The Three Books I Didn’t Finish This Year

Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian

I’ve been wanting to read this since the movie came out several years ago.  Besides, I’ve reached a point in life where a tone-accurate portrait of rough yet civilized 18th century life at sea is really quite appealing to me.  So I picked up this book with relish and enthusiasm.

Three weeks later I was less than a hundred pages in and had to admit that this relationship just wasn’t working out.  On the surface, it seemed that Master and Commander and I were a perfect match, but after a while you can’t deny that some kind of spark is lacking.  What was the problem?  Did the book fail to appreciate me?  No, it never pandered to me, never belittled me, but rather expended quite a bit of its own time and energy trying to make me happy.  And I really liked Master and Commander for it; in fact, nobody was more surprised than me at my lack of heartfelt affection for it. 

But I couldn’t muster any emotional attachment to it at all.  So we parted ways, amicably.  We don’t see much of each other socially, but when we do, it’s cool.

Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak

Like Master and Commander, I’d been wanting to read this classic since I’d heard of it several years before–in the movie Must Love Dogs, if you must know.  I’d recently read about its CIA connections along with its Nobel Prize, so it came fraught with mystery, which made it even more…alluring. 

I started my dizzying relationship with Doctor Zhivago in the Spring–a season made for love!–and fell hard and fell fast.  I was in for a long-term relationship.  I was challenged intellectually and emotionally.  At first.  But like so many such romances, it burned out quickly.  By the time I was halfway through the book, it was a trudging chore for me to feign passion.  Was there anything wrong with Doctor Zhivago?  Again, no.  It wasn’t Doctor Zhivago, it was me.  I guess I just wasn’t in a very good place in life right then, and needed some space.  I thought cooling off would help, but we just never picked it up again.  The truth is, Doctor Zhivago was too good for me.  It deserves to be read by someone more equal to its bleakly realistic insights, someone more attuned to its turns of character, someone more interested in its ponderous love triangle set against the Russian revolution. 

Doctor Zhivago and I actually still see each other at parties, and we chat and catch up.  Doctor Zhivago is doing well, and I’m glad.  Doctor Zhivago deserves to be happy.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Dracula was supposed to be easy, a sure thing, a harmless fling.  Boy, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  Dracula had a reputation, and I won’t lie to you–I was into it.  We started hanging out in late September, and I knew from the start that there would be major flaws I’d just have to ignore–a small price to pay for such a fun ride, I figured.  But those small flaws–the irritating device of being a collection of source documents, Renfield’s pointless escapades, Mina and Lucy’s endlessly loquacious prattling about their feelings (does Stoker really think that’s the way girls are?), and Harker’s heroic early turn in the book, only to disappear until it’s nearly halfway through–were quickly eclipsed by the one big psycho quirk that none of the other guys had warned me about: Van Helsing, that awesome vampire hunter of myth and legend, is a pitiful geek.  How in the world did he ever become renowned as such a great character, when he spend two-thirds of his dialogue going on about how much he loves everybody!?  I mean, dude, what’s up with that?

You know what?  Dracula wasn’t like my other failed relationships this year.  They were classy, at least.  But Dracula, Dracula didn’t even try.  Didn’t meet me halfway, didn’t try to change, offered me nothing that a good book is supposed to.  A man has needs, Dracula!  And you didn’t care enough to give anything at all back to me, after all the chances I gave you to make this thing work. 

Fine.  I see how you are.  Get lost, Dracula, and don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out.  I hope you’re happy in that studio apartment for the rest of you life, with all your cats.

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“Take refuge in nature, labour, sleep, music, or human understanding”

“How intense can be the longing to escape from the emptiness and dullness of human verbosity, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long, grinding labour, of sound sleep, of true music, or of a human understanding rendered speechless by emotion!”

–Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago