Category: Fail Pile

Artober 3. You win some, you lose some.

Yeeeeah, as you can see, today, I lost. Spattering is my mortal arts enemy. This isn’t my first run-in with it:

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Okay, this one’s acrylic and maybe isn’t entirely ruined, but those are some stringy snowflakes. According to a very friendly Facebook group, I should have lain it flat (I put it on an easel outside) and watered down my paint a bit more. So it goes. (Btw this painting comes from an Art Sherpa tutorial. I’m pretty sure I’ve evangelized about her before. She’s definitely my favorite YouTube art teacher!)

But this one. This one is a plain ol’ FAIL. I got the idea from a couple Pinterest pins that made it look way easier than it would be. And yes, I know that’s how Pinterest functions. I’ve decided that it’s okay that the painting sucks and learned never to try spattering again (okay, not for a very, very long time). I also used too much water on the ground, but that was because I was super frustrated by that point and wanted to be done.

So why am I sharing this crappy painting, you ask? Because I said I’d post every day, and I am SO DONE for today. My water bucket is empty, and it’s staying that way. I think I might retreat to acrylics tomorrow.

(Btw I’m taking all of these painting photos on my front porch because my library light is really yellow:)

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In other, more disturbing news, this GINORMOUS wolf spider spent the day hanging out right by the door I use to get into work:

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On Not Finishing Books (and sometimes finishing them when I know I shouldn’t). Also: 2014 Book #24: The Shadow of the Wind and Fail Pile #3: Noggin

shadowofthewindI 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:

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.

nogginAaaand speaking of wasting time, I’ll move onto a book I didn’t finishNoggin, 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?

2014 Fail Pile #2: The People in the Trees

peopleinthetreesRemember how, after I read The Magus, I noted that, while I don’t mind challenging books, I don’t like books that are entirely, unequivocally, effed up? Yeah, well, note that I at least finished The Magus. I’m not finishing Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees.

Here’s the blurb on Goodreads:

“In 1950, a young doctor called Norton Perina signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub “The Dreamers,” who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating personal consequences.”

Interesting! you might say. Intriguing! even. Except the blurb-writer forgot to include one little tidbit: CHILD RAPE.

Wait? What? you say. Shouldn’t that be…mentioned? I certainly think it should be, especially since it happens more than once and is a major part of the novel. I was reading along, minding my own business, enjoying myself when, about 50% in, the protagonist witnesses a tribal custom in which nine village elders rape a 10-year-old boy. Yes, indeed. I kept going, though, until at the 52% mark, the protagonist is wandering around the woods, runs into a child from the village, and said child apparently tries to seduce the doctor. I stopped reading when hands cupped genitals because that was more than enough, thank you.

Again, I don’t mind a challenge, but I want to enjoy what I read, not be traumatized by it. So I put down the book, and I don’t plan to read it again. I’m not even getting into various Goodreads reviewers’ moral relativism arguments. Nope. DONE.

That is all.

2014 Fail Pile #1: Un Lun Dun

unlundunI haven’t posted about a Fail Pile book in a long time for a couple of reasons: (1) The number of books I start and don’t finish is very low and (2) I usually don’t have anything to say about them. Except I do this time.

Usually, I’ll stop reading a book because I get bored with it – which is what happened sometime last year with Ken Kesey‘s Sometimes a Great Notion. By all accounts, that’s a great book, but it’s really long, and I just couldn’t get through it. The same thing happened with The Casual Vacancy, which isn’t bad, but, well, boredom. I just stopped reading and didn’t want to talk about them. But then I come to Un Lun Dun. I’ve started to trust Goodreads recommendations because they’re usually fantastic. Some of the best books I’ve read in a long time have shown up on that list. Un Lun Dun has been there a while, and it’s been compared to some of my favorite stories: The Wizard of OzAlice in Wonderland, and The Phantom Tollbooth. And it is exactly what you’d expect from a combination of those three books, except that it isn’t very good.

China Miéville has been on my list for a while. Several people (and probably Goodreads) have recommended The City and the City, comparing it to Neil Gaiman‘s Neverwhere, which I loved. One day a couple of years ago, I grabbed a copy and sat down in one of the (now gone) chairs at Barnes and Noble. I read the first few pages and stopped when I got to the word “Inspector” because I hate mysteries, and I knew what was coming. (That’s another bias I know I need to address, but that’s for another time.) I hadn’t tried reading Miéville since.

But Un Lun Dun is supposed to be good! And it is, as I said, a combination of three of my favorite stories. It’s like a 12-year-old’s version of Neverwhere (even the name harkens a similar London underworld: Un Lun Dun is UnLondon. There’s also a Parisn’t, and so on. Ugh). All things I like, you say. Except there’s almost zero character development. Every single one of them is flat, which means that I don’t care what happens to anyone. The premise turns me off, too: the protagonist is fighting smog. Meh. I made it to page 120 of 400, or so, and gave up. That far in, and I still don’t know whether I like any of them because instead of spending a little time letting the reader getting to know who he’s supposed to follow through this book, Miéville jumps right into the action. Several years ago, when I first read Harry Potter, I wondered why J.K. Rowling spent so much time with Harry before whisking him away to Hogwarts – and this is why. It’s the same with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We have to get to know and like Charlie in his boring, sad life before we understand his experiences at Wonka’s. In Un Lun Dun, we’re presented a 12- or 13-year-old who we know is blonde and tall for her age, but that’s about it. She doesn’t appear to be especially stupid or mean, but that’s not enough to catch my interest. So I quit. The end.

That was a much longer explanation than I’d planned…

2012 Fail Pile #1: The Marriage Plot

I was supposed to love The Marriage Plot. It’s about a girl who just graduated college and who is trying to figure out what to do next. She’s an English major at Brown, taking a class on semiotics, which involves a lot of what I’m writing about in my Thesis Monster. There are also constant literary references to books and such that I understand because, well, I was an English major. She’s a lot like me when I was in college.

So why can’t I get through this book?

I really have no idea, but I’m almost two weeks in (and behind schedule for my 50), I’m only 40% through, and now I’ve lost interest. I even thought about scanning through the rest of the novel just to see what happens, but I don’t even care enough to do that. I guess my biggest problem with it is the part I should enjoy: all of the literary references. And they were great for a while, but at the point where I stopped, that’s all there is. Nothing’s happening but a list of authors and books and ideas. It’s like the Ready Player One of literary references, and I’m bored.

I’ve also been very busy. I got married on Tuesday, and Palmer and I are looking into buying a house soon. Books aren’t exactly at the top of my list right now. And the tight 50-book schedule is kind of wearing on me. I got through more than half of them last year before I had a job and before I got engaged, moved in with Palmer, and got married. Trying to read through books so quickly has made me choose books that are shorter than I want, and I have to read them so quickly that I don’t really enjoy them. Which makes me think it might be a good time to say, well, if I don’t read 50 books this year, that’s okay. I’d rather enjoy what I do read.

So I’ve put down The Marriage Plot, for now, anyway, and picking up Ethan Frome. I don’t think I’ve ever read any Wharton, and I’ve been meaning to for a long time. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s okay not to read it really quickly and that I don’t need to catch up to my schedule. We’ll see what happens.

Fail Pile #3: The Night Circus

I really thought I’d like The Night Circus, and I did, to a certain extent. I just couldn’t get through it. First of all, I’m bad at pop fiction. That’s usually because of those authors’ horrible style. Erin Morgenstern‘s style isn’t nearly as bad as Charlaine Harris‘s, for example. (Note: I use Charlaine Harris as an example of the worst kind of writing.) I think that the main reason that I couldn’t finish it is that it’s written in present tense, which, for whatever reason, I find incredibly distracting. I wanted The Night Circus to be something like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, which I loved, but it’s not. It is about two dueling magicians in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it’s also a love story. And the present tense. At the beginnings of sections of chapters, she even uses second-person POV, which is interesting. Those parts work because they’re short: it’s like you’re experiencing the circus for yourself, and it’s a magnificent one. I just couldn’t get beyond the present tense. And the story seems to go on forever. It’s slow in some of the same ways that Jonathan Strange can seem, but Jonathan Strange kept my attention – and it’s twice as long as The Night Circus.

Part of it, too, was that I knew I didn’t really have time to finish it. I got to the halfway point very slowly because of various things going on right now (moving!), and I absolutely have to be book-free tomorrow morning because my very favorite author, Haruki Murakami, has a new book coming out tomorrow, 1Q84, which I must begin reading as soon as it pops onto my Kindle. Or my head will explode, or something.

So: it’s not that The Night Circus is a bad novel – in fact, I think it’s a pretty good one – it’s that the style doesn’t fit my personal preference, and I started reading it without figuring out how long it is first. I’d still recommend it if you really liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Fail Pile Book #2: Herzog

n126527.jpegUsually, when I can’t get into a book, I stop around page 50 and move on. I read an article a few years ago that said if you’re not interested at that point, you probably won’t ever be, so you might as well read on. That’s not always the case, of course. The Satanic Verses starts slowly, and so does The Grapes of Wrath, but I liked both of them in the end.

I made it far past the 50-page mark with Herzog, and I never got into it. I just do not care what happens to Herzog. He’s about forty, divorced twice, a failed professor, etc (kind of like the protagonoist, whose name I don’t remember, of Disgrace). He writes letters to people, and as he writes them, he reminisces about the circumstances surrounding their subjects. And he just goes on and on and on. I made it almost halfway through, and it seems that if something was going to happen, it would have happened by this point.

Herzog isn’t my first experience with Saul Bellow. A couple years ago, I read Seize the Day, which I really liked, though I only vaguely remember what it’s about. A few years before that, there was Henderson the Rain King, which I remember liking, though all I know is that it involved a guy going to somewhere in Africa and meeting some natives. I didn’t make it through that one, either, but I’m not sure why. I’m not even sure if I would make it through Seize the Day if it had been any longer. Maybe I’m just not the Bellow type.

The Fail Pile gets its first book: This Side of Paradise

This-Side-of-Paradise-Oxford.jpegI jumped into This Side of Paradise right out of The Hunger Games, and I liked it at first. Then it got tedious. It reminds me of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but without a cohesive plot. It’s a series of little vignettes about a kid who grows up and goes to college with the precursors of characters in The Great Gatsby. And it’s really, really boring. It’s Fitzgerald, though, so the writing is stellar, but 60 pages in, there still wasn’t enough of a plot to keep me interested. So I’m moving on. I’m not sure if my problem right now is that I just didn’t like the book or that I’m a bit burnt out on reading, but we’ll soon see. Next up is Mr. Spaceman, which comes highly recommended by a librarian friend of mine.

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