I started reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood after seeing the movie, which was just fascinating. However, barely twenty pages into the book I had to abandon it. I found his use of language to be heavy-handed and flowery, as if he were trying too hard to be literary. Also, the whole novelization of this historical and actual event took too many liberties. The first section of the book paints a picture of the murdered family that he couldn’t possibly have known to be true. He colors our perceptions with his own fantasies and I find that intrusive at best and downright manipulative in the most obvious way at worst. Furthermore, I couldn’t get his voice out of my head — or rather, his voice as interpreted by Philip Seymour Hoffman (who was brilliant and remains one of my all-time favorite actors). I couldn’t just read the words, I had to hear them in that high-pitched, nasally, sniveling voice. It was too much.
I used to find it almost impossible to abandon a book once I started it. It felt like a betrayal to do so and thus I would struggle along resenting every moment of it just for that sense of completion. As I got older a dawning realization that there were more books I wanted to read than I could possibly devour in my lifetime freed me from that compulsion to finish, so I stopped forcing myself to read every book I picked up.
This is not to say that I haven’t pushed through a book that has been particularly difficult, but if I do, almost without fail, it has paid off. I have become pretty good at determining what works are worth the fight. Typically, the ones I am resistant to for reasons of style and poor use of language go right out the window and I never regret it. Books where the author is not writing in their own voice, but seems to have borrowed or stolen someone else’s always sound dishonest and I like honesty above all else (There are exceptions where the author is such a skilled writer that they can present a dishonest narrator and it is effective within the scope of the story).
The one’s I push through no matter what are usually ones in which my emotional reaction to the content is what makes me want to close the cover and put it away. I suppose this is because I want to know what it is in me that has such a strong response.
Still, no matter how many times I abandon a book, I have mixed feelings about it. I wonder if I am making a mistake. I worry that I jumped to conclusions and didn’t give it enough of a chance. Occassionally I second guess myself into finishing something I know I don’t want to read and inevitably end up kicking myself because my suspicions were only confirmed.
I think my greatest motivation for finishing books I don’t like or respect is to feel as if I can talk about them authoritatively. So that when a conversation comes up about a book I never read more than 35 pages of, I can state without hesitation that I didn’t like it. Because if I say I don’t like something that I haven’t finished, there is always someone there to say, “Oh, did you get to such and such a part of the book?” And I am forced to say, “No.” And they reply, “Well that’s where it gets really good.” Then I’m left wondering if it was really good, if I’d only just stuck with it for a few more pages…