9 Authors And/Or Books I’ve Struggled To Get Into:
(Note: All works listed below were marketed for adult readers as opposed to the YA market.)
Years ago, I had a teacher, one of my favorite English teachers ever actually, who said that she gave a book fifty pages before she decided to continue or discard it. Throughout my adult reading life, I’ve attempted to keep that idea in mind as I am an admitted fickle reader and don’t want to give up on a book accidentally too soon. However, there have been books and authors, fifty pages, less or more, with whom I have had experiences to rival Herakles’s 12 Labors. Below, you’ll find a list of 9 authors and/or books that I’ve scuffled with and why. If I’ve listed any of your favorites, please comment with why they worked for you! Happy reading! ☺
1. Jane Austen
: I am a feminist, I have a Master’s degree in English, and I cannot finish a single Austen novel. I’ve tried Pride and Prejudice. I purposefully bought a copy of Northanger Abbey after I savored another author’s poignant and amusing analysis of it. Yet, I get to about page twenty in each, and this non-napper wants to take an extra-long doze. It’s not Austen’s writing style. Two of my areas of academic specialty are sixteenth and seventeenth century literature, so I’m familiar with and appreciate much older works. It’s likely the characters. For example, any time I’ve watched an adaptation of P&P in particular, I’ve found myself more invested in Elizabeth’s sisters and any other male not named Darcy and their story arcs. I don’t know if I’ll attempt Austen again any time soon, but if I do, I’ll try not to let my copy fall into a lake.
2. David Sedaris:
Slightly similar to my issue with author Faith Hunter below, I’d read Sedaris’s essay on working as a Macy’s elf, “Santaland Diaries,” at least five times and laughed at least five times; it was witty. So, a few years ago, I finally purchased Holidays on Ice, the collection that includes “Santaland Diaries.” I knew I already got a kick out of the one essay and most of the other essays took place during the holidays, which I have a fondness for reading about. About a day later, I placed it on my bottom shelf, the shelf that I usually reserve for books I won’t be re-reading. Outside of “Santaland Diaries,” not a single essay stayed with me, and the humor in a few of them felt not-quite cruel but not-quite clever on the other hand. Since I know his humor can click for me, I’m willing to give another work of his a chance, but I may be taking a mental seat in the back row at his show.
3. Stephen King:
How many shelves does it take to shelve all of Stephen King’s oeuvre? Probably at least half the science fiction/fantasy section of a one-level Barnes and Noble. With so many options, you’d think I’d have found one that clicked for me. At this time, I’ve tried Carrie, The Dark Tower, and his memoir, On Writing. With the last title, I felt misled. For a memoir that’s a classic in creative writing, I didn’t need to know that much about his childhood (not to dismiss it, but not what I wanted to be told about). With the other two, the plots just didn’t gel for me, and in the case of Carrie, I felt the dialog and situations read as very outdated. I’ve read the backs of many of King’s other works, and I’ve mostly felt alienated. Then again, alienation and isolation are horror tropes…
4. Anne Rice:
Anne Rice should work for me. Vampires are one of my favorite supernatural creatures (okay, not that original on my part). Her Lestat, a vampire, is a rock musician in the modern age. Some of Rice’s works also take place in New Orleans, a city I’ve always been intrigued by (probably started when my mom would read to me Cendrillon: A Cajun Cinderella when I was little). But, after almost two decades of trying to read her work, I think the farthest I’ve gotten is reading Queen of the Damned listed on repeat on the Syfy channel. What may not have worked for me so far is her world building. I don’t feel a connection to her mythology. Her supernatural world seems too implied, too distant. Furthermore, I couldn’t suspend disbelief when it came to the relationships between her characters; they seemed forced. And when it came to her historical fiction work, like Feast of All Saints and Cry to Heaven, I felt overwhelmed with details but not connected enough to the characters’ ordeals. After so many years and at least half a dozen books undertaken, her vampire and non-vampire fiction may be, for me, completely six feet under.
5. Jeffrey Eugenides:
When I was in college, it seemed that every other woman in the arts was listing Eugenides’s first novel, The Virgin Suicides, as one of her favorite books. For me, I remember attempting The Virgin Suicides and being woefully astounded that the same author who’d written Middlesex, the daring novel featuring Callie/Cal, an intersex Greek individual who finds out more than many would ever expect to be in his or her family history, had written this angsty dreck. Over a decade later, I picked up Eugenides’s third novel, The Marriage Plot, hoping for that Middlesex magic. Strike two. Just like with V.S., I found The Marriage Plot to be pedantic, using too coy caricatures instead of characters. I haven’t picked up Eugenides’s recent collection of short stories as I think, for me, he may be a one-hit wonder.
6. The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III:
The premise of Dubus’s novel seemed to be reminiscent of an early seasons episode of CSI. It centers around April, a single mother in Miami, FL who’s dejectedly stripping, whose daughter, Franny, is kidnapped. At this same time, one of April’s customers, Bassam, will become quite connected to 9/11. Bassam’s story, April’s story, and AJ the unplanned kidnapper’s story smash into one another in provocative manners. Or so the back of the book leads you to believe. I managed to get through the first 250 pages of its 500+ before I clicked out of my Kindle. Dubus’s plot stopped and started. When it focused on April and/or Bassam, it was absorbing, and I had to find out what happened next, but when it switched to AJ’s (third-person still) point-of-view, I felt like each page took hours. By describing certain things that have happened in AJ’s marital life, Dubus attempts to establish sympathy for AJ and a reason behind why he continues with the kidnapping. But, I found his explanations jarring, AJ, a pathetic heel, and wished he had just focused on April and Bassam. It would have made for a more succinct story.
7. Dune by Frank Herbert:
My relationship to Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic feels like a speed date. During our initial five minutes, we really seem to match. It’s been compared to the Lord of the Rings in terms of legacy—I love the Lord of the Rings. It involves complex religious and political structures—Haven’t lost me yet, reminds me somewhat of The Left Hand of Darkness, one of my top sci-fi novels. The narrator-of-sorts is a woman who’s a historian—I’ve worked in research! Unfortunately, somewhere around page one hundred, I get lost out in the desert of Arrakis with the Fremen. Honestly, I’m not sure why. I find the characters and plot engaging, but maybe we’d have worked better if we’d met under different circumstances.
8. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle:
In my last Paperback Beaches post, I mentioned I have a soft spot for unicorns in fantasy fiction. A natural hypothesis would be if I like unicorns, then there’s a high chance that I adore Peter S. Beagle’s classic unicorn masterpiece. Unfortunately, the results obtained would have to read Hypothesis Failed. While in my embarrassingly many ventures I’ve appreciated Beagle’s storyline, and his introduction of the Red Bull’s history with the unicorns is rather haunting, his language throw me off. Language grounds a story, lets readers know where they are in terms of time, place, and tone, and I’ve never quite been able to grasp all of Beagle’s world. I want to, though, so either this summer or next, I plan on taking up my next quest for The Last Unicorn.
9. Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter:
Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series (first book, Skinwalker) is an interesting reading phenomenon for me. I read her first trilogy, the Rogue Mage series, about an angelic and demonic post-apocalyptic America and found it fascinating albeit at times overflowing with plot. After reading that, I went on to read the first two books in her Jane Yellowrock series, which follows the supernatural adventures of the eponymous protagonist, an American Indian skinwalker. Therefore, it would follow that I would continue with the rest. I haven’t. I think this may be a case where I find the lead character, Jane, thought-provoking, but the secondary characters kind of dull whereas in the Rogue Mage series, I was invested not only in Thorn, the protagonist, but her friends and her ex-husband. Because of my literary affection for the Rogue Mage series, I haven’t written off the Jane Yellowrock series and would be intrigued to see how the series has transformed over the course of the rest of the books.