And I just finished Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond. This I recommend highly for its humor, story, and characters. It doesn't really matter what the story is about. That I recommend it ought to be enough for you, don't you think? I laughed out loud (LOL for you youngsters) in several places and cried in another. I also wrote a postcard to a friend, copying down one of the funniest sentences I've ever read. Not only was my computer in the shop that day (those days) but my friend doesn't have a computer herself anyway.
What I did find interesting is that we had a set of lesbians whose lesbianism lent absolutely nothing to the story. They were treated with respect. There was no elbow-poking. But they could just as easily have been a straight couple. There were some black people, too, who didn't have to be black to move the story along. Their race was incidental. They were like, um, that deaf actress in What the Bleep Do We Know? There was no reason for her to be deaf. A hearing person would have filled the role just as nicely. But how cool that a deaf woman was used and no mention was made of it.
The next time I'm in a bookstore, I'll be looking for more of Diane Hammond.
Do you remember doing book reports in school? I don't. I mean, I remember they were assigned, and I have no doubt that I completed all my assignments. I just don't remember them. I know I don't like doing them. I want to say to a reading friend, "Oh! you've got to read this book!" and I want her to say, "Okay!" or even "Yes, Boss," as Sonny Fenwick says (http://www.bubbletruck.com/). If you say, "What's it about?" all you're going to get from me is, "Read it and find out!"
In the end, you see, it doesn't matter to me what the book's "about," even if I could figure it out. Look at Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. Was that about predators? Was it about being a Jew among Christians, a northerner among southerners? Was it about widowhood? Moths? Sex? Who cares? Read it and find out!
No. I care about how it's written. If the answer is well, then I'll read it. That's why I've stuck with Stephen King all these years -- first because he was so fine and then because he was so fine. I still have hope for him. Dumas Key may have signaled his return.
I can read poorly written books, of course, but I prefer not to. I was in my late thirties before I realized that I didn't have to finish a book just because I'd started it. Oh freedom! Now I tell myself -- and you -- that I'll give a writer sixty pages, but the truth is that that depends on other factors, too. For instance, do I have another, better book in the wings? Did someone I love recommend it? Am I talking to it? That's a real clue there. If I'm quivering with righteous indignation at least once per chapter, I'm going to finish it just so I can whine and bristle later, shaking my head, stomping my foot at the idiocy of that misbegotten son or daughter of an illiterate anti-semantic.
I recently read a book by Nicholas Sparks. My only other choices at that time were Ken Follet's World Without End, which was too big for my mood (although I know I'll love it when I get to it), and Native Son by Richard Wright, which I assumed would be too gruesome and possibly boring. I often find classics boring. So I was stuck with this Sparks book. Between my Jordanian neighbor's too-loud music and Sparks's vapid writing, I couldn't concentrate. So I started reading out loud (ROL) with an accent, and I found I could get through it. The accent is just a mash of dialects I've heard or wished I'd heard, but it entertained me enough to get into the story a bit. The writing later got really bad, but I finished it, talking to it the whole time. I felt guilty putting the book into the charity pile, but many people obviously like this guy.
It's like Danielle Steele. She's wildly popular. I can't imagine why. I read one of her books, oh, maybe seventeen years ago. It occurred to me that I'd been trashing her -- at least in my own head -- for a long time but I'd never actually read anything of hers. And as some of my Devoted Readers know, the principle most calculated to keep a person in everlasting ignorance is the principle of contempt prior to investigation. Investigate I did. In fact, come to think of it, that's how I arrived at my sixty-page limit for idiot writers. I ploughed my way through those sixty pages. I labored. Ah. It's all coming back to me. My god! I owe a debt to Mrs. Steele! She's the one who taught me that I don't have to waste my time with a bad book!
Anyway, at page sixty, she had a man doing something that was unbelievable. I don't remember what it was. I just remember that I couldn't believe it. I said out loud (SOL), "There's no way he'd act like that!" and I threw the book down.
I believe that in my heart, I'd always wanted to "throw a book down," just like, really, I'd like to spit on someone. I wouldn't want it to be a big production. No hawking, just disdain, just a snide, nasty little spit. To prove a point.
I stayed away from Joyce Carol Oates for years and years because I thought she was a romance writer. Why? Because she's so prolific and she has so many names! Sometimes I'm such an idiot.
I have a friend, a writer, who actually never finishes a book. I don't understand this at all. If I ever interviewed him on his own blog, that would be my first question.
Me: So tell me, Bob, why don't you ever finish reading a book?
Here's what I'd like you all to do, to sort of gear up for the holidays, with a cheerful nod toward togetherness. Name one or two of your Desert-Island Books. Just leave a comment with a couple of your favorite re-readable books, okay?
- Lamb by Christopher Moore
- The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker
- The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Hey! I said one or two, okay? Jeeze!
- Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
- All of the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith
I mean it! God.