Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Books I regret reading

I used to think if I started a book, I had to finish it, no matter what. Not throw it across the room halfway through, in petulant disgust, if I didn't like it. I thought I owed the book, or at least the author, a bit of respect. I no longer think this. Life is simply too short. I've wanted to write a blog post for a long time about books I wish I had never read - but the only two I can think of at this very moment are The Magus by John Fowles (I read it all, but oh, how I HATED it - this book is famous for being either loved or despised and not much in between) and The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter. Tom Kitten being captured by rats and nearly made into a roly-poly pudding terrified me as a child, and still gives me the horrors when I think about it. The Magus - what can I say. I thought it was a waste of my time, for what, a mysterious unresolved labyrinth of a book that had me saying, What, what, WHAT!? much of the time, and finally, Who cares. What's worse, a very good friend pressed it on me (this was years and years ago) while telling me vehemently how much I'd love it. Well, out of all the hundreds of books I've read, I guess two isn't bad. Anyone care to add to this list of books?

Here's another little item from home, just for fun, a flimsy softcover from 1971:

This thing is really terrific, despite its hideous cover design: The Bluffer's Guide to Literature (Crown, 1971), 62 pages, slightly smaller than a mass-market paperback. Rather like those booklets for sale at the supermarket by the checkout, but infinitely more amusing, with tongue firmly in cheek. I bought this copy at a library sale a few years ago, still for a dollar. The author is not noted on the cover or spine, but he is in fact that rascally literary historian and polymath, Martin Seymour-Smith. I wish I could type out great swaths of text for you all to read here, but you'll just have to track down your own copies because I have too much else to do today. Particularly worth reading are the sections on: Specific Information and Attitudes to Take Up, Avant-Garde, Concrete Poetry, Dadaism, Imagism, Ezra Pound, Irishmen, Opinions, Originality, Projective Verse, Robert Lowell, T.S. Eliot, and Instant Safe Judgments and Attitudes, which contains a list of prominent authors and terms, and pronouncements one can make about them. Here are a few (pp.61-62):

H.G. Wells - Old hat. More important than Wells, if you must talk about him, is Bernard Bergonzi's book on him, which, however, you need not actually read.

Dylan Thomas - You knew him well. Not a good poet (too emotional), but he was very good to you. If obviously too young to have known him well, it is safe to sneer.

John Milton - Milton is very in, but you need not bother to read him. Be seen with one of the thickest and most boring critical books about him under your arm: no one will dare to bring him up. Few people read him with pleasure, but never say this.

Thomas Hardy - You love him and his novels and poems, but do not let your love blind you to the fact that he is much less important than, say, Yeats or John Wain. Do not discuss him much. He is so good he is an embarrassment.

Swift - Ignore; but use term "Swiftian" of any new writer you admire.

Rationalism - Old hat. You are a crypto-mystic. Let it be quietly understood that you practice a rare form of Yoga, but never talk about it. Smile mysteriously if asked about your religion.

The back cover of the book reads: "You, too, can be a successful 'expert.' With no waiting time. Voice your opinions with the best of them, knowing that yours is the best of them! This Bluffer's Guide will help you to be as convincing and bright as they seem to be."

Instant Erudition! Need I mention that the author is British? He's intelligently funny, dry and witty, and not all of the book is make-fun, either. Usually I don't have much truck with people making fun of other people, but this is too good. Besides, he's actually poking fun at the literary and academic establishment, not at the authors themselves, not as such.

I think I have four more posts to go to reach the 300-mark, so it looks like I will be here through the weekend. I don't know what I'm thinking, wrapping this up - you all have been so very dear, letting me know you will miss the blog. But I've got some other projects that I simply have to complete, and soon, or I'm afraid I will forever be a dilettante. The idea of which haunts me.

Unrelated to books, as if anything in my life could be - Happy Anniversary to Ryan! Five years ago today we exchanged vows in a meadow on an island off the coast of Maine. Fifteen years ago he asked me to be his steady girl. Life gets sweeter and sweeter as the years go by, I find...

"Life gets sweeter..." Isn't that the truth? Glad to hear you've found one who makes life sweeter.

I agree about the not finishing books. I'll give a book 50 pages if it catches me enough to buy/borrow it from the library. But if an author can't hook me in 50 pages, s/he isn't writing for me.

The Bluffer's Guide sounds delightful! Definitely something to pick up, if I ever see one.

Sorry to read you may be leaving us. I've enjoyed your posts immensely. Can't really blame you though. Good luck with whatever you decide.
I forced my way through Eco's In the Name of the Rose. I hated every second of it. I kept waiting for something to catch me, but nothing did. It was awful.

Thanks for the wonderful blog, here's hoping you continue, but if not, best of luck.
Thanks for reading, Katrina - and best of luck with your own writing... Martin Seymour-Smith wrote a huge book called the "Guide to Modern World Literature" and I've always wanted a copy. It's in a more serious vein than this little bit of fluff, but still supposed to be entertaining, opinionated, and very very good. Someday!

uibristol, thank you for sticking around this blog for so long. Eco, that's a good one - it's another one of those books that people either rhapsodize over or despise. I can't say which camp I'm in because I haven't read it. Today's post, a bit later, will deal with books I've always *meant* to read, or dreamt of reading, but haven't gotten around to. Yet.
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