Friday, September 30, 2005

BOOKS: How Come No One Ever Talks About READER'S Block?

Why do writers get all the pity? They get the slightest bit stalled, and suddenly they're crying all over the place. And they even give their predicament a name: writer's block. Like it's a psychiatric syndrome or something.

Boo-frickin-hoo. Hey, Writer Boy. Your mama just called, and she said to tell you your bottle's ready.

Well, what about us readers? No one gives any thought to the problem of being a mildly compulsive person who's blocked in their ability to finish a book, and how psychologically detrimental this is. And how about giving it a cool name? Literary lethargy? Reader's remorse? Fiction fantods? Er, maybe I'll keep working on that.

I've been stalled on page 92 of The Kite Runner for more than five months. I've managed to read twenty-four other books since then (yes, I counted; see comment above re: mild compulsiveness), but I just can't pick up The Kite Runner again
. I know it's supposed to be a good book; everyone keeps telling me that, and I do like what I've read so far. But ever since [SPOILER] Hassan was raped [/SPOILER] I can't get over the dread that keeps me from resuming reading it.

It gets better, right? I don't need a trite happy ending, but I need a glimpse of sunshine through the clouds. Can someone whose read this book throw me a bone? Or at least some tales of commiseration about your own literary Waterloo? I'm having self-esteem issues.

21 comments:

Kate said...

The Kite Runner was one of those books for me too - except that I just read the first three pages and then put it down about 20 times. Finally I plowed through it in about a day and a half, and even though it was haunting and intense and awful, I really loved it. It's worth reading, even when you, well, can't.

Marie said...

Oh, man. That was me with Beloved. I got through the really, really bad chapter, cried myself sick and decided to fake my way through any exam questions that covered the second half of the book. Just...no. frickin'. way.

So, yeah. I've been there too :)

Trey said...

Oh lawdy. I'm have terminal reader's block. Jane Eyre? Pride and Prejudice? On the Road? All the Pretty Horses? All were excellent reads that I just couldn't finish and they're still just sitting at home. Waiting. Plotting.

Funnily enough, though, I just finished The Kite Runner a few minutes ago. I'm reading it for a class and I was supposed to have it done earlier today so I skipped the class because I didn't want the ending ruined and yeah. If and when you do finish it, you are going to cry.

Trey said...

Oh, but there are nicer parts too. And then other sad parts. And then nicer parts and more sad. It's just...just read it. Please.

Kate said...

The Once and Future King did that to me when I was a kid. I can't remember much about the story anymore, but at some point I just found it all too sad to go on. I put it on the shelf ten years ago and I've never been able to go back. There's still a balsa-wood flyer kit stuck between the pages as a bookmark. To this day it's the only book I've left unfinished.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. Plot Against America and Ulyses are currently doing that to me and it took me 5 years to get through a book on the Nurmeburg Trials. Problem is that I am a tad compulsive; once I start a book, I have to finish it -- even if it takes me YEARS. As for the Kite Runner, I've heard its supposed to be an amazing read but someone I work with came into my office after they read it spewing their oral book report and spoiling the plot. Good luck muddling through!

landismom said...

I have a really hard time leaving any book unfinished, but recently, I had to admit that Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders had utterly defeated me. You know how when you read Russian novels you need a scorecard to keep track of the characters? (just me then? 'kay) It was like that, only ten times worse. Sorry, Jane, this one's going on the shelf undone.

restlessly said...

I was reading that book on the train, and at that part which you mentioned I cried. While reading it on the train.

I know how you feel, from that moment on I found it difficult to get on reading the book because I found it too painful. There are other sad moments in the book too, but there are other good moments as well. I was a bit conflicted at the end about the book. Wrote about it here.

Meredith said...

I read this on vacation (poor choice, I know) and wished I saved it for home. It's awfully pathetic trying not to cry on the beach. It is a fantastic book though. I highly reccommend that you finish it.

Anonymous said...

I was the exact same way with "Outlander." The first partr was so boring I almost regretted buying it but once i slogged through it it was sooo worth it! A lot of books are like that, I think. Maybe it's because writers have a tough time getting started. I dunno...

tornadia said...

After reading a number of heavy, dismal, life-disaffirming books last spring, I asked my local librarian for a well-written but lighthearted novel. She steered me to "Cold Mountain." At the first description of tormented battlefield hospital death by gangrene I threw it across the room and never went back.

Anonymous said...

What a relief; I've been somewhere in the 20's of Kite Runner since March. Everyone's telling me how great it is, but I keep reaching for anything else. (And I'm not even at an especially depressing part yet.)

Michael said...

Really do finish it. It's really quite something.

Books I couldn't finish? Oh, they are legion: "Motherless Brooklyn," "All the King's Men," "A Fine Balance," "Cloudstreet," and a Benjamin Franklin biography that I really liked, took to the Canadian Rockies with me and got sidetracked by "The Master and Margarita" and "The Guns of August" and "A Moveable Feast" (On your recommendation, by the way, many thanks for that) and just never got back to it. But stuff comes up and...yeah.

girlfiend said...

That book is such a downer. I finished it against my better judgement. Sure it was beautifully written, but who needs to read about that?

I cannot get past the first 100 pages of Infinite Jest. My friends all tell me I'll love it, but I've started and stalled at least three times.

Adrian said...

I've never read The Kite Runner, but I am having dreadful reader's block over Neil Gaiman's American Gods. It's sitting next to my bed, half-finished, and I just don't know when I'll get to the rest of it. It's a wonderful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first half--and yet, well... Hmm. I find this reader's block kind of ironic: I'm a writer and I know about this writer's block of which you speak (it's no fun). Getting stalled reading, though, feels like a real problem. Reading should be easy, something you don't need special skills to carry off, something you've been doing since you were a little kid. You do it without even thinking about it. So why isn't it happening with this particular book? I've got an Italo Calvino novel stuck at about two-thirds read, too, also driving me bats.

Michael: Cloudstreet is worth persevering with. It's got no real plot, and it's really just a bunch of episodes in the lives of these two families, but it's a marvellous book. I'm a Western Australian, like the author, and I know the locations and places described in the book. Gives it a strange charge reading about your own town.

girlfriend: I did finish Infinite Jest. I did pretty much nothing else for about two months, and just blasted through the damn thing. It needs cutting in about half, but I would not want to be the one having to decide where to cut. Individually all the bits are great; as a whole the thing tends to wallow. The footnotes at the end, all 100 pages of tiny-fine print, add a lot to the narrative, too. It's a book I've decided to love (if that makes sense), but I want to keep it at arm's length, too.

Anonymous said...

I could not for the life of me finish Atlas Shrugged. It just got too tedious. I think it's the only book I've ever given up on.

Gill said...

I am having this problem right now with Gulliver's Travels. It's really too bad, because I dig the book like nothing else, but when I started reading it in the summer, I read it only at night, in bed. Now that I'm in that habit, it's hard to break, and bedtime is now reserved for school reading only. Le sigh.

Shirt Lifter Bear said...

There's this tragic suffering/torture vein in recent fantasy that just guts me, and makes it impossible for me to finish a book (or series):

Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series... kink is usually fine by me (wink), but extended scenes of frankly gratuitous abuse? No thankee.

George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones... Rape, murder, torture, laming, and the death of most of the initial characters in the first book... gee, this is fun! Pass.

Robin Hobb's Assassin Apprentice series... see above.

Counterpoint: Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest Road) may have scenes that make me cry every single freakin' time I reread them (I'm looking at you, Diarmuid and at you, Kim), but the pain and suffering is always paid off, ALWAYS. Character-motivated, plot-driving, tissue-requiring.

I've been nagged extensively by old friends to read Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series, but I live in fear of the darkness I feel lurking within its covers. The first book's been sitting on my bedside table for months. Reader's block? More a phobia.

Can't we all just get along? I don't mind darkness, but please, for the love of the Gods, throw me a bone, a ray of light, a New Hope, some-damn-thing.

Feh.

Shirt Lifter Bear<---off to watch BBC's Pride & Prejudice again. So there.

Tracy said...

"House of Sand and Fog" was the one for me. I read the last chapter with one hand over my eyes and the book at arm's length.

Tragic and depressing. You could see the train wreck a mile away. And then they made it a movie? No thanks!

BB said...

I did this with The Scarlet Letter the first time I read it; later, when someone gave me the good advice to skip over the customs house chapter, the book went much better.

A similar thing happened to me with Les Miserables, which I still haven't finished ... in that case, Waterloo was literal as well as metaphorical.

And at the point in Gone With the Wind where Margaret Mitchell waxes poetic on the merits of the KKK as a necessary defense of Southern womanhood, I decided I was all done with that book.

Mama Mojo said...

Tender is the Night is also one of my all time favorite books.

If you can't finish a book, there's no harm done. Why feel guilty if it wasn't the book for you? How many books are there in the world? Just because it's a classic, or a best seller doesn't say anything. If a bevy of critics and professors say that it's one of the greatest books, apart of the cannon, well, does that mean you should force yourself to finish it?

You'll fall into passionate love with a few books. Others won't suit your fancy. Try putting a book on a back shelf for ten years. Maybe you'll rediscover it someday when you've run out of things to read, and wonder why it took you so long to appreciate it. But don't be afraid to give the book up completely. Give it to someone, or donate it when you move. You won't miss it, but your quest for a great read will always continue.

Happy reading!