Tag: preachy

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?

2013 Book #45: Damned

damnedDamned isn’t my first brush with Palahniuk: I tried to read Haunted a few years ago, and I read Lullaby and blogged about it in 2011. He’s most famous for Fight Club, but that’s Not My Kind of Thing. I’ve seen snippets of the movie. I didn’t remember much about Lullaby, except that I generally liked it, but on rereading my so-long-ago review, I see a huge trend.

Damned is about thirteen-year-old Madison Spencer, who ends up dead and in Hell. She’s the child of movie people, and she’s grown up in a phony (shoutout to Holden!), hippie, liberal household – the sort I’d expect Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s kids are experiencing at this very moment. Palahniuk goes back and forth between the present (Hell) and the past (how she got there). She ends up meeting some other dead teenagers who take her on a tour involving seas of toenail clippings and partial-birth abortions: things you might imagine finding in Hell. She meets famous people who we’d imagine might be there. Yes, this is sounding a bit like Dante. She also works in a phone bank, which is responsible for all of the dinnertime spam phone calls around the world. She says she’s addicted to hope and tries to overcome said addiction until she finally gives up and takes action. Then More Things Happen.

So here’s what Damned has in common with Lullaby: it’s fun, highlarious in parts, but preachy. It seems more like an inspirational YA novel than an adult one. It’s like Palahniuk was trying to write said YA novel but couldn’t help and put some…X-rated…stuff in. Lots of parents would complain. Lots. I’d let my older teenager read it, but hey, I’d be proud of having a literate child at all.

Anyway, the message is Take Charge of Your Destiny because You Can Be Whoever You Want to Be, and You Shouldn’t Wait until You’re Dead. And such. Teenagers.

That said, just like Lullaby, I enjoyed Damned except for the preachy bits, at which I rolled my eyes. Most of the time I was giggling, sometimes laughing aloud. It’s really funny, and it’s well-written. I wouldn’t expect someone like Palahniuk to write preachy novels, but I’d imagine Fight Club is equally messagy. Otherwise, it’s a great book.

I think I checked Damned out of the library when it was first published, but I didn’t read it. The blurb sounded interesting, but I eventually forgot about it until recently, when I somehow won a copy of Doomed, the second in what I’ve learned is a series, in a drawing on Riffle’s Sci-Fi TumblrDoomed sounds exciting, but I figured that I should read Damned first. I’ll read Doomed soon, as I really enjoyed Damned despite its sometimes-annoying preachiness.

Oh! There’s a super-gross (but funny!) part about a quarter into the novel, so I tweeted this comment:

And whoever runs Chuck Palahniuk’s account retweeted me! Which means that my phone blew up for a while with favorites and retweets from more ardent fans. Exciting!

2013 Book #39: The Book Thief

bookthiefI read The Book Thief because I felt like I had to: there’s a movie coming out that I thought I might like to see, and it’s all over Tumblr. I was convinced that I’d hate it for being sappy and preachy, but I started reading it, and my opinion slowly changed. I decided to give it a chance.

It’s about a family of Germans at the height of Nazism and the Holocaust. They sympathize with the Jewish victims and hide a man named Max in their basement. Things, as you can imagine, go wrong, though not necessarily in the way you probably suspect. And so on.

So. I got exactly what I expected. This book is over-sentimental and preachy. I said on Goodreads that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it with my eyes rolled so far back in my head. Zusak pulls out all the stops. (I guess I should add a spoiler alert here.) Death, the narrator, announces well before the end of the novel that almost everyone but its protagonist, Liesel, dies in an air raid one night while they’re sleeping. Liesel happens to be in her family’s basement, writing what will essentially become The Book Thief. Meh. Death describes going from house to house, body to body, and gently lifting out each soul, including that of Liesel’s foster father and her best friend, Rudy. So she’s pulled out of the rubble and sees what happened and freaks out. If Death’s tour of bodies isn’t enough, Liesel has to have her own, and she cries over each one individually. And Death sees that Liesel sees the soul of her foster father (who she calls Papa) stand up and play the accordion in front of her. Cry, cry, cry, he says to the reader. Even before this, Liesel sees her friend Max, the Jewish man they had been hiding in their basement, in line, headed for Dachau. She yells at him and causes a scene, and everyone gets hit and whipped. Cry, cry, cry, again.

I knew exactly when I was supposed to cry because Zusak makes it crystal clear that that’s exactly the response he’s eliciting. It’s a flamboyant call to sorrow. It was so blatant that I cringed instead of cried. I sighed. I rolled my eyes. I groaned and read through to the end as quickly as I could because it was just dumb.

I’ve said before how much I hate preachy, sentimental books, and this one is right up there with The Unbearable Lightness of Being on my Hatred List (though it’s not quite at the level of Amerika or Things Fall Apart, which I might call my Mortal Hatred List?). For a while, I thought I might like The Book Thief, and then it got cornier and cornier and more sentimental at the end. Another spoiler alert: Liesel likes to steal books from the mayor’s wife’s library. The wife knows about it, and it’s really okay. She had a kid who died in a war, and she’s all broken and miserable, and she likes that Liesel is around. That family is one of the few around with any money and a nice house with a library. Guess who Liesel goes to live with after her foster family dies in that air raid? I’ll give you one guess. I just threw up a little in my mouth. Disgusting and sickly sweet. Urrgh.

Have I made it clear that I don’t like this novel? I didn’t think I would, but then I was hopeful for a while. I had a feeling things might go badly because it’s all over Tumblr in the sentimental book quotes, but I thought it was worth a try. And it totally wasn’t; it just annoyed me. (This is why I won’t read John Green. He seems to write sentimental teenage fiction like this, and as good as everyone says he is, I’m skeptical. Sorry, Palmer.)

Now. I hated this book because I hate this kind of book. It’s not that it’s bad, if that’s what you’re into. Lots of people like The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Every Book by Paolo Coelho (Look at the front page of his website! What a humble guy. :/), for example. I can’t stand anything about them, either, and for the same reason. But if you like the sickly sweet, sentimental, preachy kind of book, go for it. Just leave me out.

2011 Book #48: The Sense of an Ending

201112261518.jpgThe Christmas Crunch continues, in which I readandreadandread to reach my fifty-book goal before the year is out. Which means I’m limited to short novels for the moment. At a lean 163 pages, The Sense of an Ending definitely qualifies. It’s actually been on my to-read pile since it came out earlier this year. I ended up with a copy because it was on the library’s newly catalogued list, and I clicked the hold link before anyone else.

It’s about Tony, a sixtyish-year-old man looking back over his life, especially focusing on the relationship he had with his friends in his school days and early adulthood. He starts when they were in high school, discussing philosophy and literature. A kid their age named Robson gets his girlfriend pregnant and then kills himself, and the topic of his suicide floats throughout the novel. The friends finish school and slowly go their separate ways. A couple years later, Tony is in the US when his parents call him back home to England because his friend Adrian committed suicide. He and Adrian hadn’t seen each other for quite a while after Adrian dated Veronica shortly after she broke up with Tony. Forty years later, Veronica’s mother dies and, in her will, leaves Adrian’s diary to Tony, but Veronica has it and doesn’t want to give it up. Then things get complicated, etc, etc.

I’m kind of ambivalent about this one. I generally liked it, and I think it’s very well-written, but it’s also sappy and preachy like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I really didn’t like. That said, I definitely think it’s worth a read. Just be patient toward the middle as it gets a bit boring and repetitive. Later, though, it gets good again. The Sense of an Ending isn’t exactly a relaxing read for a lazy Sunday morning, so read it (preferably in one sitting) when you have some time to decompress afterward.

2011 Book #35: Lullaby

lullaby-chuck-palahniuk-hardcover-cover-art.jpegLullaby is the second Chuck Palahniuk novel I’ve attempted and the first I’ve finished. I picked up Haunted a couple of years ago, and, though I remember liking it well enough, I didn’t finish it. It either freaked me out or bored me. I’m not sure which. I read Lullaby because Jacob told me about it, and I thought it sounded interesting. It’s about a feature writer investigating cases of random baby deaths who figures out that lots of the parents had copies of a book called 27 Poems and Rhymes from Around the World. There’s a poem in it, which he calls a culling song, that kills people. And he kills some people, then begins a quest to destroy every copy of the book. He meets a real estate agent who has problems with amusingly haunted houses, who also knows the culling song, and they band together with a young couple in search of the rest of the books. Then Things Happen. (Just wait for the scene involving a cryogenically frozen dead baby. That one’s a kicker.)

I enjoyed most of Lullaby, but at the end it gets a bit preachy. Palahniuk yells at the world, “THIS BOOK IS ABOUT POWER! YOU HAVE NO FREE WILL BECAUSE YOU’RE BEING CONTROLLED BY OTHERS! LIKE THE GOVERNMENT! AND THE MEDIA!” It was a bit much for me. Toward the end of the novel, he can’t stop talking about it. He even throws a “you” in there:

Oyster occupies Helen, the way an army occupies a city. The way Helen occupied Sarge. The way the past, the media, the world, occupy you.

Meh. I made it clear when I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being that I hate being preached at. It’s like the second half in Sartre‘s Nausea when he’s preaching Existentialism. I get it. Enough already.

A year or two ago, some well-known publication (I don’t, of course, remember which) had a website that said it could tell you to what author’s style your writing is closest. I don’t write much anymore (besides on this blog, of course), so I plugged in a chapter of the novel I’ll never finish. It said my style is similar to Palahniuk’s, and I can see that. And I like his style, so it’s certainly not an insult.

So, in sum, I enjoyed Lullaby except for its preachiness, and I’m open to giving Haunted another try. Palahniuk also wrote Fight Club, and I hear the novel is better than the movie, though that’s usually the case. I’m not even sure I’ve seen the whole movie. I just hope that he doesn’t pound his message into the readers head with his other books. It was almost violent.

2011 Book #21: The Year of the Flood

year-flood.jpgThe Year of the Flood isn’t really a sequel to Oryx and Crake like I expected it to be. The two novels’ events happen at the same time: the plots and characters are interwoven. The Year of the Flood is narrated by two of these characters, Toby and Ren. They’re both part of an environmentalist group called God’s Gardeners. The novel jumps around in time between Year One, when the God’s Gardeners first organize, and Year Twenty-Five, when the Waterless Flood knocks out most humans. The Waterless Flood is the virus Crake intentionally spreads in the first novel. Then Things Happen, as they did in Oryx and Crake. We hear a bit more about what happens at the end of the first novel, though not much. Many of the characters in The Year of the Flood are minor characters in Oryx and Crake, and vice-versa, which makes it interesting.

I think I liked The Year of the Flood more than Oryx and Crake, though that one was good, too. I gave this one four stars on Goodreads because, unlike Oryx, it’s really preachy. Explicitly so, even. The way Atwood does it, though, isn’t annoying, at least for the most part. Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, gives sermons of sorts, followed by poems Atwood says were inspired by William Blake‘s poetry. You can listen to some of them here. They’re super-corny.

I explained my past with Margaret Atwood in my Oryx and Crake post, so I won’t talk about it again. These books, though, have reminded me of how much I enjoy her stories and her writing style, so I’ll revisit her novels soon, though only after some DeLillo because I’ve given myself a stern talking-to about the Thesis Monster situation, and I have to get to work.

2011 Book #3: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I didn’t like this one. I should qualify that: I didn’t like this one except for the last thirty pages. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel about love and sex. I could only identify with one character and the dog because everyone else was busy sleeping with people who weren’t their spouses. There are only a few types of novels I don’t like: mysteries, novels about people being taken away or imprisoned (I find those incredibly frustrating, and it’s why, as much as I love The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, I couldn’t get through its sequel, Pigs in Heaven), and novels in which the principal plotline focuses on infidelity.

There are five important characters: Tomas, Tereza, Sabina, Franz, and the dog, Karenin. Tomas is married to Tereza, who adores him and is generally faithful, and he likes to have affairs with many women. He has a prolonged affair with Sabina, who, after Tomas dies (I think – the story isn’t exactly linear) has a prolonged affair with Franz, who is also married to someone else. And then there’s Tereza’s dog, who is very nice and doesn’t have sex with anyone, though, in Tereza’s dream, gives birth to two rolls and a bee. Kundera explores the difference between love and sex and how love affects people differently. I wasn’t enthused until the last thirty pages when the dog dies. That made me cry.

I probably should have liked it more. The only other Kundera novel I’ve read is Life is Elsewhere, which I adored, though I don’t really even remember what it’s about. I read it five years ago, or so, so I guess that’s to be expected. The Unbearable Lightness of Being reminds me of the only Paulo Coelho novel I’ve read, Veronika Decides to Die, which annoyed me in its preachiness. A first-person narrator (Kundera himself?) tells the story from the first person: the novel is generally written in third person, but the narrator breaks in often with nonjudgmental ideas about what’s going on. It was like inspirational nonfiction (which annoys the hell out of me) on top of what could have been a good novel – like Kundera was filling in all the spaces the reader should be able to figure out on his own.

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