Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Books I inflict upon myself, part one

In my mind, there are definitely some books that No One Reads. Oh sure, maybe some freaks in literature departments (I wouldn't put anything past an English major), but for the rest of us, we get the gist from Wishbone episodes and we're fine, really.


The main effect that this belief has had on my life is that when I meet someone who has read one of these books, and they recommend it, I feel irresistibly drawn to also read the book. This has happened to me now twice in the last [period of time] [dammit, Jim, I'm a blogger, not a calendar], with mixed results.

Instance the First is Les Miserables. This was brought on, as you might guess, by the movie version of the musical. Hashing it out with girlfriends afterward ("at what point do you think someone started to regret casting Russell Crowe?") it emerged that one of us (not me) could make comparisons to the book. "Oh, the bishop character is so much more wonderful in the book," she sighed, and my fate was sealed.

I honestly cannot remember when I started or finished Les Mis. There's a post here that suggests I was halfway through as of September 2013, so maybe I was done by Christmas? Anyway, reader, I read it.

My first strong takeaway was that the creators of the musical did an impressively good job. Granted, I'm not a real deep thinker when I'm watching things, but the one time I saw the musical and the couple times seeing the film, I felt like it all made sense. Reading the book, I realized how much the musical writers kept in, all the little nods to storylines and character developments that play out at greater length in the book.

The second thing has to do with the infamous digressions. Someone had told/warned me about these: Hugo just spends pages and pages talking about sewer systems or something equally tedious while you're waiting to find out whether Jean Valjean gets rearrested or whatever. Now, granted, I was pretty shameless about flipping through these, but I felt like I understood what Hugo was doing here (beyond being self-absorbed). The digressions pause the action and drop you back in at a different angle. It seemed to me they were creating these almost contemplative spaces in the narrative, inviting the reader not to simply plow ahead absorbed in a fictional world, but to take the time to reengage with the characters as fellow inhabitants of the real world. Maybe it just felt like dipping out and back in because I wasn't really reading the digressions though (heh). Anyway, I still thought they were obnoxious (get on with it man).

So that was Les Mis, and now I've started Ivanhoe, which so far is... Ivanhoe-y. But I'll do you a separate post for that one.

Try not to look too excited, boy.


  1. I also quite a bit liked Les Miserables, and I had no problem skipping past the digressions. That probably says something bad about me as a reader but it is true.

    Ivanhoe I read in fourth grade, in a snit because I thought I was too old to have to write a book report, and my nine-year-old brain was like, "Ha! If I do it on Ivanhoe, THAT'LL SHOW EM." (Show them what? Dunno.) I will be interested to hear what a grown-up person thinks of it. At nine I think a lot of it went over my head.

    1. Haha - I "read" the Illiad at about the same age for similar reasons :P