After time in school, when I had to finish whatever I was reading no matter how dull or pointless it was, I spent the next several years maintaining a pattern of starting a book, finding out it wasn’t for me, and finishing it anyway. Then I woke up.
For about the last eight years, I’ve given myself a fairly flexible rule of 50 pages to find out if a book is worth continuing with or not. I’ve made a big deal about having this “50-page rule” with regard to my reading. Sometimes I’ve given up about four pages in, and sometimes I’ve quit after 200. Guilt free. Then I started reading Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett.
I love Ken Follett. In particular, I loved his Pillars of the Earth/World Without End duo. I started the trilogy that begins with Fall of Giants. Loved that book so much. Then moved on to Winter of the World. I liked that, too, but not as much. Then came Edge of Eternity. Gah.
I gave this almost two months, and got through almost half of it. I’m a slow reader, but even I can manage more than 200 pages a month. I realized the problem wasn’t distractions, chores or other demands on my time. It was the book itself.
Generational saga, supposedly, but the characters are so far removed from their predecessors that I couldn’t determine how their stories related to the previous novels. The situations were so trite, and the storyline so predictable that I found myself saying “oh, come ON!” at least once a chapter. I kept trying, though. It’s Ken Follett. It’s a generational saga. It’s a chunkster. My bells should all be ringing. Silence.
So, much as I hated to, I did something I never thought I’d do. I gave up on Ken Follett (for this novel, anyhow). And for the first time since I imposed the “50-Page Rule,” I felt guilt. The guilt is lifting, though. I need to remind myself that if a book is not entertaining or interesting to me, that’s not my problem. It’s time to move on and not feel shame about that.
Back to the stacks it goes, and on to something else I will meander. I must remember, and remind myself with a neon sign if necessary, that if whatever book I’m reading isn’t ticking the boxes, I should be reading a different book. And so I shall.
I’ve been catching up on my Diana Gabaldon, which is enjoyable. The downside of this is that because her books are such chunksters and I’m such a slow reader, I manage maybe one a month. Doesn’t make for very scintillating totals on my books read (though the page count is pretty cool).
On to the three reviews for the month:
50 Books: (25)
25,000 Pages: (8,426)
Historical fiction: (7)
Author: Max Byrd
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: ** (out of 5)
If I were asked to pay for this book on the basis of how much of it is actually about Ulysses S. Grant, I’d ask for 80% of my money back. So here’s the thing. I buy a book called “Grant.” My copy has an impressive image of the man himself on the cover. Even the endpapers lead me to believe that the book is about one of the most fascinating, and yet elusive, figures of the 19th century.
Not so much.
He’s here, don’t get me wrong. He’s discussed in absentia by other characters. He’s sometimes glimpsed at a gathering while others speak. In the second half of the book, we occasionally get chapters wherein the action includes him (imagine that). By and large, however, the story concerns a Civil War veteran, now journalist, who lost his arm at Cold Harbor, and an embittered jerk whose only claim to fame is that he is the grandson and great-grandson of presidents. There are also his far more interesting wife (of whom I would have liked to see more if, you know, the book hadn’t been sold as a novel about U.S. Grant), and a drunken senator who, along with his arm-candy wife, just about bored me to tears. I saw way too much of them, and especially her. Everybody who crosses her path almost immediately falls in love with her. Why that is the case is not something I can come close to understanding.
So, if you would like to read a novel that’s rich in historical detail, with real-life (bar one) characters who actually said and did most of the things that are portrayed, this might be a good read for you. If you want to read a novel that does “what it says on the tin,” like I did, you may wish to look elsewhere.
24. Puddn’head Wilson
Author: Mark Twain
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to this story – I love Mark Twain and haven’t read any of his work that I haven’t enjoyed, but for some reason this one sneaked away from me until now. I’m glad I finally caught up with it. Twain is as instructive (while being entertaining) as any dry historical tome.
Pudd’nhead Wilson is a lawyer who has yet to get a case. He is “different” from the other folks and thus they’re not quite sure what to make of him. He still manages to grow on them a bit over many years, however. At a critical point, one of his silly hobbies proves to be of value.
That’s what this story is about (among other things) – being “different.” The themes present here – greed, bigotry, distrust of “otherness,” mockery of science – are all still with us, today. This is a sad truth, but it remains truth nonetheless. Mark Twain saw it more than a century ago; he’d see it today, too.
25. A Breath of Snow and Ashes
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Generational Saga, Series
Rating: **** (out of 5)
This review assumes that you have read the previous five books in the Outlander Series and are thus familiar with what’s happened to the characters so far.
Another reviewer here at GoodReads wrote a review that I loved. She played a drinking game in which she had a slug of whisky whenever Claire said “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ” or Jamie rubbed the bridge of his nose. I don’t think I’d noticed just how often these two things happened, but I certainly notice them now!
I’ve stayed with the Fraser family now for several thousand pages, all told, and it’s mostly been a rewarding experience. Yes, there are flights of fancy that test my ability to suspend belief to the extreme, and yes, Gabaldon’s need to demonstrate that she has indeed done a great deal of medical and historical research can become a bit of a drag, but in general, the arc is an interesting one.
Here we are faced with life on Fraser’s Ridge and the ever-closer drumbeats of the Revolutionary War. Thanks to Claire, Jamie knows which side to be on, but that doesn’t make his life any easier. Throw in kidnappings, rampant theft and at least a few deaths, and you’ve got yourself an entry in the series.
I almost gave up on the Outlander series after The Fiery Cross, but I’m glad I didn’t. I see A Breath of Snow and Ashes as a return to form. A form where I might skim through several pages of Claire treating a hemorrhoid in 18th century fashion, but a form that I still enjoy reading. I may complain about how my slow reading keeps me from finishing these in less than a month, but I’ve already started the next one.
I had hoped to finish the next one, An Echo in the Bone, by June 30, but it looks like I’ll finish it on Independence Day. For a book that takes place largely during the American Revolution, this seems somehow appropriate. Have a wonderful July, everyone.
And now, because July 4 is, more importantly, Atticus’s birthday, here is my very favorite photo of him, with his human Daddy.
So, here’s the thing. I love noticing the Good Things in my life. It is true that if you focus on what’s missing from your life, you’ll never have enough, but if you focus on your blessings, you will usually feel their abundance.
However, what I’m not loving is the obligation (self-imposed) of documenting something each day, and trying to find a way to illustrate it. It started as pure joy, but it is becoming a chore, and that’s the opposite of what this project was meant to be.
My blog will still be a (mostly) positive space. I’ll still share my little joys and blessings. I just won’t do it as a daily post that makes me stressed and steals the enjoyment of the Good Thing that made it possible in the first place. Hopefully, my little group of subscribers won’t mind.
And now, to step outside into the sunshine, without feeling a guilty drumbeat that chants “blog it, blog it.”
Staying in bed to finish my book.
Today, usually, is chore day. But I had only about 60 pages before I got to the end of my current book, and I wanted to finish that more than I wanted to deal with the laundry (go figure). I stayed in bed, and snuggled up comfortably, and read my book. I’m still aware of what a marvelous thing it is to be able to do what I want at times of my own choosing. I felt slightly (but only slightly) guilty tucked away with the Fraser Family, but the guilt was far outweighed by the happy.
A man who cooks for me.
As long as David and I have been together, he’s told me about how his Dad would take over the kitchen on the weekends and do the cooking for the family. It’s a happy childhood memory for him. David creates tasty food, and when I ask if I can help with anything, he says the most wonderful words, which are “nope, I’ve got it covered.” Happy, happy, happy me.
Being okay with taking a different path.
This, in part, is a cat tunnel that I was knitting for Atticus. The whole time I was knitting it, I was thinking how lovely and soft the wool was, and what a shame it was that I was knitting something for someone who much prefers a cardboard box. Today, I finally came to the realization that, just because that was the purpose for which I bought the wool, it doesn’t mean that it’s carved in stone that I must make the project.
I can’t tell you how many projects I continued with over the years, even though the person they were meant for was no longer in my life, or wasn’t worth my effort. Attie is worth anything I can muster, of course, but if he isn’t going to use it….
I see some chunky cowls and scarves in my future, made with some delightfully soft wool. I’m sure as long as Attie can watch me knit from the safety of his cardboard box, he won’t care a jot.