Saturday, July 9, 2011

What NOT to Read

When I got my Kindle, I immediately downloaded a bunch of books I'd been dying to read.  After a while, though, my "need to read" list ended; I've become adept at sifting through the list of titles and finding some real literary gems.  Unfortunately, not every book has been fantastic.  Some, in fact, were downright awful. Here's a list of what you should NOT read:

Just Kids, Patti Smith: I didn't know much about about Patti Smith or Robert Mapelthorpe, but I heard an interview with Smith on NPR and I thought their relationship sounded interesting.  He was a gay artist/photographer and she a straight poet/singer and they were together for years.  I thought it would be a unique look into New York in the 70s and 80s, as well as a peek into the lives of some well-known artists.
In reality, it was a dull book about dull people.  Smith never explained how she got into singing.
She just mentions in passing that, one day, she decided to start a band.  She never talks about
her feelings when she discovers that Mapelthorpe is sleeping with men for money while still dating
her.  She never goes through her process when she realizes that he's gay.  Instead, the book
glosses over everything important, like a diary you're afraid your parents might read.  I wanted an
intimate portrait and got nothing more than what I could have read on Wikipedia.  Don't waste
your time.

Broken, Daniel Clay: The only word I can think of to describe this book is Creepy.  This novel was billed as a story based on To Kill A Mockingbird.  Like many, Harper Lee's classic is one of my favorite books, so I was interesting in this British re-telling.  I wondered, what would the modern version of this story look like?  Would Scout's innocence be as refreshing, or would she seem naive in today's culture? Would the story have the same heart when retold by a man?  
What a disappointment.  Clay didn't base his story on To Kill a Mockingbird as much as he just 
stole character details from Lee. Instead of Scout, the main character is Skunk.  Jem is Jed.  Dill is 
Dillon.  To me, that's not creativity, that's just pure laziness.  The story opens with Skunk in a 
coma, and somehow her neighbor, whom they call Broken, is involved.  He's broken because he 
was severely beaten by another neighbor an becomes mentally ill.  In fact, he starves Dillon to 
death.  It was such an awful story, I couldn't finish the book.  It was just creepy.  Don't read this book!

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee: Coetzee has won the Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature, so I thought I was in good hands with his novel.  I probably should've known the book would be weird when the cover bragged that the book is now a film starring John Malkovich.  Really, has he ever starred in any role that didn't require him to be a dirtbag?  
In this book, the protagonist is a twice-divorced professor in South Africa who is fired after having 
an affair with a student.  He leaves town to go live with his lesbian daughter on her farm in a 
dangerous part of the country.  What ensues, misery, rape, adultery, is not entertaining.  I          understand that not all novels are written to make us feel better about life.  I see the benefit of           educating us about the world's problems through well-told stories.  That said, I think there are           better mechanisms for the story than the one Coetzee used.  His characters aren't likable.  His           story doesn't follow an understandable pattern.  Rather than open my eyes to the injustices of the           world, Coetzee made me sympathize with the enemy.  Most disappointingly, the book ends on           such a middle note that, while I was thrilled it was over, I was left completely unsatisfied.  There was no real conclusion, except my own: this book was a waste of my time.   

I'll be the first to state that not every book is for every person (somehow, I can't see Fa enjoying Bossypants, for example.)  But, these books went a step beyond that.  These books held no redeeming value.  There was no substance to Smith's bland memoir, no class to Clay's knock-off novel, and no soul in Coetzee's sad story.  In our busy lives, reading is such a luxury; to be truly entertained, I recommend against these books.

1 comment:

  1. I can never seem to finish a book that isn't totally captivating me. When I try I end up not reading for a significant amount of time because I never feel like reading the book I don't like. Hope you are having a wonderful weekend!