Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some Books

For whatever reason, there are books I simply can't finish. I have started to read Anne of Green Gables* innumerable times and I have never been able to finish the first book nor even watch all of the wonderful PBS mini-series of the same name. There are many others, but Anne is perhaps the most egregious example.  I think I even got to within 20 pages of the end once and just couldn't finish the book.  Yes, I stopped reading Stephen King's The Stand because I got grossed out. I stopped reading The Canterbury Tales because the book was so old I was having an allergic reaction it it.  I stopped reading Kingsolver's book of essays, The Year of Wonders, because I was irritated by its self-righteousness. And those of you who have been my loyal blog followers will have noticed that Watership Down has been sitting in the "What I am Reading" section for quite some time.

Amazon's book image
My interest in the book was piqued some time ago following an email discussion of Young Adult (YA) literature and  how it was "better" or at least more satisfying than adult books (of recent books, the Hunger Games series comes to mind).  I, for one, have always loved to read Newbery and Caldecott winners, but I think more than one Booker, Pulitzer, and/or Nobel prize winning novel sits abandoned on my shelves.

It's not uncommon for me to be reading several books at once and for one or two of them to be abandoned, unread, and left to their own devices**. Watership Down seemed to be the next likely resident of the abandoned book pile.  After being chastised for not having read the book, during our work discussion of what was or was not a  YA book, I ordered the book and started to read it.  And didn't get very far.   But I was determined to be determined in finishing the book.  I had purchased the book to participate in discussion, it wasn't right for me to stop reading just because I didn't find it all that compelling.

And so I plugged on.  And in fact, started to enjoy the book.  I realized that some of my earlier dislike of the book was based on vocabulary bias.  The author was clever enough to develop a language for the rabbits. The etymologist in me was frustrated by these words--they weren't based on any words or language I was familiar with.  Instead of treating these words as something to be savored and admired, I was fighting against them, refusing to memorize them or acknowledge their value. I, also, allowed myself to be irritated by the names of some of the characters, particularly that some of the male rabbits had names that I associate as female names.

Once I settled into the book, I was able to enjoy the adventures and the myths of the rabbits and it became a rapid and satisfying read. My opinion, not only based on the fact that the book was a book written by a father to amuse his daughters, is that this is a book intended for the YA audience.  After all,

  • A group of young rabbits, who were already disenchanted with their status, leave their home
  • Several characters have "coming of age" moments
  • Friends are made with those who are "different"
  • The establishment is defeated by the cleverness of youth
Really, the only thing that was missing from the script was the death of mentor (e.g. Obi-Wan or Dumbledore).

There are also some who rail against the treatment of the female rabbits in the story.  My opinion, is that one should read the story as an ethnography.  Yes, the treatment of female rabbits was abhorrent to our standards, but quite likely representative of rabbit society.

Have you read Watership Down?  What are your thoughts?  Are there books you simply can't finish, no matter how hard you try?  What's the last book you finished that you had thought was doomed to the discard pile?


*My mom signs notes to me and my brother with L. M. for Love, Mom.   I have always harbored a sense that my mother is also, somehow, associated with Anne's author, L.M. Montgomery.

**This is why I don't use my library card as much as I should.  If I have troubles finishing a book, it ends up buried someplace and forgotten until three months have gone by and I owe an absurd amount of money in library fines.

1 comment:

  1. There’s been a lot of books I’ve started more than once but never been able to finish, although if I’ve made more than one attempt I typically think of them as my “someday” books. Someday I’ll be in the right mood for this particular book ...

    The first one that pops into my head is John Irving’s Until I Find You. He’s one of my favorite writers, but for some reason I can only get a few chapters into that book before wandering away or falling into a coma. But someday.

    I’ve noticed lately that I’m abandoning a lot of books I probably won’t ever attempt again. These are usually heavily-hyped critical darlings that, in reality, kind of suck. I’m thinking of The Passage, Swamplandia!, and The Autobiography of Mark Twain just within the last year (actually, I might try the Twain again someday — when I’m very, very old).

    Certainly the biggest disappointment recently was not being able to finish The Wise Man’s Fear — just a dreadfully boring book. And I didn’t even bother to start Jean Auel’s final Earth’s Children book because of the overwhelmingly negative reviews on Amazon, although I did buy it so it is sitting there staring at me from my bookshelves every night.

    I do find that sometimes you’ll try a book x number of times without success, and then on try x+1 it opens itself and you wolf it down in a single sitting. I’ve also found, alas, that sometimes you’ll go to reread a book you’ve loved your entire life and wonder what the hell you were thinking. Life is fickle. Or books are. Or something.