February 5th, 2018

book talk // when to stop.

Once I crack the spine of a book, any book, I feel obligated to read it to completion, a compulsion to attain the ending. Luckily, I am a fairly good judge of my own taste and tend to choose books that make this less of an obligation and more of a pleasure. But, sometimes, I choose duds. And still, I will slog through. Usually, this creates a blockage in my reading flow and I will actively avoid the book. Since I am a monogamous book reader, basically this means I just stop reading.

So, this year, I have been practicing the art of stopping and have shelved two books “dnf” (did not finish) on Goodreads.

The first book was Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, which was a rather large disappointment because this was a highly-anticipated 2018 release for me. Described as a “ferociously imaginative novel, [where] abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers” — I thought it would tick a lot of boxes.

However, instead, within the first few pages I was greeted with this description of a gynecological exam: “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the shrill funk of an elderly cheese and one being no odor at all, how would he rank the smell of the biographer’s vagina? How does it compare with the other vaginas barreling through this exam room, day in, day out, years of vaginas, a crowd of vulvic ghosts? Plenty of women don’t shower beforehand, or are battling a yeast, or just happen naturally to stink in the nethers. [The gynocologist] has sniffed some ripe tangs in his time.”

Perhaps I am just not literary enough to comfortably associate the olfactory qualities of a vagina with varying levels of rotten cheese. I was also not a fan of the writing style, in general, and after 40-50 pages it hadn’t “grabbed” me. At any rate, goodbye, book.

The second book I shan’t be finishing, and the one I felt worse about putting aside, was The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I mean, this book won a Pulitzer! Surely, it deserves my attention and respect, right? The description paints Oscar as a Dominican ghetto nerd, “[he] dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love.”

Sounds charming, right? Wrong. The book itself is incredibly crude, interspersed with forced nerd jokes to maintain the thematic appeal. I think Diaz truly lost me about 160 pages in, after making a D&D joke while the female character (Oscar’s mother in a flashback of her youth) was subjected to a violent, albeit consensual, sexual encounter. He said she took “4d10” damage (which is a lot, leading me to believe the act was particularly violent) and I just lost my taste for the story. The casual violence and toxic masculinity had ceased to point a discerning finger and just started to feel gross. Oscar also came across as this whiny, emo boy nerd — “But, I’m a nice guy, why don’t girls like me? I’m so nice! And I love girls! And I am sensitive and nerdy! Here’s a Lord of the Rings joke to prove how nerdy! I tried to get with this one girl with great tits, but she loved a guy who hit her, and I was so nice to her, but she just saw me as a friend! Why didn’t she choose me?”

Another aspect that grated on me were the copious footnotes, sometimes half a page in length, describing Dominican history in minute detail (which was interesting, I just wish it had been incorporated more into the actual narrative rather than approximately twenty-thousand, seemingly random, asides). I generally tend to dislike footnotes that aren’t translations, so this could be a bit of bias on my part.

Now, these two books stare at me like scorned lovers from a discard pile I intend to take to the resale shop — every time I glimpse their spines, I feel a twinge of guilt, of failure. An urge to apologize to inanimate objects. However, life is simply too short and I’ve wasted enough days being pinned down by these narratives. I am being ruthless with my time this year! And I have to keep repeating the mantra: “just because it’s an award winner, doesn’t mean you have to like it.”