Sunday, November 04, 2007

C is for...

...Calamity Physics ([comma] Special Topics in).

Is this one maddening book really significant enough to warrant inclusion in my letter-by-letter Encyclopedia of Me? Probably not. I sure as hell hope not, anyway. But I think this damn book has been in my sidebar ever since Paris Hilton was in jail, and my slow going in getting through it is greatly cutting into my average for the year. I mean, eight books? In ten months? That's really just plain sad.

Don't get me wrong. It's not 100% awful. If it were, I would have thrown it against the wall like I nearly did The Sportswriter at least 200 pages ago. No, it's really not all bad. It's got some clever writing and imagery. Fine passages such as these...

She emphasized what few wanted to accept, that some people did win Trivial Pursuit: The Deity Looks Edition and there wasn't a thing you could do about it, except come to terms with the fact you'd only played Trivial Pursuit: John Doe Genes and come away with three pie pieces.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As Dad once said, there were people who'd completely missed their decade... This kid was [born] some twenty years too late. He was the one with thick brown hair that flying-saucered over an eye, the one who inspired girls to make their own prom dress, the one from the country club. And maybe he had a secret diamond earring, maybe a sequin glove, maybe he even had a good song at the end with three helpings of keyboard synthesizer, but no one would know, because if you weren't born in your decade you never made it to the ending, you floated around in your middle, unresolved, in oblivion, confused and unrealized. (Pour some sugar on him and blame it on the rain.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was one of those snapshots that seemed to have trapped not only an image but a grainy reel of life--their ponytails were full of static, strands of hair cobwebbed in the wind. You could almost hear their laughs twisting together.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dad was right. There was something riveting about the kid. It was his outdated earnestness, the way his eyebrows did the polka when he talked and his mountain accent, which made the words jut out like pointy, slippery rocks on which he might get hurt. It was also the thousands of copper freckles dusting him head to toe as if he'd been dipped in glue, then in fine, penny-iridescent confetti.


...But I also have to agree with the Amazon.com editorial review, which had this to say...

Hunkering down for 514 pages of frantic literary exhibitionism turns into a weary business for the reader, who after much patient effort deserves to feel something stronger than appreciation for a lot of clever name-dropping and a rush of metaphors.

Amen, Washington Post. I do deserve that, don't I? I deserve, at the very least, a plot... particularly an interesting one that actually progresses reasonably steadily, without being buried in unnecessary detail. By page 315, I really ought to have some handle on what's going on. I also really ought to care about the characters--or at least be able to remember which is which. I ought to want to know what happens because the story has been compelling me to know more, not because I've invested so many reading hours and feel some payback is due to me for that.

After I heard Nancy Pearl speak at the Minneapolis library last year, I decided her "Rule of 50" wasn't a bad idea after all. Life's too short to read a book that doesn't grab me, when there are so many other wonderful books for me to devour. Right now, though, I'm sort of thinking a Rule of 300 applies as well. That is, once I've slogged through over 300 pages, it's a point of no abandonment; I have to charge through to the end.

What do you think... When you start a book, do you need to finish it? How far into a book are you still willing to chuck it aside? After 50 pages? 100? When you're past the halfway point? What is your rule on this? And if you agree with the e-mail Lara sent me last week, lecturing me to "give up on Calamity Physics already, Stefanie," then will one of you please sneak into my house and just steal this damn book* from my bedside table to free me of it already? I think an intervention is in order. It may be my only hope.


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* Kidding! Only kidding, really! Please, please, PLEASE don't come and terrify me like this.
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14 comments:

Monkey said...

Yes- I do drop books if they cannot captivate me. I do not feel bad about it- there are so many books waiting for me to read there is no time to slog through a book that is not a good match for me.
I'd tell you the titles of the books- or the rules, but there have just been too many. If I do not feel the spark- well, then it is on to the next one.

nancypearlwannabe said...

I have the terrible habit of refusing to give up a book once I've started it. I feel like I'm somehow failing the author if I can't make it through. But the real NP is probably right: I'm going to start giving books to page 100 and if there's nothing gripping me I'm kicking it to the curb.

The Other Girl said...

I rarely abandon a book, even if I hate it. But I also won't start a new book when I'm in the middle of one that I don't like, so I sometimes get stuck for a while not reading anything. I did quit on one last year (because it had been something like three months of sporadically reading 14 pages, making a "gaaaah" noise, then turning on the TV), but I kept it, incorrectly thinking that eventually I will try to read it again.

One Smart Cookie said...

I very rarely give up on a book... something makes me keep going far past the point where I should have just admitted that I hated it.

Movies, however, are a different story. I have been known to give up on a movie after less than 10 minutes.

Jess said...

I drop books as soon as I can't take them anymore, whether it's one page in or 200, or as soon as I completely lose interest in the outcome. Also, sometimes I put aside books meaning to get back to them, and then never do. I suck, apparently.

lizgwiz said...

I rarely "officially" stop reading a book before I'm done. I'm a fickle thing, though, and I have no problem going ahead and starting something else before I'm "finished."

Laura said...

Oddly enough, I'm almost exactly the opposite. I have a hard time finishing books, even if they are really good books I'm really enjoying. I have to make a conscious effort to finish most times. Because if I start thinking that a book is going to have a sad ending, I get so sad that I just have to stop reading so that I can always preserve the characters in my mind the way I want to. There are several books lying around my house, all about 30 pages from the end. Maybe one day I should just read all of the sad endings one after another and just get it over with?

nabbalicious said...

I used to force myself to finish books I wasn't enjoying, but now if I'm not, I just let them go, even if I'm only 20 pages in. That is, unless I've been informed that it picks up after a certain point.

VermontRockies said...

Interesting, how many of us guilt-finishers there are here! I bet that demographic is much better represented among your readers than in the general public.

I'll suffer through a miserable read to the last page, and always have. This post has me rethinking my habits, though. I wonder if I'm even CAPABLE of chucking a book I'm not enjoying? I can't recall ever even trying, yet I absolutely agree with the case for all the GOOD books waiting for me to discover them in my short little life.

Maybe I'll go pick up Calamity Physics from the library, just to test this out...

Rockycat said...

I used to finish every book I started. Lately, I figure life's too short to spend reading boring books. If I'm not hooked by about page 30, I give up and pick another book.

L Sass said...

I pretty much finish every book I start because I'm anal retentive like that. I thought the beginning and end of Calamity Physics were the strongest. The middle got a bit long for me, but I'd say stick with it!

Stefanie said...

Wow. I'm comforted, at least, to know I'm not the only one who irrationally refuses to give up on a book once I've started. (And TOG, I'm absolutely with you on not being able to start another one while one book is going, even if I'm not actually reading that first book--which is why my "What I'm reading" spot has been stuck on this one for so damn long!)

L Sass--Last night I picked it up again and I finally got to the death that was mentioned on the first damn pages of the book. So NOW, finally, I'm curious what's going to happen next. It really, really shouldn't have taken over 300 pages to get to that, though! :-(

Noelle said...

Giving up books have been a godsend for me. But if you don't have time to read a book, you know what helps? Breaking your ankle. I finally finished that book that took way too long, and it felt great. Now I have at least 20 others to choose from...

Stefanie said...

Way to find that silver lining, Noelle!