Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More Bookish Things

I didn’t accomplish much last weekend, but I did clear out my one lonely bookcase. Yay for me! There’s one clean thing in my house, 378 things to go. I even dusted the bookcase AND the books (It’s amazing how much dust can accumulate over the space of a year). Then I examined the very top of the bookcase, a space I can’t see without some sort of height enhancement device, i.e. a chair. I haven’t looked up there in about three years. I discovered a landscape made entirely of dust. It was beautiful in its own way. There were mountain ranges and river valleys and low, sweeping plains. There was probably a wide variety of flora and fauna there too, but I didn’t look that closely before sucking it all up with the vacuum cleaner. I’m assuming that anything that could survive in the dust landscape will be just as happy in the vacuum cleaner bag.

During this cleaning I realized something that I’d never considered before. See, I have a shelf of “unread books” in my bookcase. In my mind, its contents are untouchable during the yearly purge. I mean, I’ve never even read them, right? No one can argue that I should get rid of any of them. But this year it occurred to me that there are some books that have been on the “unread” shelf for a long time. A looooong time. Some have been there for at least 5 years and I know a couple have been there about 8 years. Which led me to ask myself a couple of questions: a) Should I add an expiration date to my book purging algorithm? Should I assign each book a date by which it must be read or tossed? and b) Why have those books been unread for so long?

I’m undecided about a), but I think I have the answer to b). When I go to my shelf to find something new, I look for something that fits my mood at that particular moment. Sometimes I want “brain candy,” i.e. science fiction. Sometimes I want interesting non-fiction that shows me another way to look at the world, something like the Tipping Point. But usually I want a good story that keeps me turning the pages but isn’t too distressing. I seldom want a book that I think is going to piss me off or make me cry. And I’m pretty sure that’s the reason most of those books have been there for so long.

A large percentage of them are pre-2003 Oprah books, books that Oprah picked as her “book of the month” at one time or another. The rest of humanity then behaved like sheep and gobbled up the books without a second thought, because if Oprah says the book is good, then the book must be good. End of discussion. Baaaah.

Unfortunately, after finishing a few Oprah-selected books, I began to question her book-selecting credentials. What exactly were her qualifications anyway? Not that the books she chose were bad books. Some were extremely good. But they all seemed to have a rather gloomy undercurrent. Lots of really horrible things were always happening to the characters in these books. These characters were abused by the universe in every conceivable way. These stories left me with a metaphorical little gray cloud over my head. Sometimes they even made me cry.

I officially reached my limit in the middle of A Map of the World. I made it through the small child drowning, but by the time the main character was accused of molesting another child, I had reached my depressing literature quota for the year. I closed the book right then and there and dropped it, unfinished, on top of the donation pile. I don’t regret it. I’m sure it had an uplifting ending, but I didn’t have the emotional stamina to get there at the time. BTW, did anyone out there make it to the end? Did it have an uplifting ending?

Now suspicious, I reviewed the entire list of Oprah books. Every dreary, anxious, cheerless, heartbroken one of them. And when I was done I could only conclude that the Oprah Industrial Complex wanted me to cry and cry a lot. And then I got mad. I threw off my shackles and shook my fist in the air and announced to my television set thusly: “Let me tell you something Oprah, I don’t have the energy to cry about people who don’t really exist and I’m not going to do it! You will not control my emotional state! You will not!” And so that’s how I gave up Oprah books. The end.

Now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. The thought of tossing anything unread causes me great pain, but I’m afraid that if I touch one of them, the melancholy will creep out onto my hand, crawl up my arm, tunnel into my ear and snuggle up against my pituitary gland for the winter. And we don’t want that, do we? No, we don’t.

So I’m putting it all on your shoulders, Internet. Does anyone out there have an opinion about any of these? Anyone feel comfortable assuring me that reading one of these books won’t make me want to slash my wrists? Anyone?

Songs in Ordinary Time

Breath Eyes Memory

We Were the Mulvaneys

Song of Solomon

Fall on Your Knees

A Lesson Before Dying

There are also a few other books on the unread shelf that are long past their expiration dates. They aren’t Oprah books, but I put them in the same category, because I know they’re sad. I just know it.

First Comes Love

Tuesdays With Morrie

The Notebook

The Five People You Meet in Heaven was on the shelf for a long time too, but in desperation I bought an audiobook version to listen to on one of my long drives to visit family. I had always had a feeling it was going to be “poignant.” I was right. Note: It is possible to sob hysterically and drive 75mph on an interstate highway, but I don’t recommend it.


Blogger Whippersnapper said...

Tuesdays with Morrie is the shittiest piece of crap I have ever read in my life. (Q: Why did I read it? A: I have no clue.) Fall On Your Knees is brilliant. We Were the Mulwhoevers was okay.

Hey! Why don't YOU write a book?

10:55 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

I love Whippersnapper.

The whole first part of your list (ending with the Faulkner...AS WE LAY DYING) has books on it that I started but never got through. And I pretty much finish most books I start.

Hurl with great force away from you THE NOTEBOOK and TUESDAYS and, oh crap, the first on on that second half of your list.

Nothing there, all in all, worth reading.

Okay, so I didn't actually, as it turns out, READ (in entirety) any of those books on your list. But, strangely, I acting as though I know.

This is a fun little exercise, btw!

1:09 AM  
Blogger Kara said...

Take The Notebook...go outside...and throw it as far down the street as you can. Watch it go. Turn around, and walk back inside. Then eat a KitKat and watch The Girls Next Door for an hour.

That's what I think of Nicholas Sparks.

Keep the Ernest Gaines novel. He's a fantastic New Orleans author.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Kara said...

Oh my heck. I didn't read jocelyn before writing and submitting my comment. How unoriginal of me.

Still...that says something, don't you think?

2:22 PM  
Blogger Mauigirl said...

My book club is always picking Oprah books and I've read a lot of them. But I never did read Fall On Your knees, or As I Lay Dying (the other ones on your list we did not pick so I definitely haven't read those). We did read "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" and I read that one, which was indeed poignant. I know what you mean about Oprah books being depressing.

Among the books our book club read that weren't on your list of unread books, was The Kite Runner, which was depressing but very good and I recommend it.

4:55 PM  
Blogger TinaRee said...

Send them all away and read any Discworld book by Terry Pratchett. I promise you will not cry but you probably will laugh out loud. There is not a bad book in the entire lot. My favorites are REAPER MAN, MORT, MONSTROUS REGIMENT, NIGHT WATCH, FEET OF CLAY, THUD, GOING POSTAL, and HOGFATHER (a must read for the upcoming holiday season; go out and buy it now.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

whippersnapper, Tuesdays with Morrie has been tossed on the "donate" pile. I'll give Fall on Your Knees a chance, just because you liked it.

jocelyn, Consider them hurled! (This IS fun).

kara, I prefer to believe that great minds think alike. If The Notebook can offend two great minds, it is not worthy of existing. Maybe I'll take my copy, throw it in the road and run over it a few times.

mauigirl, I read The Kite Runner last year sometime. It was a little depressing, but it didn't drive me to tears. Plus it had the uplifting ending. Love the uplifting endings.

tinaree, Thanks for the recommendations! I will check them out. I LOVE books that make me laugh.

9:39 AM  
Blogger JAM said...

I'm a "mood" reader too. My problem is that I tend to use the library and often find myself without any unread books whatsoever at home.

Keep a couple of 'em around just in case. It's a bad place when you want to read and have nothing new.

3:29 PM  

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