Eclipse and stuff I didn’t finish

When I got Eclipse, the third book in the Twilight series, in the mail I was in the middle of reading various other things. I tried to hold off. I really did. But after it sat there calling to me for about a week I gave in and devoured it in two days, then spent the usual next two days re-reading parts of it. I’ve stowed it away on the bookshelf now in an attempt to stop re-reading it before I have it memorized.

This one started slowly and I thought perhaps the series was losing steam, but it got plenty steamy. I regretted the lack of Edward in the last book but it was worth it to set up the Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle which is so deliciously drawn in this book. I anticipate even better things to come in the fourth book, which is already on the way.

The Twilight series is compelling. When I’m reading one of these books, I’m actively reading it. It doesn’t sit on the end table next to me night after night while I watch TV or do crossword puzzles or go for a walk. It floats into my hands as soon as I get within gravitational pull.

“Good for you” books can be compelling too. They can also be good without being compelling by being interesting, thought provoking, beautiful, informative, or revolutionary Unfortunately, many of them aren’t any of those things. Not everything with footnotes or an introduction by some literary critic I’ve never heard of is actually worth reading. For that matter, not every trashy novel is even minimally entertaining.

To wit:

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens: OK, this isn’t horrible and I’ll finish it, but I’ve seen it ballyhooed as Dickens’ best work and it’s nothing but silliness. A Tale of Two Cities, now that’s good stuff: moving, compelling, interesting, heart-breaking. The Pickwick Papers are a disjointed series of humorous sketches sometimes connected by a plot string no thicker than “let me tell you a story.” It was originally published serially, which is exactly how it reads. This was the sitcom of its day. Not that The Simpsons can’t be genius, but will it ever become the sort of “classic” that gets taught in school?

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books: Guess I thought I’d get some insight from this one, either about what might be interesting to read or what might inspire me to do some good writing. I didn’t get either. I got lists. Literally, lists. This book is interesting only if . . . never mind. It’s not.

The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights: This is one of those classics that’s best not read at all. We have a cultural understanding of what it entails: Aladdin and the lamp, genies, flying carpets, Scheherazade telling stories to stay alive. The reality is a misogynistic, racist cesspool of hate and stereotypes. Women can’t be trusted and will cheat if left alone for five minutes. (Men get to have unlimited numbers of wives and concubines, so their faithlessness doesn’t come up.) Not only that, but given half a chance they’ll have sex with a black man, and apparently having one of your hundreds of wives cheat on you with a black man is so unimaginably horrible (despite the fact that it seems to happen almost constantly), that it entitles you to lay mayhem on him, her, and all the women and black men you can reach. This is a thoroughly disgusting, unreadable compendium of vaguely familiar stories.

Imperial Ascent: Mountaineering, Masculinity, and Empire: Although I don’t climb mountains, most of the climbing literature I read is about mountain climbing. Rock climbing doesn’t seem to make for good stories. Too short for one thing, and we don’t die nearly as often for another. The focus of this book is on the amazing adventures white men have had in conquering the mountains and far off reaches of the world. This being 2009 and not 1909, I’ll assume there was some deeper purpose to focusing so excessively on what white men were doing and why. I couldn’t make myself read the overly scholarly text closely enough to figure out what that purpose was. All I know is that the word “masculinity” appeared approximately once per paragraph in the introduction. So I skipped forward to where I hoped the real stories would begin and found a continuation of overly quoted and footnoted text and yes, the word “masculinity.” So I quit. You don’t need to read this book. In case you’ve been wondering, I’m going to explain why our early adventurers are all white men: they were the ones with the freedom to go climb mountains. Give women and minorities permission to leave the house and the time and money to do it and guess what? We like to climb mountains too. I’ll bet we like to do it in exactly the same proportions as white men. Mystery solved. 200 pages saved.

Ten Thousand Islands: So I’m leaving on a jet plane and I ask my friend Sheila for something to take with me. She has more books than can fit in a single room if you stack that room from floor to ceiling all the way around, and I mean that literally. So she picked out a good beach book (well, forest book in my case but it seems like the same thing), only I couldn’t get more than a few chapters in before I started just not giving a damn. It’s supposed to be a mystery but things weren’t moving along and the characters were supposed to be endearingly quirky but they just seemed overdrawn and the setting was supposed to be exotic but it’s only exotic to people in their living rooms. Perhaps I’d have done better with this on the beach. Somehow having people screaming “Bear!” outside your tent while you’re reading undermines the suspense of how the intrepid PI’s fist fight is going to come out.

I say all of this because my blog would suggest that I’ve been reading nothing but vampire porn lately, which isn’t true. I just haven’t been enjoying anything but vampire porn lately.

One Comment

  1. doug seelye says:

    Hey dawn
    I also have been re-reading Dickens
    with a thorough re-perusal of Great Expectations being the last.
    BTW- Pickwick is not Dickens best book its merely his first, not counting Sketches by Boz a collection of his newspaper pieces. Best Book(of the ones I've read) Bleak House!
    doug

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