Friday, July 22, 2011
It's difficult to keep reading
At the DGLM blog, Jim McCarthy asked if anyone has thrown a book after reading it. The post elicited quite a number of responses. Not surprising, since most of the readers of that blog are likely people passionate about books.
Thinking about readers being frustrated enough to want to throw a book makes me wonder about the reasons. I usually stop reading when I find the stories boring or the writing intentionally coy or pretentious, incoherent, or otherwise not engaging. But the most recent book I wanted to stop reading was extremely well-written by an author whose work I enjoy very much.
When I started Gary Schmidt's Okay For Now, I almost couldn't finish it. Not because I disliked the writing or the story but because what was happening to the protagonist was difficult to read about.
[minor spoiler alert}
This kid, Doug, has a father who's uncaring and cruel. His older brothers take after his father, and his mother stands aside, helpless. As an adult, a parent, and a teacher, I was deeply affected by the ordeals of this young man. But knowing that most juvenile fiction is essentially hopeful and contains ideas of redemption and change, I read on. And by the end, the fate of the protagonist isn't as bleak as the beginning suggests. The solutions are satisfying, though some of it rather rosy, but I was glad it ended the way it did.
I just started another book that I am tempted to stop. I decided to read Paolo Giordano's The Solitude of Prime Numbers because of the title. (Don't tell me you don't pick up books for quirky reasons! Why people read what they read: an interesting topic to explore and one for a future blog post.)
I have only read 5 or 6 chapters of this book and I am again so disturbed by what's happening to the protagonists, both young people, that I don't feel like reading on. The ugliness within human nature that the events in this book touches on is disturbing. I am not disgusted so much as overwhelmed by the darkness that is possible in this world.
Maybe I'm a light weight when it comes to confronting the dark and the horrid. Maybe there's enough sadness in the real world that I don't have the energy to take much more in the fictional world. Maybe I don't have the gumption to read about young people affected by depravity.
But why is it that I have no trouble reading other books in which people face evil? Katniss's fate in Hunger Games is worse than bleak. Several people attempt suicide in A Long Way Down. The narrator in The Lovely Bones is dead. I had no trouble reading any of it.
So I don't know. Your thoughts?
Do you have books you can't read? I know people who won't read books in which children are tortured. Many have a limit for the degree of violence or gore. What are the books that are difficult for you to read?
Edited to add: I just remember another book, Room, in which the small child has to face an unimaginable life. I liked the book and had no trouble reading, even though I was immersed in his world and felt the horror of his life but didn't stop reading. So what is it?