I knew what I was getting into when I finally picked up The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, but Goodreads had it lingering on my recommendations page, and I was seeing it everywhere. Tumblr, mostly, which is usually bad news because quotes usually come from books I abhor like The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Book Thief – you know, sappy and infinitely quotable. Meh. Also against The Shadow of the Wind? It’s a mystery. I don’t like mysteries. I see the word “inspector” anywhere in the first twenty pages, and I generally leave a book alone. I thought this one, though, might be a nice entry into the genre, but I was totally wrong.
(I’ll go ahead and issue a spoiler alert here, though it only applies to this specific book.)
I discovered a likely problem early, when I tweeted this only 68 pages in:
If the Mysterious Book-Burning Guy in The Shadow of the Wind is Carax, I’ll be burning THIS book and writing a nasty letter to the author.
— Lindsay Attaway (@lindsay) May 7, 2014
No, I thought, this book can’t be that predictable. It would be entirely ridiculous, and everyone would hate it for the way-too-obvious scam. But no! I discovered on page 420 that said book-burner was, indeed, Carax, and I almost threw the damned book across the room. Except I didn’t, and I kept reading because there were sixty pages left, and I figured that there was still time for something more interesting to happen.
I should have done the throwing and/or the burning because it just got worse from there.
Spoiler alert over. Anyway. The Shadow of the Wind is about a teenager who discovers a book by Julián Carax, then gets into terrible trouble trying to find out about the author. A mystery, and an especially dumb one, at that, because it’s entirely predictable. And I didn’t even go into how dumb and sappy the end is. It’s like the end of the Harry Potter series, when Rowling goes 30 years into the future and explains who married whom and how many kids they had, and the like. But worse. MEH.
I should have stopped reading at 420, when I was still enjoying it, at least a little bit. Finishing it was a terrific waste of time.
Aaaand speaking of wasting time, I’ll move onto a book I didn’t finish, Noggin, by John Corey Whaley. This isn’t my first experience with Whaley: I read – and generally liked – Where Things Come Back. I picked up Noggin as soon as the library got a copy because several people I knew were reading it, and I figured this one would be as good or better than Where Things Come Back. But no!
My first issue is with the basic premise: It’s about Travis Coates, a kid who was dying of leukemia. Said kid agrees to join an experiment in which his head is separated from his body to be cryogenically frozen until it can be attached to a donor body sometime in the (probably distant) future when that technology becomes available. Except it only takes five years, and he comes home to all kinds of awkwardness and sadness because his best friend and his girlfriend are five years older and have moved on with their lives. More sap, this time geared for teenagers.
I gave up on Noggin about halfway through because it wasn’t getting any better, and I’m tired of wasting my time reading bad books. Here’s the paragraph that finally did me in:
They say the heart is just a muscle. They say it plays absolutely no role in our emotions and that its use as a symbol for love is based on archaic theories of it being the seat of the soul or something ridiculous like that. But as I quietly listened to every word she was saying to me, as each syllable shot a sharp arrow through the phone and into my ear, I swear I felt like my entire chest would collapse in on itself. I knew this feeling. They say a heart can’t really break because there’s nothing to be broken. But see, I once had to leave everyone I loved, and it felt this same way. Maybe Jeremy Pratt’s did too. Before he died, I mean. Maybe his heart was torn to shreds and maybe that’s why it hurt so bad now, like it hadn’t had enough time to heal before receiving its next blow.
Excuse me while I vomit a little.
After forcing my way through that paragraph and the next few pages, I used the lesson I’d just learned from Mr. Zafón and his The Shadow of the Wind (which, incidentally, ends with the title of the novel. Yep, it just gets worse) and put the book down before I’d wasted another minute of my life. It’s not even that I just don’t like Noggin (that’s the case with The Shadow of the Wind, really): Noggin isn’t even a decent book. It’s stupid and written to pull at your heart strings just like The Book Thief does (and like I imagine all of John Green‘s books to do, which is why I stay away from those). I didn’t even like books like this when I was a teenager because they’re dumb, and if I would have made it all the way to the end, I bet I would have found a nice, neat moral lesson. Yuck.
End of rant.
I really need to be better about giving up on a book when I know I won’t like it within the first fifty (or two or three hundred!) pages. If I’m reading for pleasure, shouldn’t I get some pleasure out of it rather than trudging through just to see it complete and returned to the shelf?