Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Disappointing books

No question there are an endless number of disappointing books, but it is always frustrating to run across a whole bunch of them.  Most of the books I have read recently have been sort of in the middle of the road -- they won't make my year end list but I wasn't too disappointed in them (except for I.B. Singer's Enemies, which I thought was so absurd, with this nothing of a man with 2 women madly in love with him suddenly being confronted with his wife returning from the concentration camps).

But I've now hit a slump.  I'm really struggling with Faulkner.  Sometimes I like reading him, but sometimes his over-florid style just gets in the way.  There were parts of Flags in the Dust I liked (particularly the machinations of one of the Snopes clan) but again this business of the Sartoris women just falling for these bad boys over and over was frustrating.  But that is nothing compared to The Unvanquished, which goes back into the childhood of Bayard Sartoris (who is a fairly old man in Flags in the Dust), while the Civil War is winding down and Reconstruction is going on in fits and starts.  Anyway, his father John Sartoris is mighty pleased with himself for killing two Northern carpet-baggers and preventing Negros from voting.  And I just think, even while Faulkner himself condemned slavery, how can I read about these characters who are basically scum?  (And worst of all, it was one thing to read this when it seemed white supremacy was largely dead and buried in the States, but Trump, speaking of scum, has managed to give it new life.)  I'm almost done with The Unvanquished, and I think I just have to take a bit of a break from Faulkner for a while.

I've wanted to read more Dickens for the longest time, but I definitely picked the wrong one -- Hard Times.  It's actually one of his shortest novels, if you don't count A Christmas Carol or the unfinished Drood.  But it is so boring (ok, I'm only halfway in, but something should have sparked my interest by now).  The characters are boring, especially this braggart of a man, Josiah Bounderby.  It's intolerable reading his recollections of his hard childhood.  (And the northern dialect of Stephen Blackpool is frankly unreadable.)  The book is mostly about the politics of an industrial town and the proper role of labor unions.  The same topic was done much better in Gaskell's North and South, not that I completely loved that novel either.  (I actually picked up Hard Times to compare it to North and South before I completely forgot that novel...)  Reading Hard Times is becoming a real drag, but I'll go ahead and finish it, as there aren't that many more pages to go.  I'll just have to pick one of his better novels next time around.  Probably Oliver Twist and then Nicholas Nickleby.

However, I did abandon another novel -- Burning City by Ariel Dorfman and Joaquin Dorfman (his son).  This is theoretically a YA novel, but the main character (just about to graduate high school) is frankly a menace to society.  He lives for the thrill of going fast on his bike (he is a bike messenger), but endangers pedestrians all the time and even rides his bike into building lobbies.  So this was a major strike against the book.  (I really hate the careless or super-aggressive cyclists who make things worse for bike commuters.)  Anyway, he is a fairly morose individual who feels the world owes him something, which I also didn't care for.  Finally, he makes a lot of terrible decisions (and indeed most of the characters make implausible decisions), such as throwing a cake onto the windshield of this beat cop, who is his nemesis.  I was just done at that point.  I decided I had no interest in seeing this little shit win the woman of his dreams or be fulfilled in any way.  It was much better to just toss the book aside, leaving him eternally stewing in his own juices as it were.  This book is so not recommended...

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