as you do.

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  8. I wish I could use my geology textbook as a door stop. Alas, it’s all online at this point. I’ve just ordered a hard copy though… It’s harder for me to comprehend stuff reading it online. As evidenced by the questions I get wrong.
    We’re still studying igneous rocks and identification and the minerals in them. And whenever we ask the instructor for help he says “Ah, this is an interesting rock!” EVERY ROCK IS INTERESTING TO HIM! And they all look the same to me!
    But it’s kinda fun… I’m picking up small tidbits here and there… I can tell this class is going to ruin my straight A’s…

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I think my Ulysses equivalent would probably be Gravity’s Rainbow, which at one point I thought would be an edifying read, but which I found pretty impenetrable. Maybe someone else has a different opinion. If you had a hardcover, it would hold a door quite securely, I would think.

    Another thing I thought would be fascinating but couldn’t get through was a series of diaries by Anais Nin.

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    1. I considered Gravity’s Rainbow as my doorstop. I quit that book in disgust, feeling like Pynchon was more concerned with his style than in communicating the story, whatever the story was.

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  10. I learned years ago that I love reading novels, memoirs, and the occasional bio about women’s lives, esp. if living in a different place or time from my own. That said, I have never read Anna Karenina, though started it a few times. Or Madame Bovary, Lorna Doone, Moll Flanders… These could be stacked for a doorstop.

    The book I started in the past year and could not complete was Camus’ The Plague. The hardcover might also be adequate.

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    1. The Plague is kind of on the nose and predictably hard to get in to. If you want a pandemic-themed novel, try I Am Thinking About My Darling By Vincent McHugh about a pandemic set in New York City written in the ‘40s. A quick read. Lots of parallels to current events but also entertaining.

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    2. My immediate thought was Lorna Doone. It’s nearly as big as my Spanish dictionary. It’s more about a semi fictional event, with Lorna as one of the central characters, than about Lorna herself. I don’t suppose there really was a Lorna Doone. I don’t know how much of all that stuff really happened, if any. My brother read a few pages and couldn’t stand it. I love it, for no good reason.

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  11. Edwin Boring’s History of Experimental Psychology should not be a door stop, according to Husband (I never had to read it) although people have complained about it, Imagine having the last name of Boring! Husband says Psychoanalysis and Interpersonal Psychiatry, all 751 pages, would make a great doorstop and conversational piece.

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