Saturday, November 21, 2009

A thorough cleansing....

I have this strange obsession of needing to finish a book once I start it. No matter how boring or disturbing I find the subject matter, I must keep reading. I don't think it is really because I feel the book will somehow redeem itself, but is in fact just some facet of my slightly obsessive compulsive personality.

A couple of years ago, I read 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan. At the time I did not even know there was a movie in the works. Joey had asked me to order him some books for summer reading. He gave me a list of authors and just said "pick some". When the books arrived, I decided to grab a couple of them and read them myself before handing them over. Wow, I wanted to stop reading Atonement about 3/4 of the way through. The writing was good but the story was incredibly depressing and I swore I would never see the movie (why torture myself?).

Last year I gave in and decided to read 'Twilight'. Oh man, about half way through I thought I would die if I had to read one more description of Edward's skin. Not to mention that the book is actually considered "teen reading" and is written as such. Not to say teens cannot be sophisticated, but.... it really is like a Harlequin Romance written for a 12 year old. But I plugged along and by the end I was hooked and ended up reading the whole series of--Edward vs. Jacob, Vampire vs. Werewolf, Bella vs. herself--books, and I liked them (cringing right now waiting to be struck by the literary gods), although by about half way through the last book I was starting to really question my own sanity.... I don't want to spoil anything since I know at least a couple "women" out there who have not read the books--yet!

Now, the real reason for this post. Many years ago when the kids were little and I was heavily involved in the Jewish Community Center, a book was sweeping through the community like wildfire. It was being read and talked about by women of all ages and was the latest, greatest top of the list novel for book clubs across the country. I was much too busy for things like adult novels and book clubs. I was obsessed with reading Harry Potter books to the boys and making up voices (apparently) for all the characters and mispronouncing Hermione's name. About five years ago, I ran across that book club book in Barnes & Noble and even though I probably knew at least a half dozen people with the book on their shelves (for borrowing), I purchased it anyway. And then, it sat in my closet until a couple months ago when I picked it up and started reading it. The book: 'The Red Tent' by Anita Diamant. In a nutshell, a completely fictional novel about some of the characters of the old testament. Well, it sounds silly to say "some of the characters" when in fact we are talking about such heavyweights as Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel and Joseph. Basically the Mothers and Fathers of Judaism and we all know where that leads.... The story is written from the perspective of Dinah, Jacob's lone daughter. Now, I am certainly no historian. I am not religious. I am not a feminist or a prude, but people, I am telling you I did not like this book at all. Some call it Historic Fiction. I call it, at best, historical fantasy. This story strays so ridiculously far from the bible that it is just purely, in my mind, a work of complete fiction and no reference to history or the bible should be made. But that, in itself, is not the problem. I mean, a good story is a good story.

About half way through the novel, knowing I would--by my own standards--need to finish, I went looking for some positive remarks about the novel to keep me motivated. I did find a lot of positive, but none of it reflected my point of view. I did find negative criticism (which every book has, of course), but I was not expecting it to be criticized for the reasons it was--a lot of the critical comments were written by people concerned that some of the readers would believe Ms. Diamant's version of history as fact. What? No seriously, really? And, who cares? I guess I shouldn't be so cynical since that is kind of what happened with the Dan Brown novels???!!!???

I did find one commenter who I thought spoke perfectly eloquently of my feelings:
Dinah's life was REALLY crummy!

Yes, that's it in a nutshell. The author takes a character with a pretty sad (and short) biblical reference and makes an incredibly depressing complete life story around her. There is almost nothing good that happens to Dinah. In the process of describing Dinah's awful life, she completely obliterates any positive or inspirational references from the original stories of the bible. Okay, right, this is historical fantasy... but why use the biblical figures at all? That's what angered a lot of critics. OK. Fine it is just a fictional story (who cares about the religious community). In reading some of the authors comments included at the end of the book, I tried to understand what she was trying to do with this book, because she WAS trying to do something. She wasn't merely setting out to write a descriptive novel for all to enjoy. By her own admission she is "mystified by the stigma that has been attached to the idea that women are human beings." Well, I am flabbergasted. Maybe I live in a completely different world than the author, but I have never met anyone who didn't think that women were human beings. Women are lifegivers. This book does not celebrate this fact. It recounts a fictional life of a girl who feels alone and weak and is miserable 95% of the book. She is not inspirational and the relationship she had with her Mothers and The Red Tent was fleeting and depressing. Men are generally barbarians and don't get me started on the Mother-in-Law. I found the book completely uninspiring.

So, there it is. Usually characters from novels stick around with me for a while. I am really hoping that by putting some of my simple thoughts down on paper (well computer) that I have cleansed my mind thoroughly of this book and its characters. I would rather watch Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat a hundred times than have to think about this book any longer.

How about some inspiring book recommendations???? Anyone????

Note: Michael DO NOT comment that I should read the John Adams Novel. Please.


Andy said...

I was like that with books. The problem was I read mostly non-fiction. After torturing myself by finishing some book about the history of natural sciences, I promised myself never again. Most books I finish, but if its really bad, I no longer feel guilty about shelfing it.

Now as far as recommendations, I have two. Not sure if they fit your idea of a good novel so google them first.

1)Timbuktu by Paul Auster. Kind of sad and weird, but I thought it was good.

2) After Dachau by Daniel Quinn. I need to read this one again.

Sydney said...

My two favorite reads from this year were:

1) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society (a friend gave it to me and I really procrastinated reading it because it seemed like it was going to be stupid, but it was pure pleasure to read it. I never wanted it to end.)

2) Nineteen Minutes. This was a tougher subject, a fictional high school shooting like Colombine, but really a great read--it definitely propels you forward the whole time.

Now your turn, do you have any good reads for me?