October 6, 2008

To Read or Not To Read, That is the Question

I was a big fan of Zadie Smith's White Teeth, which I reluctantly read at J's insistence last year.  For whatever reason the summary on the back simply did not appeal to me.  I read the first few pages and was like, eh, not feeling it.  But I persevered because J bullied me into continuing I trust J's literary judgment.  

(Seriously though, I do.  We have very similar taste when it comes to books, and I can always count on him for a good recommendation.)

So I sucked it up and kept reading and, voila!  What do you know.  Ended up being VERY impressed indeed with Ms. Zadie Smith, who has one of the wackiest imaginations/characters/plotlines ever.  

On Thursday I started Smith's third book, On Beauty, with relatively high expectations.

Unfortunately, I haven't been wowed.  Not yet anyway.  

The thing that got me from as early as page 2 was the striking similarities with White Teeth.  Now, these are not MAJOR issues, but there are some fundamental elements that are resoundingly familiar in light of her previous novel.

1.  Main character is slightly bitter, family-battered man experiencing middle-age crisis of sorts.
2.  Aforementioned man has male bff with which to drink and frolic and escape family.
3.  Son of said man spends time living with another family, falls in love with this family, and bemoans his own imperfect family

Like I said, nothing earth-shattering.  But still, with such a neuron-twisting first book, I was expecting something MORE.  And, to be honest, the writing itself seems a little bit basic, a little bland, lacking punch.  

In short, I've been avoiding the book for the past three days.  When I'm not salivating for a spare moment to read, it usually means I dislike the book, despite my best intentions to give it a second/third/fourth chance.  That said, it's yet to be determined whether I'll battle on past page 90, where I've been stalled for the entirety of the weekend.  

At this point you may be wondering - does this girl ever finish a book?  

Yes, yes, of course I do.

But, the thing is this.  In college one of my creative writing professors told me something very important:  "Life's too short to read something you don't like.  If you don't like a book, stop reading it and start something else."

This may sound obscenely simple to you, but it unshackled me from the guilt of Bad Book Syndrome forever.  No longer do I feel obligated to finish a book simply because I already started it/it won an award/it was recommended/I had convinced myself that it was going to be stellar.  

So I will not apologize for my fickle reading tendencies.  I'm just looking for something worth my time.

I'll keep you posted on the fate of On Beauty, but, based on the fact that I had an outstandingly productive library visit today and was giddy with excitement at my wealth of literary finds, its chances are not looking good.

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