May 27, 2019

"In optimistic appreciation of everyone's artistic potential, I am a staunch advocate of completing a book no matter how unenjoyable the experience may be."

I'm reconnecting with my old practice of reading 1-star reviews of books I have read and liked. The quote above is from a 1-star review of "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" (by Haruki Murakami).

I find this review super-quotable, because it doesn't say anything specific about this book.* Almost.**

The dissatisfied reviewer continues:
This book wanted to be picked up and desired with anticipatory giddiness, but it did not want to be read. In fact, it did everything it could beyond page 1 to be unpleasant.

Sometimes books take a little while to warm up; stretch the legs; get a lay of the land. This book demonstrated a game face no defense would worry over. Uninteresting background information, bland writing style, no "hook" to catch interest, etc. Right before giving up, I had the sense I was reading the first draft of somebody's daily journal recorded for their own personal posterity...never to see the light of day...some words to reflect on an average life--a life, by the way, that seemed like it was going to last 300 years. None of it was leading anywhere. I finally tapped out when a chapter started off with a paragraph about fish from a restaurant...not an eating contest, rare delicacy, celebrity sighting, or bad wait-service tale in sight....
I like the humor of asserting you're a "staunch advocate" of something and then proceeding to do complete opposite.
___________________________

*It reminds me of the essay I wrote in 4th grade to be handed in the next time I did something wrong in school that earned the punishment of having to write an essay. It's hard to write well and generically, specifics being the usual spice of writing — it's always a girl in a white dress with a white parasol or something like that. It seems interesting because it's specific. Try being interesting without any specificity.... Dear teacher, I acknowledge and bewail the misdeed which I have grievously committed, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation. I am heartily sorry... Am I getting away with that? I'll just say that if you ever try and do seem to be getting away with it, do not laugh or brag.

**As you'll see if you read the indented text, there is the fish, and that's specific, but not that specific. Here's the paragraph that begins Chapter 2, where the dissatisfied reviewer tapped out because of the fish, the fish that didn't do anything:

43 comments:

tim maguire said...

The excerpt vindicates the one-star reviewer.

Henry said...

Murakami really does want to reassure us, always, that his characters get enough to eat. In this case, himself.

tim maguire said...

Is Murakami a technology early adopter? I had to look up MD player it's so obviously a transitional technology that I can't imagine spending money on something that plays it.

rhhardin said...

I did six long swaths cutting across the backyard with a scythe, five left to go. I'll do those tomorrow.

The grass tops are in their sudden-seeding growth spurt, rising a couple of feet overnight, which makes it fun to cut. A hayfield motif.

It probably grows faster than bamboo in that stage.

gilbar said...

He made it to chapter 2?
The START of chapter 2?

Makes you wonder how far he would have made it, if he didn't have his rule?

rhhardin said...

The hazard of cutting with a scythe is the thin coax leading to the antenna pole in the middle of the backyard. The cable hides and is easy to cut (See splicing coaxial cable without using connectors on youtube. Involves a soldering iron, wire stripper and black electrical tape. The soldering iron involves a portable generator).

Tank said...

I enjoyed that book and I finished it.

Ann Althouse said...

"Is Murakami a technology early adopter? I had to look up MD player it's so obviously a transitional technology that I can't imagine spending money on something that plays it."

On page 15, he says he sticks with his MD player even though there are iPods now. He's used to it and "At this point I don't want to mix music and computers. Just like it's not good to mix friends and work, and sex."

I think "not good to mix friends and work, and sex" is ambiguous. Does he mean not good to mix friends and work also not goo to mix friends and sex? Or does he not good to mix friends and work and not good to mix friends and sex? What possible rule about commas could possibly explain the one before "and sex"?

Laslo Spatula said...

The excerpt sounds like "American Psycho" without the Psycho part.

I am Laslo.

Ann Althouse said...

Murakami wrote the book in Japanese. Someone else translated.

Unknown said...

Blogger rhhardin said...
(See splicing coaxial cable without using connectors on youtube. Involves a soldering iron, wire stripper and black electrical tape. The soldering iron involves a portable generator).

Butane soldering irons are cheap and effective. A generator is a bit silly.

eddie willers said...

Anyone who listens to Carla Thomas and Otis Redding is OK [old meaning] in my book.

Kevin said...

I like the humor of asserting you're a "staunch advocate" of something and then proceeding to do complete opposite.

We get a dose of this every time our media goes on about demanding transparency and their role in communicating the truth.

Rob said...

After investing way too much time in 1Q84, I swore off Murakami. It may be his other books have more of a payoff, but I’m old and can’t take the risk.

Henry said...

I love Murakami's books and am bemused by the way he breaks a rule of writing that every other writer wields like Mjolnir to smash down the amateurs: don't describe the mundane.

Murakami continually describes the mundane. He loves to describe his characters making dinner. Sometimes breakfast. The number of cigarettes and cans of beer is enumerated as if for an expense report. Yet it never slows down the story. With Murakami, the drumbeat of plot plot plot that characterizes modern fiction is barely present. It's more an occasional glug. The plot develops underwater, as his characters meander about in surface confusion. And yet the plot, when it surfaces, is as complex and fully formed as Moby Dick his big damn self.

Fernandistein said...

Completing a book no matter how unenjoyable the experience may be.

I seem to recall that one of Garrison Keilor's books was the first book I didn't finish, but that's probably not true.

But it's dumb to finish a book just because you started reading it. Does it count if you read the cover? Cuz then you're in trouble.

Fernandistein said...

The excerpt vindicates the one-star reviewer.

It sounds like "The Diary of Some Stupid Guy". I enjoyed one of Murakami's books, read another one, and gave up on a third. All done.

Hagar said...

I recently bought "A World Lit Only By Fire" by William Manchester thinking it would be about the different world our ancestors lived in without electric lights, clocks accurate to the minute or less, etc., and so forth, and how this would affect how they thought and lived, but it turned out to be just a long jeremiad about how the 16th century did not conform to the romantic pictures imagined by 21st century liberals, so I quit reading halfway through.

I do not believe life actually was that dreadful in past ages. If it had been, I do not see how the human race would have survived.

I also just read about the terrible living conditions in New York City immigrant tenements a hundred years and more ago. But, if life there was so terrible, why did they not just keep walking until they found a better place?
The author says that after fairly short ocean voyages by steamship became possible, a lot of Italian immigrants would stay maybe half of the year in NYC when the garment industry was busy and then return home for the other half. If so, they obviously had money for the trip both ways and, if NYC was so bad after trying it, would they not just have stayed in Italy on their return? Or gone somewhere else if Italy was that bad?

MayBee said...

Hagar said...I do not believe life actually was that dreadful in past ages. If it had been, I do not see how the human race would have survived.

I agree! I think it is terrible in comparison to the luxuries we have now-- I mean, we imagine it would have been terrible. But to them it was modern, it was full of love and laughter and friends and hardships just like life now.

Henry said...

And ended so much sooner!

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

A. I actually enjoyed that book, and B. I prefer reading with respect to Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl's dictum that life is too short and books are too numerous to read past 50 pages of a book one is not enjoying. If you are past the age of 50, subtract your age from 100 and give it that many pages before you move on.

I keep lists of the books I've read, separated by fiction and nonfiction, and also a list of Books Tried and Found Wanting.

Fernandistein said...

I enjoyed one of Murakami's books, read another one, and gave up on a third. All done.

He has a unique and interesting feel, "a great deal of space within the writing", but "novelty wears away".

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I should start a list of books that I finished reading for book club, so I'd be prepared for the discussion, but hated.

Like Water for Elephants
The Help
The Time Traveller's Wife

rcocean said...

Reviewers for Good reads can be very good or very bad. Some of them are very self-involved and give the most absurd reasons for liking or disliking a book. Too many of the reviews start with "As a XXX," which is always a tip off for idiocy. My favorite stupid "Good reads" review so far is some young chick who gave a survivors eyewitness book on the "Bataan Death March" one-star because it was "racist" against the Japanese Guards. I kid you not.


stevew said...

"Completing a book no matter how unenjoyable the experience may be."

I did this until about 20 or so years ago. I was reading one of Stephen King's Dark Tower books (may have been the third) and realized I was reading the words but thinking about other stuff, such as projects and chores I had planned. It occurred to me then that I was wasting my time. So I stopped.

Now, if a book doesn't capture my interest early I bail. As for the book club thing, I have never been in one, they sound tedious and boring, and the book choice is a committee affair. Yuck. Mom-in-law is a huge fan, though I get the sense she pretty much runs that show, dictator style.

Ken B said...

I no longer finish dull books. I always finished them when I was younger, but I am wiser now. And know about Dune.

This to me is a big plus for nonfiction. Give up on a novel halfway through and it seems a complete waste. Give up on a history halfway through and it doesn’t.

Unknown said...

I was 20 when I first failed to finishing reading a book I started. It was the "Anthology of Socialist Humanism." When I am inclined to look back with embarrassment on a misspent youth, I can grant myself minor exculpation: this I may have been, and that's bad; that I might have done, and that's bad, but by action and identity I was not so bad as I might have been, for ... I tossed the Anthology of Socialist Humanism a quoit's distance away.

Fen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fen said...

The dissatisfied reviewer continues

I like this. He/she approaches the book like a predator to prey. "You're going to be read cover to cover and you'll like it! No matter how boring, how uninteresting, you will NOT succeed in your attempt to frustrate me into tossing you across the room, nor will I succumb to your ruse to lull me into an afternoon nap!"

Bob Sprowl said...

I have a list of most of the books I have read since 1990.

Books I cannot finish because they are horrible get a grade of F.

Why waste time with a book you hate when there are so many good books?

Bob

Bob Sprowl said...

I have a list of most of the books I have read since 1990.

Books I cannot finish because they are horrible get a grade of F.

Why waste time with a book you hate when there are so many good books?

Bob

Bob Sprowl said...

I have a list of most of the books I have read since 1990.

Books I cannot finish because they are horrible get a grade of F.

Why waste time with a book you hate when there are so many good books?

Bob

Fen said...

Why waste time with a book you hate when there are so many good books?

MST3K

Fen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fen said...

Some books and movies are so bad that they go around the model and become accidentally entertaining.

I still remember an funny alien scifi. Their special effects were so bad that the damsel in distress had to pause her screaming to grab the alien tentacle and wrap it back around her waist.

tcrosse said...

Das Leben ist zu kurz, um schlechten B├╝cher zu lesen

wildswan said...

If a lot of people have really enjoyed a book which I hate, I try it out again every ten years or so to see if I've had some life experience which makes the book enjoyable. But the attempts seem to show how remarkably stable my identity has been since I was ten and sneaked David Copperfield off the shelf to read it because everyone said it was a bad book; and liked it a lot. Ever since I've liked long books with many characters, many locations, many sub plots. However the characters have to have just one name which eliminates all Russian novels and always has. The locations cannot be a room in Boston and then a room in London followed by a gutter in Paris and then by suicide which eliminates Henry James and 19C realistic French novels. And recent novels are simply unbearable. Some dread secret or past event is to be uncovered, Oh so slowly, with accompanying sighs, tears, destroyed lives, blight. The only question is how inventive is the author about the buried event and the exhumation process. Ghetto plus incest; father abandons child to be failed artist, mother is unhappy. I can't get myself to care. It's the tone. I know NPR if I hear two syllables as I scan on the car radio and I know emotional-wallowing-novel even when it's wearing a flat emotionless covering. I used to read the end of lefty novels to see if they got what was coming to them but now I don't care. So I've closed many books. We should all have less on our plates.

Michael said...

Love Murakami and really enjoyed the book. But then I am A runner myself. Why would anyone bang on about a book he clearly did not read. Or understand. Murakami’s brilliant in describing the mundane, the routine, the dullness of his character’s lives and in this case his own. But that is life isn’t it, a step after another step, another meal consumed, another beer drunk another piece of Liszt heard? His writing is intentionally musical as he has written. Some jazz. Some rock. Some classical. Fused. If you have traveled in Japan or Hawaii or Boston, the places he has run and the places his characters inhabit you will see how the tone is always exactly right.

Unknown said...

I used to finish a book no matter what, but now I realize it is a non-monetary example of the sunk cost fallacy.

Narr said...

Sunk costs, exactly. I was puritanical about books--MUST FINISH--for many years but I got over it. Given that whole genres and many authors are on my avoid list already, why worry about not finishing a particular one?

I can't tell you how often some well-meaning friend would want to give me his beloved copy of that Pirsig book about Zen and motorcycles. I would fall off first thing, every time. (What in the name of pete was that book supposed to tell me?)

Narr
Ten or twenty pages for fiction, I'm easier on nonfiction

Sebastian said...

"I find this review super-quotable, because it doesn't say anything specific about this book."

This post needs a Pierre Bayard tag. This review is child's play compared to (his discussion of) Paul Valery holding forth on Proust and Anatole France.

John Lynch said...

Quit a book, don't feel bad. Unless it's one of mine and you are reading on Kindle Unlimited.

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