Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Against the Day... Kookiejar's Review

This is how I normally read a book. I spend the first 50 pages or so getting familiar with the characters and the setting, growing used to the author's style and vernacular, and generally getting a feel for the book as a whole. The next 50 pages I spend trying the understand the author's intent...what is he trying to tell me and why did he write this particular story.

After the first 100 pages I stop and ask myself these questions...

1. Do I understand what is going on?
2. Do I care about the characters?
3. Does it matter to me what happens next?
4. Do I have the time and energy to see this book through to the end?

If the answer to any one of these questions is 'no', I stop reading. Sometimes I will return to a book years later and the answers will be different, sometimes not.

For 'Against the Day' the answers to all the questions were 'no'. It isn't that it is poorly written, it's just that there are so many characters that we never really get to know any one individual in a personal way. We never form a vested interest in anyone's activities. There is plenty of humor in these first few pages and lots to enjoy, but it just wasn't enough for me.

In the first section he introduces us to a roving group of balloonists called the Chums of Chance, who go on various adventures (supposedly chronicled in tales with titles like 'The Chums of Chance and the Evil Half-Wit') but we too soon leave this merry group for encounters with other characters who are not so enthralling. Too bad. Mr Pynchon, write some of the adventures of The Chums of Chance and I will read it, but don't meander off in search of greener pastures.

So, after a valiant effort (I really, really tried to finish this), I've decided that this book is unfinishable. That does not excuse the so-called professional book reviewers who felt qualified to give an opinion on this book without finishing it. If I were being paid to review it, I would either force myself to read nothing else but this until it was done, or simply not accept payment for this assignment. It's only right.

So, is anyone else game?


3M said...

I don't think I will be attempting it, but I really admire you for trying! There are too many other books I want to read, even on the NYT Notable List.

I agree with you 100% about the professional reviewers. It's really inexcusable when it is your job.

Wendy said...

You gave it a valiant effort which I respect. That said - I have no desire to even try to read this book. There are so many wonderful books that I know I will love that I don't want to waste my time on one that everyone keeps throwing aside in frustration.

I agree with your opinion on the reviewers.

kookiejar said...

I totally respect your decision not to attempt this one, 3m and Wendy. Life is too short to waste reading books that don't grab you. This one probably won't. Glad I took a stab at it anyway.

Nyssaneala said...

Hmm...I don't even remember this book from the NYT list! Must not have made much of an impression on me from the very beginning. Good on you for dropping a book that's not for you.