I read a lot of books, but I don’t finish many. A lifetime of reading has made me somewhat picky, and the feeling has only intensified with age: if I’m not 150% pleased by a book, I return it and move on to the next one on my list. It is, after all, a very long list, and life is, comparatively, rather short. Who wants to waste time with a bad book?
The only time I question my choice is when I enter a “book drought” like the one I just survived. About a month ago, at Wes‘s suggestion, I picked up Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, a fast-paced, sci-fi adventure about the quest to save the OASIS–a Facebook-like virtual world–from corporate domination by finding the easter egg its creator hid somewhere inside the game. I loved it so much I ran around the library recommending it to everyone of the geek persuasion I could find, and if you are keen on 80s pop culture, gaming, computers, or the band Rush, I highly recommend it for reasons I can’t explain without spoiling the plot. It’s also got short, action-packed chapters, quirky-lovable characters, and a story arc that cries out to filmed.
The only problem was that I loved the book so much, everything I tried after that seemed…dull, by comparison. I spent the next month dutifully reading the first chapters of many, many, many books, then returning them, dissatisfied. This included the critically-acclaimed The Art of Fielding, which was recommended to me by Tony. While it’s extremely well-written, and I would recommend it to anyone fond of baseball and highbrow literature, it simply didn’t thrill me the way it did Tony. Interestingly enough, he tried Ready Player One on for size and didn’t like it, which serves as a good reminder that a) not every book is for everybody, and b) that’s perfectly okay.
However, the inherent “okayness” of the situation didn’t solve my book drought, and I was starting to get antsy. Relief came from an unexpected quarter: Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers. I put myself on the list for it because it was touted in several media sources as a hot new book, and while I’m somewhat skeptical of that sort of thing, I also have a professional obligation to keep up with popular fiction. When my copy finally arrived, it sat on the floor in my kitchen for a while until, desperate for a good story and willing to look anywhere, I finally dived in.
Sweet, sweet relief. Diffenbaugh had me from page one, when her prickly, misanthropic heroine, Victoria Jones, ages out of the foster care system. Victoria’s struggle to build an independent adult life for herself is interwoven with flashbacks to her most important foster care placement. Elizabeth, who teaches Victoria the “language of flowers,” seems all set to adopt the difficult, frightened child…but something goes awry, and Diffenbaugh’s masterful weaving of the flashback explanation through the contemporary storyline was suspenseful enough to keep me burning through the pages. Make no mistake: this is a sad, difficult book, and if you are tender-hearted, and want your endings easy and sweet, you will probably not enjoy it. Victoria, however, is well-worth getting to know, and if you can open your heart to her as she struggles to overcome years of abuse and disappointment, you will be well-rewarded at the final page.
So, to review:
1) It’s okay not to finish a book.
2) It’s okay not to like a book your friends like.
3) Reading droughts can be tough, but stick to your principles.
Your turn. What are you reading these days, and what are you finishing?
about to plunge into Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air, thanks to the cheerful efficiency of the interlibrary loan staff