Book Squirm

You have to be a reader to be a writer. Common sense tells us so, as well as every instructor in those week-long $800 writing workshop. I am most definitely a reader, but I also have slumps. Not as bad as the writers block but definite slumps. And these tend to occur when I’m reading a book that I really and truly don’t care for but I feel like I should read because, a) everyone is raving about it, b) it’s a hard cover, c) I’m half-way through and I’ll feel like a loser if I stop, d) I keep thinking it will get better, and e) generalized guilt.

I have piles of other books I would rather be reading, but this book (the Bad Book, we’ll call it) just throws a major monkey wrench into my reading flow. The Bad Book is irritating and tedious, but at the same time it makes me feel inadequate, like there must be something I’m missing. It’s especially frustrating when the author is prolific and you’ve never heard of him/her so you start one of the many novels and then wham–you’re suddenly moving through some thick bog of a plot or ridiculously self-conscious language and you feel like you’re sinking. Your body feels swollen and your eyes turn to stone and you get dry mouth. Now you start avoiding it. The Bad Book sits on your nightstand or under 2 weeks of mail or on the tank of the toilet and it taunts you. You start reading Cooking Light and Crate and Barrel catalogues and even the month old PTO newsletter pleading for Box Tops for Education (what a pain in the ass those are–but that’s another blog).

Finally, you either pump up on caffeine and m&ms and go the distance or you give it away so it’s not in the house anymore. And then you pick up a book that can keep you moving, like Just Kids or Half Broke Horses or Mudbound or Lit or Mockingjay or The Forest for the Trees, or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  And you disappear and don’t come back until that final page where you feel anguish and jealousy and pure awe. There’s nothing quite like it. You fall in love.

So, any advice on what to do with my latest Bad Book? I am halfway through and I’ve started reading the backs of cereal boxes.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Book Squirm

  1. Susan

    Okay. So forget the caffeine: you’re not doing that anymore, remember. And ixnay on the m&mnays, because we’re down on food coloring now, which you’d know if you were reading the NYTimes (which is no longer free, thus liberating many of your fellow writers from excess article-hopping; yay!) instead of Cheerios.

    As for the Bad Book, this I believe is what public libraries are for. Donate it (Kenyon Review is cleverly asking readers to donate a subscription to KR to their local library or school, btw). Donate it or leave it on the tank of the toilet (I liked that phrase when you used it and wanted to try it, so what better place than here where I can acknowledge the source) at the library. Someone will find it. Someone will give it a place on the shelf. Someone will read it and love it and it will change his or her life. And you will be free.

  2. I used to feel vaguely obligated to keep reading a book once I’d started it, but I’ve now decided that life is too short to read Bad Books, especially since there are so many Better Books out there just waiting to be read! Sounds like you’ve given it an honest try. Admit the relationship is over. Move on. There are other fish in the literary sea. Two I can recommend: Winter’s Bone (thanks to Susan) and Little Brother (reading now).

    Or you could always write something … 😉

  3. Jess

    Well, your post made me feel a heck of a lot better, since I’m frequently in the same position and thought it was just me. Good to know I’m not alone! My approach is to skim through to finish. That way I get the general gist of the story but don’t put myself through the torture you described well above of reading it. Of course, I feel guilty putting that in writing, so it’s not a fool-proof approach…

  4. Lots of good ideas–skimming, the library donation, finding another literary fish in the sea. But that writing one, what were you thinking?!

  5. Sally

    Once, so far, in my life I did manage to put away the bad book — and it was liberating! But…the courage didn’t last. My most recent nightmare was when our book club decided to read Them by Joyce Carol Oates — I absolutely hated it. But…I persevered and finished because 1) it was a book club book and there is an implied commitment to finish reading any book chosen, and 2) I wanted to figure out why the hell it was considered such a good book and/or Oates such a good author. I never found any answers to question #2 but looked forward to Book Club to hear from others. Joke was on me: in a very rare move, we cancelled book club because only 2 (only TWO) of us finished the !@#$% book! The only good thing about finishing it was that it gave me a certain edge in the bragging rights department…

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