Wednesday, 18 January 2012

And then some are The Finkler Question

I was having a discussion just now with a friend about books. Specifically about forcing yourself to read worthy books when, actually, they're just a bit shit.

My argument would always be to give a book around six chapters and then, if it's really not doing it for you, let it go. Ditch it. Take it to a charity shop. Don't burn it or anything because that would be weird. Unless it's by Cecilia Ahern. I'm saving loads of copies of her books to heat my house when it gets properly cold. PS, I love you was one of the most offensively twee, shit, patronising and godawful books I have ever tried to read. Oh, also Eat, Pray, Love. You can burn that as well. But nothing else.

There is a school of thought that all books should be finished no matter how much you're hating the experience. Because they're art. Or they're classics. Or they somehow deserve to be read because of their longevity or because other people like them. This is bullshit. Books, like films, like music, like art, only matter if they mean something to the observer/participant.

There is no point in forcing yourself through Dickens or Kafka or Burroughs or Blyton if the essence of the fable is lost on you. If there is no swelling of joy inside when you read a paragraph, or no inward nod of recognition and delight or even disgust and shock, then just put the book down and go do something else.
I'm a massive fan of the so-called classics and many books I read are assumed to be worthy when I tell people about them. Mention that your favourite genre is 19th century english, russian and french literature and people assume you're an intellectual snob. But some of the most profound, modern, emotional, funny - not to mention totally filthy at least in subtext - passages of prose I have read have been written by Zola, Kafka, Tolstoy, the Brontes and even Austen, Radcliffe and many, many others. Too many to mention, too many have filled me with total delight or envy or made me feel less alone in this godless universe to even articulate. I find it profoundly difficult to describe the joy some books give me. It can be almost transcendental when I read something that resonates so perfectly I can feel it.

But it's also true that  when an author has written loads of books it doesn't necessarily follow that I will like them all. And I don't force myself to try. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre has been a favourite of mine since I hit puberty. But can I get through Vilette? Can I bollocks. I just get bored.

And Shakespeare? Almost nothing gets me like some of the soliloquies in The Tempest and Hamlet but, jesus chrisssst, reading A Midsummer Night's Dream makes me genuinely wonder what all the fuss is about.

The only exception I make is for the book group I take part in. I made a pact with myself that I would finish every book we set ourselves, no matter what. And then I read The Finkler Question. It won the Man Booker prize last year and it is easily the most boring, trite, dull book I have ever subjected my eyes to. I finished it in such a rage at the wasted time and the sheer effort it took to concentrate on the characters that I threw it across the room like a petulant toddler.

Since then I decided, book group or no book group, I'll give it six chapters and, the second I feel let down and used, I'll just walk away. Six chapters because some books that feel deadly to start off with suddenly show their true colours and delight and surprise you. And some are The Finkler Question.

My foray into Dickens has confirmed that life is just too short to spend it reading books you don't fully click with. Don't feel you have to finish it just because it feels like everyone else is. In short, don't settle, hold out for the ones that make you feel special and connect with your emotions. You're only kidding yourself otherwise, right? And there's always plenty more fish in the sea.

And the library.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad someone else found the Finkler Question 'boring, trite and dull.' I'm in the middle of reading it and totally fed up and disgusted that it won the Man Booker - who the hell were the judges that year. It's the most self conscious, self obsessed, self absorbed twaddle I've ever read....