Friday, September 1, 2017

For Serious Book Aversion Sufferers

This post is for serious book aversion sufferers. Like me. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suffering from a serious aversion to books. But from an aversion to serious books, if you follow me. I simply can't settle into reading anything that mires me in apparently insoluble problems. Or awakens feelings and fears that I thought long buried. 

Take, for instance, this latest book we read for my book club. 


cover art for Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior
Barbara Kingsolver's 2012 book, Flight Behavior is by all accounts a wonderful book. A serious book. And beautifully written. Everyone at our book club agreed. And the reviews I read concurred. 

It's a book about climate change, about monarch butterflies, about scientific catastrophe reimagined as some sort of godly miracle, and about poverty. Not just financial poverty, but also about poverty of the mind, and of the imagination. 

Liz Jensen in The Guardian says it is a book for our time. For a world that seems to be "stumbling wilfully blind towards the abyss" brought on by catastrophic climate change. In her review Jensen talks about the themes which Kingsolver explores, not only in this book but in previous ones like Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible, themes of the struggle between faith and science, between "belief-versus-evidence," and the tragedy of willfully "deaf ears and blind eyes." Referring to a scene in the novel in which Dellarobia, the main character, saves a new born lamb in a violent and disturbing, but ultimately necessary, manner, Jensen extrapolates: "...only a shocking, harrowing solution - a paradigm shift of radical proportions -  will offer any solution," not just to the newborn lamb but also to our planet. You can read Liz Jensen's entire review here.

endangered monarch butterflies in Mexico
Endangered Monarch butterflies in Mexico   photo by Edgard Garrido- Reuters 
So given the devastating floods we witnessed when we were in Peru this past winter. Given the equally catastrophic flooding in South Asia happening right now. And the chaos wrought by Harvey in the United States. Given all this, it seems that Kingsolver's book has an even more urgent message than it did in 2012. But I could not get past chapter four. No matter that it was beautifully written. Despite Kingsolver's gritty, lean prose that evokes so clearly the time and place, I just couldn't force myself to read it. And maybe, now that I think of it, that's because Kingsolver's gritty lean prose evokes so clearly the main character's life at the beginning of the novel. Because, when I was young, Dellarobia's life is what I feared most might happen to me. 

Dellarobia is a young intelligent woman who has thrown her life away. Or so it seemed to me when I started reading. Pregnant, married young in a "shot-gun wedding," stuck in a loveless marriage, with two small children and no job, on a struggling family farm with unsympathetic in-laws, gossipy neighbours, and no hope of escape. And no conception of how to make her life better. Or richer. And I don't mean just financially. That, my friends, is the very stuff of my teenage nightmares. Being stuck. In a life circumscribed by obligation and poverty. Almost makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it. 

I was a bit surprised by my visceral reaction to this novel. I thought all that was dead and buried. And maybe it was, just not that deeply. I was pleased and relieved when my friends at book club told me the book was ultimately hopeful. That Dellarobia does escape. That she has her own metamorphosis. Phew. Thank goodness. And yet even knowing that, I doubt I will go back and finish the book, although I probably should. Because, as I've said here on the blog before, when I turned sixty, I vowed to stop feeling guilty about so many "shoulds." Especially when it comes to finishing books that I don't want to finish. 

So, then what is the cure for my serious book aversion? Why, trot that serious book that I don't want to read right back to the library, my friends. And come home with a new book that I've been waiting to read for months. And a DVD of a quirky little mystery series filmed in New Zealand. 


Elly Griffiths novel The Chalk Pit, and The Brokenwood Mysteries DVD

My name has been on the "holds" list for Elly Griffiths' new Ruth Galloway novel for months. I'm looking forward to starting it. And Hubby and I have been enjoying binge watching The Brokenwood Mysteries. Set in small town New Zealand, the humor is wry, the plots not too gruesome or violent, and the country music soundtrack eminently satisfying. Especially since most of  the music in Season 1 is provided by Canadian ex-pat Tami Neilson, who, to me, is a cross between Patsy Cline and Roseanne Cash. Can't go wrong with that according to this New Brunswick girl. Have a listen.




And while you're doing that, I'm going to go and finish my closet inventory. I've some jeans and a couple of blouses that are not going to survive this season's cull. I'll be wrapping them up to take over to my friend Fiona's consignment store. And I need to finish my "needs/wants" list. I have one item on my to-buy list so far. An item that, if I can find it, will pull a number of disparate pieces in my wardrobe together. And give me that perfect, easy, pull on and feel fiercely fabulous every time outfit. Hopefully.  

Sigh. There's nothing like a little closet-culling and list-making to pull one out of serious book aversion syndrome. You know, where you understand that a book has merit, that the issues and themes are important. But which you just don't want to think about. At least not right now. You're not putting your head in the sand. Or willfully blinding yourself to the facts and the consequences. You're just saying, "Not today." 

And trying not to feel guilty about your ability to be able to say that. 




So, what about you, my friends? Any serious books that you've given up on lately? Or are you more persistent than me? Maybe you don't cull your closet as therapy. Or maybe you do. If so, what's on your list for fall? 



Linking up with: Saturday Share and Thursday Favourite Things.

36 comments:

  1. I get it about the book; it resonated a little too well with me too. I ended up loving it, but then I love just about everything Barbara Kingsolver ever wrote. Her writing itself just sucks me in. Thanks for the mention of the Brokenwood Mysteries - I just put them in my Netflix queue.
    Janie

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    1. My book club buddies assured me that if I persisted I'd love it too. Maybe another time ... been a pretty angsty summer and I'm only in the mood for light stuff.

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  2. I used to love Kingsolver's writing, the first few books, but they've become too purposeful to me with her more recent titles, and I find myself bristling or impatient.
    Of serious books lately, I loved Madeleine Thien's Don't Say We Have Nothing, but struggled with the biting satire of Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, so damning of global capitalism, the resultant poverty and environmental destruction. This was relieved or mitigated somewhat by brilliantly rich story-telling, and a wild energy, an honouring of eccentricities -- and of chaos, for that matter.
    Since finishing those two, I'm indulging in a few mysteries. It's all about the balance, right? And sometimes, a little escape into a good murder (!!) is just what we need. . .

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    1. I think she is a wonderful stylist. But I really didn't like Poisonwood Bible at all. Although I finished it. I was much younger than and more prone to guilt:)
      I've heard others say the same thing about Roy's latest book. Balance is good, I agree. Sometimes I wish I could magic Barbara Pym back to life to produce a few more books:)

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  3. Oh,so that's a name of the (game) maladie I'm suffering from :-)?
    I used to finish all the books I've started before (not any more,as I said ),but there was one book I tried to read,really wanted to finish,for three,four times and just couldn't,there was something,even now mysterious to me!
    I could understand your subconscious feelings very well,for almost everyone of us, there is something like that or something else
    Vesna Krmpotic's The Hill Above the Clouds (not translated on english) was one of them- from primordial fear of loosing a baby. It is ,nevertheless,a beautiful book
    Recently,Mo Yan's Frog was a book with a theme very odious to me,but I finished it(and it is one of the reasons I will wait a while before starting Don't say we have nothing)
    I did a little organizing of my closet,together with sunbathing of my wardrobe (like one third of it,than it was too much sun)
    On my list are ankle boots and black trousers of some sort-have to think about styling ankle lenght trousers (if not skinny!) with ankle boots,something just doesn't feel right,except when I stand still. When I sit or walk....no!
    And today I'm going to buy classic black Adidas track pants
    Dottoressa

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    1. Ankle length trousers with ankle boots. I've tried and tried that. Only when I bought my Stuart Weitzman's last fall did it work for me. They are a bit higher and narrow enough at the top that pant lag still falls over the boot.
      Sunbathing your wardrobe? Wearing them in the sun or hanging on the clothesline?
      P.S. I've ordered a pair of Adidas track pants on-line from Aritzia. They've not arrived yet. So we'll see if they fit.

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    2. Every year during summer,on a clear sunny day (not too hot,as was this summer,because I don't think it is good for colours) I take all my wardrobe on a balcony(about one third at the time),lighter clothes on clothesline (shirts on hangers,sweaters unfold),heavier on the balustrade (first,I wash the balustrade :-)). I leave clothes there for a couple of hours (I usually clean the shelves,review the other things....)
      It is connected with summer cleaning of closets and wardrobe (and was performed during spring before,when I changed winter to summer wardrobe,washing and getting dry cleaned everything-but weather get crazy,so I rarely have enough time and perfect weather on the same day)
      It is perfect for thorough cleaning and curating of the wardrobe,prevention of the moths (they hate sunbathing :-)) and deciding what goes back. Everything smells fresh (and I put lavender bags ,too)
      Same minds....:-). I've bought my classic Adidas trackpants yesterday (70%cotton),straight,they are M wide,L long , but extended model-I'm sure it would work for you,too (maybe even S wide,because I was settling between these two)-they might be even men's,because when the salesman asked,I've said that they only have to fit perfectly
      Yes,ankle pants go excellent with your SW's boots
      D.

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    3. We'd call that "airing"... great idea. I do it for my winter quilts etc but must try it with my sweaters and jackets before I pack them away.

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  4. I'm not sure I can contribute to a discussion on serious books . I've learnt that cruelty & injustice especially drag me down . Not that I live in a pink fluffy world , I keep up with the news & my voluntary work with the local animal rescue is very real . So I guess I read to escape reality & always have , even as a child . Perhaps this links in with Frances's current post on over thinking .
    Two books I've enjoyed recently are The Boston girl by Anita Diamant & Brooklyn by Colm Toibin , both based on early immigration to the U.S. So quite a serious subject but not 'serious' books ?
    Wendy in York

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    1. I forgot to say in my post hat I have Their Finest Hour and a Half waiting for me at the library. I ordered it after you recommended it in your comment on a previous book post.

      With respect to England. Our plans are finalized now. In our second go-round with our schedule we tried to squeeze in York, but it was not to be. We will however be at Chatsworth for two nights (Oct 16 and 17.) And we're taking your advice and staying a night in Bakewell (Oct 18) heading back to near London on Oct 19. I know that's not very near you, but if you find yourself in the Peake District and want to meet up, Elizabeth and I would be chuffed. Ha. Always wanted to use that word:)

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    2. Hope you enjoy the book . Re your visit , yes it would be great to meet up . I'm trying to decide whether it would be simpler for me to get the train to London & see you both there . I'll give it some thought .
      Wendy

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  5. Yes I totally get it but still feel a little guilty about my unwillingness to persevere with a worthy book. Sometimes it's just too much hard work and work and life in general provide me with enough obligations. Just recently my reading has consisted of many easy options including Martin Walker's Bruno books, "murder lite" set in the south of France. Enjoy Ellie Griffiths latest. Have read them all since discovering her via your blog. As for my wardrobe I've got as far as reading a few fashion magazines. I look forward to hearing more about yours. Iris

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    1. "Murder lite"... but well written...sounds good.

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  6. Hi Sue...... I will look into Elly Griffiths' book. Sounds interesting. My reading style has changed over the years. I enjoy "murder lite" (per Iris) books. The same with what I watch nowadays on Netflix. British mysteries work for me!
    The Brokenwood Mysteries, I started watching on "Knowledge network.ca"
    I purchased a puffy coat (not quite to my knees) for the fall. I'm going for comfort and so cozy!
    Have a good weekend.
    Robin T

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    1. Hope you like the Elly Griffiths book, Robin. My favourite kind of book is a mystery that deals with a serious issue, has engaging characters, and yet doesn't sink into gruesomely horrific images. That's why I gave up on Stuart McBride. Too much blood.

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  7. I recently ditched The Gathering by Anne Enright and earlier this summer I left the last ten pages of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness unread. I used to be meticulous about finishing books - I'm picky about what I start reading, so reading to the end felt like an obligation that justified my choice in the first place. No more! I do my best to select books I believe to be worthy of my time/interest, but if I'm proven wrong I accept it and move on. I just completed Amor Towles' first book, Rules of Civility, which disappointed me - his second book, A Gentleman in Moscow, was my favourite book of the summer. Oh well - win some/lose some!

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    1. I think it was you who mentioned The Ministry of Utmost Happiness before. I knew that someone else had struggled with that book. You're right.. win some, lose some.

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  8. I find so much to be sad and upset about in the real world that seeking out more in fiction doesn't work for me. I'm firmly on the side of well written but not depressing novels.

    ceci

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  9. I used to feel obligated to finish every book I started, but no more. Life's too short and I no longer feel guilty about putting a book aside if it doesn't capture my interest or if it bothers me too much. I agree... not a head in the sand approach, but simply prioritizing my time.

    I haven't started my closet cull yet, but it definitely has to happen. There are some items that are simply taking up space and sadly, some well loved pieces that have run their course and need to be replaced.

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    1. I always feel bad when my well-loved pieces are too worn to be taken to the consignment store. I donate them but sometimes the mountain of items to be sorted at the Salvation Army store makes me wonder if they actually ever get put into the store.

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  10. I'm right with you. There is enough pain and suffering in the world I don't need to entertain myself reading even more about it. I told you how I've enjoyed your suggestion of Dorothy Whipple. What a treat. I don't feel guilty not finishing a book. I don't start a book that is described as heart breaking. Is it age? Have I seen enough and continue to see enough? I love an excellent story. Really appreciate your recommendations.

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    1. I'm so happy that someone else loves Dorothy Whipple. Her books got me through a very stressful time this past spring.

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  11. Well written mysteries work well for me - the endings are usually satisfying. Louise Penny is an especial favorite as her characters are people I would want to know, flaws and all.

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    1. I love it when the characters are people I would love to meet.., like you said, flaws and all.

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  12. Oh, I'm completely with you. When I was younger, I NEVER left a book I started unfinished. But now, as others have said, I don't have time to read something I'm not enjoying. Or (especially lately) something that I find depressing. I have just abandoned "Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town" because I just can't read another story of a town built on one industry that has collapsed in the wake of private equity and overshoring of goods. Honestly, I know it's my personal experience that feeds my angst, and I just don't want to hear about one more tragedy. So, yes, I'm with you.

    I just (finally) came to the top of the list for "A Gentleman in Moscow" and it's just delicious. Loving it!

    As far as wardrobe culling, I guess 'tis the season. It's cooled off and I'm feeling fallish. I am looking at leopard loafers and have a couple options winging toward me in hopes of punching up my shoe wardrobe with something trendy but classic. '

    AND, because the darkness of fall and winter is descending, I'm binge watching Netflix, too. I've never seen Scandal and am whizzing through the seasons before the final season begins. I love pretty much anything Shonda Rhimes produces, but only in binge form. I don't have the patience to sit through commercials anymore. Ha!

    --Laurel

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    1. Oops...that should be "offshoring". Gotta love autocorrect.

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    2. Glad that you are enjoying A Gentleman in Moscow. His writing is wonderful. Commercials? Hubby and I can't watch Network TV unless we have taped it on our PVR. Although at times we've missed the commercials that list upcoming series.

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  13. Susan, I've also been having a great time with Down Under TV shows (we've traveled to NZ 3 times and to Australia twice -- love it down there).

    Please, please, please tell me you haven't yet seen any of the "Rake" television series (4 seasons thus far). Because if you haven't yet watched it you have it to look forward to. The protagonist is a complete mess, as are most of the other characters. But they are so, so complex and so, so full of possibilities. Season 5 is coming up soon, and the Season 4 cliffhanger allows for so many AWFUL possibilities! LOL!

    P.S. It's a comedy, if you didn't figure that out already.

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    1. Ah...er...well... I have heard of Rake. A friend gave me a DVD of season 1 and Hubby and I loved it. But I didn't know there were more seasons. So I just checked and may order season 2 and 3. Thanks, Ann, for reminding me of it. I looked for season 2 just after we watched the first season and couldn't find it anywhere outside of Aus. Cheers, mate:)

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  14. When reading there is only one criteria for me: will I enjoy this? Mind you, there is always the back-up thought: is this going to be all cover and no filling? I can usually tell from the first sentence if it is going to be worth my while. Same with TV. Fortunately, there are always crosswords.

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    1. Yep. Fortunately there are always old Nancy Mitford novels to reread:)

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  15. I have had that book on my Kindle for over 3 years and have not read it all the way through either. I feel better now as had some of the same emotions. I had a high school teacher tell us girls we would all be pregnant by 25. That scared me, and I was not. I really like her as an author and will probably read it at some point. I loved A Man called Ove and Brit-Marie was Here.

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    1. OMG I can't imagine a teacher telling girls that. Shame on him or her.

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  16. I did abandon one book - the opening chapter was a brother forced to watch his young sister being raped. In a book that is simply gratuitous violence. Next!

    Guilty of avoiding angst ridden books about South Africa. Too close to home, too close to the bone. 'Enjoying' books about WWII which have some time and distance to take that edge off.

    But - a serious South African novel which was both eye opening and somehow encouraging was
    Angina monologues by Rosamund Kendal

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    1. Gratuitous violence really puts me off as well. In that case telling is so much better that "showing."

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All comments, ideas, commiserations, questions, complaints... are most welcome.