Friday, December 10, 2010

Why I Didn't Finish

I keep copious lists of the books I want to read, have read, and even the books I have abandoned. I adopted Nancy Pearl's philosophy that life is too short to read a book you aren't into, and in general I give books a good 50 pages, 100 if it has been recommended to me or nominated for an award.

Okay, some books I give fewer than 50, and some I moan that I bothered finishing once I get to the end (Freedom, anyone? I'll quit picking on that book eventually, maybe it will be my New Year's Resolution).

I think the book I was saddest to abandon so far this year was I Hotel by Karen Yamashita. It was one of the finalists for the National Book Award in the fiction category, and it is about my favorite city on earth, San Francisco. It chronicles ten years during the civil rights movement, focusing on different characters and movements in each section. The story is told through prose, poetry, scripts for faux documentaries, and other narrative tricks.

In the first section, I was actually really into it. I liked the characters, I loved how the author incorporated the historical research into it, and I even marked quotations that I liked. ("I've been too busy missing you to be angry" was my favorite, from a poem written on the wall by an immigrant.) But then I got into the second section, and discovered all the characters I had started to grow fond of and interested in had been abandoned for an entirely new set of characters and situations.

I don't want to say there is no overarching plot, because I didn't read until the end to find out if they return. But I had the sense that the characters aren't the point - the city is the point. The city and the themes among those fighting for their rights in the 1960s and 1970s - this is the focus. The characters help to tell the story and then they move on.

I'm still chiding myself for not having enough patience, but around page 215 (see, more than 50 pages) it started to feel formulaic, patterned, and insincere. Life is too short, so I allowed myself to quit.

I actually wonder if it might be better in the context of a history class than read straight through - specific sections paired up with deep looks into different groups of people who settled in the bay area, and their struggles for survival and identity. It might be a better use of the creative presentation of what was a fascinating time in United States history.

1 comment:

  1. I get guilt about not finishing books too. I just could not finish "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie, and everyone else on the planet seems to love it!


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