Sunday Salon: Three books I didn’t finish and one I did.

There’s been a lot of book abandoning in my house lately.  While I am sticking to the rules of The TBR Double Dare, I’ve been a bit disappointed by the books on my TBR list this month.

Several years ago, many actually, I ran a little challenge called The Hop-a-long, Git-a-long Western Reading Challenge.  While there were not many takers, you all say you’re eclectic readers but your ‘eclecticism’ ends at the Mississippi River, those who joined me had a good time and a few discovered they kind of like westerns.

I bought a little stack of westerns for the challenge, but never got around to Robert Coover’s Ghost Town until this month.  I didn’t like it.

The book is a strange tribute/satire kind of thing centered on a western town full of actual ghosts near as I can tell.  A stranger rides in and a series of western clichés are presented.  I think maybe it was supposed to be funny but I couldn’t tell.  I gave it a good number of chapters but the story never started, things just kept happening.  And I kept getting the feeling that what I was reading was written by a clever MFA student who wanted to put westerns in their proper place.

So I moved on…..

To Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel which is one of the ‘books of the moment’ right now, or may just be leaving its run as ‘the hot book.’  I can’t say that it’s bad, which I will say about Ghost Town, but I will say that “it just didn’t work for me,” you know, book blogger talk for “it’s not you, it’s me,” which we all know is never exactly true.

Station Eleven is about a travelling theatre troop in the years following the end of civilization.  I liked the parts of the book that dealt with the travelling theatre troop, but there were flashbacks showing what their lives were like before the end.  Flashbacks, I thought.  Like in Lost?  I just couldn’t deal with the flashbacks.  Does anyone really enjoy the flashback parts of a story like this.  People read books about travelling theatre troops after the fall of civilization because they want to read about travelling theatre troops after the fall of civilization, not about their lives before the fall.  There were whole chapters devoted to flashbacks in Station Eleven.  I gave it sixty pages and then returned it to the library.  There’s a long waiting list.

One of the mom’s sent me an email stating how much her son liked The Raft by S.A. Bodeen, the book making the rounds through my classroom this year.  Could I recommend any other books for her son.  He’s now reading The Life of Pi which he says he is enjoying, but my search for similar books on Amazon came up with Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.

Small as an Elephant is about a boy whose mother abandons him while they are camping near Acadia National Park one summer.  He has to survive while staying away from the authorities whom he fears will place him with his grand parents once and for all.  His mother has done this before but always came back in a few days.  Not this time.

This sounds like a book lots of kids who liked The Raft would enjoy to me, so I got my school library to get a copy and read part of it.  The premise is exactly like Cynthia Voight’s classic novel Homecoming which features a family of five children abandoned in a shopping mall parking lot who travel under the radar to their aunt’s home many miles away.  While the children in her novel are mostly middle school age, Voight’s book is really more suitable for high school age children and adults.  I did have a book group that read it a few years ago and they liked it, but most kids in grade seven are put off by the length, the small print and the dull cover on the copies I have.

Small as an Elephant would appeal to them.  It’s a much easier read and has a pretty cool cover.  But it’s not nearly as good as Homecoming.  So I read enough of it to know that there wasn’t going to be anything that would get the librarian and me in trouble  content wise and that it probably wasn’t a book this particular student would like though other readers of The Raft probably would.  We’ve got a copy for the school library, and I’ve  moved on to other titles.

A few weeks ago I wrote about issues I had with Kenneth Oppel’s book Half Brother about a boy whose research scientist parents bring home a baby chimpanzee to raise as part of the family.  Because I forgot to bring my own book to school on Friday leaving me with nothing else to read during Reading Races time, I finished Half Brother.  While I can’t say the book changed my life or even that I became convinced of its literary value, I did enjoy the story.

If you’ve read Karen Joy Fowler’s wonderful novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves then you know how the story is going to end.  There is a much happier finish in Half Brother, but overall, the book sticks pretty close to the boy with the special pet story line.  While the finish did play out a bit too quickly for my taste, it was a good read, one that my students have liked quite a bit.

Meanwhile, I’m in the midst of two books right now: The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano and Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury by Paul Strohm.  I really  no idea what Bolano’s book is really about yet, but I seldom do.  He’s always up to something I don’t quite understand, but that doesn’t matter.  I think Bolano is really about words, the guy loved words and I love words so I love him.  Even in translation from the Spanish. The Chaucer books is about the world Chaucer lived in.  There’s so little known about Chaucer it’s really not possible to write a book about his personal life.  I was pleased to see the author acknowledge this in the introduction.  It’s interesting and may add to my understanding of The Canterbury Tales before I’m done.

It’s raining today so I’ll have plenty of reading time. Looks like it just might rain all day, too which is great.  In California we love the rain like only a drought ridden people can.  Bring it on Mother Nature!!  I’ve got plenty of books to see me through the storm.


17 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Three books I didn’t finish and one I did.

  1. I’ve decided that 50 pages is my make or break point with a book. And I’ve been abandoning a lot of them, not wanting to waste more time on them. Then I end up wishing I hadn’t wasted money on them. But at least I’m doing OK with the TBR dare so far. Enjoy your rainy reading day!

  2. You may be the first person I’ve encountered that didn’t have super-love for Station Eleven. It sounds like something I’d enjoy, but I’ve been on the fence about it. Flaskbacks, huh? That does sound potentially bland.

      1. Yeah, it’s available through my local library’s digital collection, but with a wait list. And I have a couple books that are ahead of it in the (theoretical) queue. I’ll probably give it a look eventually this year. 😉

  3. I don’t think I’ll enjoy Station Eleven (as I didn’t enjoy one of her previous books), but I’ll try it sometime. Most people seem to love it, but I am becoming excellent at abandoning things quickly so am happy to give anything a try!

    I’m glad you enjoyed Half Brother. I thought it was a lovely little story – WAY better than Completely Beside Ourselves (which I abandoned). Hope you continue to power through your TBR pile 🙂

  4. I liked Station Eleven pretty well, although I didn’t feel the overwhelming love for it a lot of readers have. I didn’t mind the flashbacks, but I think I would have liked the book better if, instead of the flashbacks, there had been scenes from the airport. You didn’t read enough to get to the airport, but it was my favorite part of the book.

    1. I don’t mind backstories at all, but whole chapters of flashbacks just wasn’t cutting it for me at all. I know it’s a book about the end of the world, but it’s really escapist reading having fun is the main goal.

  5. Sounds as if some of the books that stacked up on your shelves were left unread for good reasons. I find that happening to me all the time when I finally get around to reading something that I can’t even remember why it ended up on my shelves or stashed in the piles of books put away in closets around the house in the first place. I’ve even abandoned the same books two or three times before finally giving them away…and giving them a chance finally to be read.

    1. I rarely give a book more than one chance, but I have to say that there are books that took two, even three tries before I made it through, and some of those I have ended up loving.

  6. Probably I should say something about the books, but I will say instead that the thought of a rainy Sunday and lots of books must be one thing that is internationally recognised as wonderful (unless you’re in the Taliban). Hope it was a great Sunday of pages and downpours.

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