Page Turning Pariah

As a voracious reader, I depend a great deal on other folks’ recommendations.    Ten years ago I added a column to my reading spreadsheet – Inspiration.  When a finished title gets added to the spreadsheet I notate where I got the idea for reading the book.  If it’s a specific person, I list their name.  If it’s a bookclub selection, BBC, Illiterati or MIA.  If I actually remember where I first encountered the title, I enter that (Scientific American, Goodreads, CNN).  If it’s book off one of my various lists, that gets written in (Monarchs, Presidents, Banned, Newbery, Caldecott).  And, if by the time I finish a book (that’s a whole new blog topic – my over-curated library account), I don’t remember where I got the idea any longer, then O&A, Out & About, is the label.

All of this to say that I do take book recommendations seriously.  I’m pretty sure that I’ve read 75% of the books we’ve talked about on this blog, not because, as Steve used to say “VS has read everything” but because when somebody mentions a book on the Trail, I write it down or go to my library account immediately. 

I have a friend in Indianapolis who reads as much as I do and although we don’t always gravitate to the same thing, I’ve found most of his recommendations fascinatingly good reads.  (For example, I would never have picked up Countdown Bin Laden by Wallace & Weiss of my own accord, but since he spoke highly of it, I gave it a shot.  It was excellent and is likely to make my top ten this year.)  When he suggested a title that I had heard of from a few other folks, I picked it up from the library.  That’s when I found out that the title is also an Oprah Pick and has either won or been a finalist for just about every literary award out there.  93% of folks who have reviewed on Amazon have given it one or two stars.  Just 1% rated it with only one star.  This is unprecedented so I was really looking forward to getting into it – I even suggested it to my other book club.

I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like it to the point that if it hadn’t been a book club title, I might not have finished it.  It was WAY too long; it’s really two stories, related but distinct enough for two separate treatments.  Then there was the jumping around in the timeline, which I didn’t find to be well-handled. Too much repetitiveness; probably could have trimmed 50 pages by leaving out all references to “collard greens”.  But the biggest problem was that there wasn’t one likeable character in the entire book; 400+ years of story and 900+ pages of book, that’s a LOT of unlikeable characters. They ran the gamut from heinous to slightly sickening, but really not one really decent person among the lot of them. 

But it’s really hard to dump on a book that appears to be universally loved and admired.  REALLY hard.  And because I like to think I’m a discerning reader, it has made me wonder what’s wrong with me. What have I missed. In fact, I’ve been writing and re-writing this blog post in my head for two weeks trying to decide whether to name the book or just ruminate on feeling so out of step with what feels like the whole of humanity.  I do feel out of step a fair amount.  I’m not interested in fashion. I think reality TV is an abomination. Much of what is generally valued by current culture leaves me “meh”.

That’s why I am extremely grateful that I have found niches where I feel like I fit in, with good friends who think a bit more like I do.  This is one of those places, of course.  Thanks for all of you in my life and on the Trail who leave a place for my quirky self at the table! 

Tell me about the last book that you DIDN’T like.  (And if you’ve read the book I’m talking about and liked it, that’s OK… you’re in good company!!)

116 thoughts on “Page Turning Pariah”

    1. No, the book isn’t related to the bin Laden book at all. Bin Laden was just a comment on the good recommendations that this particular friend has given me in the past. I did not name the book that I didn’t like and honest to gosh part of it is because I think I’m the only person on the planet he didn’t like it and I really don’t need any negative focus about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The difficulty with telling you much about the books I didn’t like is that I discontinued them well before they were finished and for the most part before they got to wherever they were going. In each case I rejected them because of their voice.
    Most recently, I started reading The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco. It was an e-book, so I can’t really say how far into it I read but the narrator was unpleasant and I couldn’t discern where the narrative was going but I certainly wasn’t being drawn in. Maybe there was a purpose to that distasteful beginning but I’ll never know.

    I have two other books that I read or began this year that I opted to discontinue. One, The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers was also an Oprah pick and generally recommended elsewhere. It’s a little shorter than the book to which you allude—about 800 pages—and I gather that it’s a multigenerational story, so the narrator could and likely does change or evolve but for the first 100 pages that narrator was the author’s representation of a child’s voice and at that point I had grown so impatient and uncharmed that I decided to set it aside. That those first 100 pages were not compelling and with 700 to go was the deciding factor.

    In a more obscure vein, I quit A Buckeye Abroad, a nineteenth century travel narrative by Samuel S. Cox, a former congressman. The book was recommended to me by a correspondent who also collects and reads nineteenth century humor as one of his favorite books in that genre. I found it irritatingly digressive and not at all witty, so I decided to move on to something else.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Bill, I can’t even tell you how happy I am to read your post. Because now I know for sure I’m not alone and one person whose reading recommendations I always value, agrees with me.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Correct on that as well, PJ. However, compared to every book she has written since then Eat Pray Love was a joy.

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  2. This wasn’t so much a book I didn’t like as it was a disappointing effort by one of my all-time favorite authors. (I’ll leave out the name and title so as to not hurt feelings–like this author would care! 🙂

    I’ve expected and received high-quality reads over the years from this author, so when the title in question woefully fell short, I was disappointed. I could only assume that the author needed to meet a publishing deadline and didn’t have time to revise and bring it up to par.

    Over the years, I’ve read some truly bad books, mostly by one-and-done indie authors who got into the self-publishing game early (2000s) and couldn’t be bothered to hire an editor because they “just knew” they were God’s next gift to the literary world. I’ve also read some writing colleagues’ books that weren’t very good. Those I either choose not to review and just mark as “read” on my Goodreads page or don’t even count them.

    Quality writing is on a bell curve just like any other skill or talent. Most folks fall in the middle. Some are outstanding. Others should never have taken pen to paper in the first place. My constant fear as an author is that my “next” book will be on that far left end of the bell curve. I like to think I have enough sense and lack of vanity that I won’t let that happen. I can’t imagine anything worse than going to book festivals and trying to sell a book you know in your heart is a real stinker.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 3 people

    1. L O L Wes. As an English major at Carleton, Ulysses was on a list of books that was considered required reading to be considered a literary person. And over the years I have put it on the list and said I need to get this red. About 15 years ago when I was cleaning out bookcases in my house which at the time or double stacked, I found three copies of Ulysses. That was the day I decided I’m not going to read Ulysses. Ever. All three of the copies went to the library.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. The English department at Carleton thought very well of itself. There was actually a short list which you pretty much should have read before your final orals and then there was the “long list” I still actually have both of these lists in my possession although I can’t remember the last time I looked at them.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. You say that, Bill, as if that’s a bad thing. I would say that if you’re teaching in a department or a college that you don’t think well of, perhaps you should reassess why you’re there.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I’m familiar with a fair number of Carleton faculty and alumni. Carleton is a very competitive and presumably prestigious place and its denizens are generally nice people but very self-assured and prone to pronouncements like the one VS described.

          Of course the faculty and students should believe in and take pride in the quality of their institution. I always appreciate a little humility as well.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. I think the insertion of “too well “would be helpful when thinking about Carleton. Yes, they should think well of themselves but too well?

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        5. A day or two ago, I mentioned the young woman who lived with us while she was pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the U of M. Her undergraduate degree was from MIT. She had been accepted there with the assistance of her stepfather who was an alumnus. Unfortunately, despite being a very bright young woman, she failed to make good enough grades at MIT to be accepted into any of the medical schools she applied to. The master’s in public health was an attempt to improve her chances of such acceptance. She did eventually succeed, and is now a pathologist.

          When she applied to the U of M’s medical school, and they turned her down because her grades weren’t anything to write home about, she was arrogant enough to tell them that the reason for her less than stellar grades was the MIT was a much tougher school than the U of M. That might just have been an occasion where a little humility might have been a smarter option. There is such a thing as being overly confident.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. Ulysses was another one I read for class. I loved the original Odyssey, which I read when I was 12, but I wouldn’t have picked Ulysses up much less finished it had it not been required. But, you can probably guess I am not a fan of modernist literature–If I want to work THAT hard on a book, I’ll haul out “The Cosmic Doctrine” again. Fiction is for fun, IMHO.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t have a recent one:I’m so slovenly in my reading habits at the moment that I’ve got nothing to say about them. One I never liked is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, which has been mentioned before. I haven’t read it, and don’t intend to.
    I’ve got a few by well known authors, perhaps I’ll remember their names as the day goes on.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. OT: Back to yesterday :

    1. Great bunch of jokes.

    2.Can’t remember. I’ll go back through the post.

    3. Meeting Baboons in bars. We’re pretty well advanced here, Covid wise. I’d love to meet any of you in Asensio’s bar/our house any time. He’s pretty erratic with opening times these days, several possible reasons. So if you’re coming to the house, if it’s short notice, best bring a bottle. I’m afraid we only have a sofa, Isaac commandeered the spare room for his gaming. Actually, I haven’t really figured what to do when my sister comes over in a month or two, but that’s another story. So alternative sleeping arrangements might be best.
    I might sound light hearted, but I’m serious. You’re all welcome.

    Liked by 4 people

        1. She has recovered for the most part, sleeps more, but that is normal for awhile. She is a little dimmer. But she can still be goofy. She put the flower in her hair and wore it all day. It was taken two days ago. I have been taking her to activites the last few days, which she had not wanted to do, but she has fun when she is there. She needs the social intereaction.

          Liked by 5 people

    1. It was actually an article very similar to this that encouraged me to stop reading books that I wasn’t happy reading. There are so many books, why spend my time reading stuff I don’t like? No

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have no problem whatsoever dumping on books that are widely acclaimed–I’m very aware that, to quote a bumper sticker, I “march to the beat of my own accordion,” and I never expect to like anything popular (my enjoying Harry Potter was a pleasant surprise, if not a bit of a shock). The only Oprah books I’ve ever read had been assignments in college, and they were miserable.

    One novelist I really can’t stand is William Faulkner–my advisor and favorite prof loved him, so I signed up for the senior seminar she was teaching on him, and regretted it deeply. The only good thing about suffering through a semester of Faulkner is that I never, ever need to read Faulkner again! Sad thing is, his short stories are good, but in my mind they’re forever tainted by the Lovecraftian horror that is that 1,288 word sentence from “Absalom, Absalom”.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Although, I’m sure that sentence was much too ungrammatical for Lovecraft to bear! Maybe the Elder Ones could have diagrammed it, but they did go in for non-Euclidean geometry…

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I find him a deligghtful mess. A bountiful mind that encompasses so many genres in all thos books set in his sprawling mind and fictional county. The Bear is one of the best things I have read except for the unintelligble part Iv. I think it is Part IV. How did he get to be a mystic?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. And I still think of Faulkner as my favorite writer, though, admittedly, it has been a long time since I’ve read any of his works.

        Another writer that I’m really fond of, but that I find a lot of people don’t care for, is Annie Proulx.

        As far as Oprah’s book recommendations go, I don’t find them reliable at all. Some of what she has recommended has been very good, but more often than not, I’ve not been enthused.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hey, one man’s meat. I feel that way about Tolkien–“delightful mess” is a good description of all those unreconciled corrections and partial rewrites that his son Christopher had to work so hard to untangle!

        Liked by 4 people

  6. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    There are several books I can remember really disliking despite the popular opinion:

    1. Donna Tartt, “TheGoldfinch”. Perhaps it is because I work with addictions a lot, but I hated this book. The repetitive, self-defeating patterns of the protagonist made me want to slap the guy and say What.Are.You.Thinking! I did not finish it.

    2. The Bridges of Madison County by What’s his name. Really, who writes a passionate romance, then breaks them up without hope. And the point of that is? $$$$$$. Then Clliint Eastwood made it into a hopeless movie with Meryl Streep. I refused to see it. Hmph.

    3. David Wroblewski, “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.” This one just made me MAD. I persevered through the formation of a kennel, lots of sweet dogs, a neglected child in rural Wisconsin. And then he burns it all down into a ash heap of hopeless despair. This stuff happens in real life, but that is not why I read. And it was very long, so you had to wait for the unsatisfactory suffering. Wroblewski must be one of those depressed Wisconsinites of German extraction. Yuck.

    So, is that enough judgement and disparagement?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t finish Goldfinch either for about the same reason. Never even picked up Bridges of Madison County. Edgar Sawtelle I did finish mostly out of curiosity. But when a modern novel folliws the plot of a Shakespeare play step by step, it takes some of the surprise and joy out of it.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I rarely did not finish a book back when I could read, which perhaps means I selected books too narrowly. I used to tell students in their private reading to give a book a chance but after that dump it. That they should push out of their comfort zone sometimes. Wonder if they ever listened to me.
    I rarely read popular books, part bias, part experience, part my taste is in the odd book, not books edited to sell. Why I have never been in a book club, that and I am afraid I would go all English teacher.
    Been down this road before, but I will again admit I found some interest in Zen and Motorcycle, I had a few connections to it. Had a grad seminar on Ulysses, which I enjoyed, it is all about classical rhetoric, a topic which fascinates me. But the plot is inane. His short stories are spectacular.
    I don’t like Eco books. Finished one looked through two others. Narrative pose was interesting but tired me.
    I have not finished a dozen books or more out of the last 20 I have tried. Too much effort to read. See my Ukranian Eye Dr. in 6 days to tell her my close vision is getting worse.
    PT update. I am suddenly out walking on nature trails around her. It is wonderful to be back in the woods. I love fall flowers, something invogorating about flowers that bloom this late. Hurts to walk but only when I walk.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I’ve only finished one Umberto Eco. I like his storylines, but whoever has translated him into English makes me feel like an idiot. If I can’t even figure out a word from context and I have to be looking up the meanings of words every page and a half, that leaves me cold.

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        1. All I can remember about it, because this is the one I read as well, is that it pretty much touched on every psychological facet of conspiracy theory that you can imagine.

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  9. My most recent read was “Competency Based Supervision” which I had to read for continuing education since I supervised a psychology resident last year. I had to finish it as I had to take an online test and pass it to get my 4 hours of CE’s.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I have returned a few books lately, having not even gotten far enough in to know whether I should keep reading – I just don’t have time lately, and prioritize what’s needed for the book clubs. (I may let go of one of the book groups.)
    – Guns, Germs, and Steel – by Jared Diamond – I really want to know the information that’s in there, but wish it could be condensed.
    – Sand Talk – by Tyson Yunkaporta – ditto, and it’s only 230 some pages, so I may hang onto it a bit longer
    – Yellow Lighted Bookstore – I’ll probably finish, it contains a history of bookstores that’s pretty fascinating, but it’s been sitting on bedside table half-finished for weeks now.

    Will keep thinking for books that were actually too awful to finish…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Guns, Germs and Steel and Diamond’s subsequent Collapse are worth the effort, in my opinion.
      The Yellow-Lighted Bookstore offers little of the author’s personal experience and a great deal cribbed from Nicolas Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness, in my opinion.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. My aunt’s funeral is Monday morning in NW Iowa. I will travel there on Sunday afternoon, so I will miss BBC. ( I am now COVID negative—Phew). I really enjoyed Miss Jean Brody. For a book published in 1963 the frank sexual curiousity of the tween characters was delightful. Kate Atkinson’s book I found difficult—I can not seem to stay grounded in her writing. I thought earlier it was just Life after Life, given the premise of that book. But it happened with “Started Early, Took My Dog”, too. I get confused, can’t keep the characters straight, and I seldom can figure out if a segment is present or past. Really frustrating.

    There ya go—read that outline to represent the book discussion portion of the meeting.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Morning!
    I have several books I’ve started and I’m just not reading like I used too. I’m afraid I’m turning into a millennial and I’m on my phone too much…
    I did read Dessa’s autobiography and I really enjoyed that. She’s just really cool. And I read “The Old man’s Musings – 45 years of gigs” by Nook Schoenfeld. He’s a lighting and stage designer lives up in the twin cities area. Fun reading about his adventures on the road with rock and roll bands.
    But several other books… I don’t know… I just can’t stay focu– SQUIRREL!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. From VS’s comments several weeks ago, I decided to read The Mists of Avalon. I’m a sucker for King Arthur and druids and magic and I enjoyed it.

    Quite awhile ago, not sure how long, I read State of Terror by Hilary Clinton and Louise Penny. It was interesting only because of Ms. Clinton’s insights but, friends or not, Louise Penny shouldn’t have attempted this. I greatly enjoyed the Gamache series but Terror just wasn’t up to Ms. Penny’s abilities. I’m not as articulate as all of you and can’t describe what it is that makes me quit reading something. Usually it’s a feeling, like I’m just slogging along with a book and it feels like work every time I pick it up. At that point I’ll give up on it. It doesn’t happen often. I like to read too but I don’t keep track of what I’ve read like so many here. That said, I am really enjoying this conversation!

    Steve told me once how to put the titles into italics but I have forgotten and didn’t keep his notes.

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  14. This is Clyde. Way off topic but I think some of you will find this interesting. My father’s father is unknown but my sister and her daughter have done good quality dna and submitted to databases. They both have extensive matches to descendants of man who has the same first name as my father, different spelling, but my German grandmother was not very bright and never spoke anything but German. He was in right area at right time. This explains why our dna is apparently not as German as we thought. So Fenton this makes me more your kin. My sister and I should be Cleo and Clyde Cartwright. Now isn’t that anticlimactic.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh, and a delightful footnote to this: my former d-i-l found through dna her father who is half Jewish. This found father of my father is listed as Catholic, so my anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic father would be in for quite a shock if he were alive.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. A friend of mine, who began genealogy about the same time I did, which is to say in the late 1980s, discovered that his father, who was quite old when my friend was born, had a whole second family and, with a little research, was able to find a half brother he had never known about. This half brother was older but my friend and his brother had a great deal in common. Ultimately, they were able to get together and share stories.
      Then my friend discovered there had actually been a third family and he had a half sister…

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I’ve never done any genealogy work, but when I was just out of college, my dad paid somebody somewhere to do some thing and he sent me copies of what he received. It’s pages of stuff but it toward the end, Eleanor of Aquitaine was listed. I wouldn’t bet a farthing on how accurate is but I do kind of like the idea of it that Eleanor of Aquitaine is somewhere in my past.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I believe that Jane’s mother’s brother got as far as his second extracurricular family. Come to think of it, he may be on his third by now. Which would make it four families in total by now, to be clear. But perhaps he’s too old now.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. That reminds me of one of Annie Proulx’ short stories, the name of which escapes me at the moment. It also brings to mind, Ulla, one of my best friends in high school. Her mother died rather suddenly during our junior year. Her dad later married – and subsequently divorced – the woman he hired as housekeeper.

        Years later, during one of my visits to Denmark, Ulla told me that after her father passed away, she discovered that he had been married prior to marrying her mom, a marriage she knew nothing about. That marriage had also produced two children, one of whom was a very well known journalist that worked for the Danish Broadcasting Company. I thought it was interesting that this half-sister and half-brother, who were ten and twelve years older than Ulla, both knew about their father’s second marriage and their half-siblings it produced. Apparently the breakup of his first marriage had been so rancorous that there had been no contact with his two oldest children, and he chose to not disclose it until it was revealed in his will. What could possibly have been so bad that you chose to never see two of your children again, and kept their existence a secret for the rest of your life?

        I find it intriguing what secrets people withhold from even their next of kin. My dad’s birth mother is another example of that.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I only actually said that once and sent it once, in direct reply to the post from Clyde in which my name appears. And WP have been treating me so well the last few days.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I believe they owned a sawmill at Bonar Bridge. My brother would know the whereabouts of the mansion my mother was brought up in(it’s a long story), but he hasn’t answered my emails since the start of Covid. I must ask my sister Jane to remind me of a few things. Mum was familiar with the Highlands in general, I think, though she left for London in her late teens or there thereabouts. A bit of a story there, which not everyone believes.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Husband’s maternal grandfather’s family were Carson’s, who showed up in geneologies in Coal Island, northern Ireland in the 1840’s, and then moved to east of Glasgow in the 1860’s. They had been in Ireland for a very long time. They were coal miners. His great great grandfather died in a mine collapse. Then the family immigrated to West Virginia/Ohio in the 1870’s to be coal miners. I don’t know when theywent to Northern Ireland in the first place, and I don’t know why they went back to Scotland.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I have a book out from the library called Curious City: In, Out, Above Beyond Saint Paul. Apparently it’s organized by the Geology Department at Macalester College. I haven’t examined it really thoroughly at this point. I quickly got discouraged because parts of it are in pretty tiny typeface, and parts are printed in colors with poor contrast. Really wish they had run this by some old people before publication. If you do read it, a full page magnifier would be useful, especially for the maps in the section titled Diverted, Dried & Buried: St. Paul’s Historic Waters.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. One of my ancestral names, Barney, sounds like it might be Irish and family tradition is that it’s Scots-Irish. Ancestry DNA indicates I have a small percentage of British Isles heritage but Barney can also be a corruption of the Norman” Bernay” , so I can’t be sure that’s where my UK connection originates.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Reading glasses were also employed for IRS Enrolled Agent Exam Guide, which I have slogged through quite a bit of, but likely won’t finish because I passed the third part of the three-part exam today.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I dangled a preposition there; now that’s bothering me. I’m not always a stickler about dangled prepositions, but having noticed one I always want to herd it into an earlier position.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand. Because I’m often posting on an iPad, I don’t always scroll through to reread what I’ve written before I post and sometimes I see that I’ve repeated myself or worse. It drives me nuts but I have to tell myself to let it go…

        Liked by 1 person

  18. I have a book I lust after on Amazon but not to read. 100 sheets of hand made water color paper bound in leather in color of your choice. I think Bill might want it too. But I am not supposed to sketch because of me bad neck. But I still lust. Comes in many sizes. I want the biggest. Funky looking. Medieval looking. Full of so much promise. Sigh.
    Clyde

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Getting on for 110 posts, and I’ve come up with a book I didn’t finish, by Kafka. I don’t remember which one, or what it was about. I really must have been missing something. It appeared to be a constant, almost childishly written, list of events, with no real reasons, insights, or consequences. It was either what it appeared, or something way beyond my intellect. Having been to a party with some of my brother’s fellow philosophy students in the eighties, I tend to think it was the former.

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