Friday, 6 January 2012

Skim or skip or give up altogether?

Interesting article in Guardian on skipping the boring parts in books. I think even the best books have boring parts, it's almost unavoidable. (Writing, you just can't edit it *all* out, you sometimes need to keep sections in that are not the most riveting, otherwise the book has holes. At times, I was afraid there would be nothing left of The State of Me, I'd pare it down so much.) I tend to skim rather than skip, I can't read much about landscapes, I get bored with trees and shadows and sun dipping. But sometimes skipping is necessary, as you try, try, try to finish a book that you know deep down you are not enjoying. One of the books I skipped big  chunks of last year was Solar by Ian McEwan, this novel actually made me angry, it was so dull and yet so lauded. I constantly felt it was just a male writer's fantasy that hugely unattractive - emotionally and physically - middle-aged men could get heaps of women falling in love with them just because of their high intellect.  It's supposed to be a comic masterpiece - there was one - admittedly - very funny episode in the Arctic and that was it, I'm afraid. And I must confess I also skipped a lot of the highly acclaimed, prize-winning Room by Emma Donoghue, the narrative voice is innovative - the first scene heartbreaking - and the subject matter  harrowing, but the voice began to grate early on, for me. For a grim tale from a child's point of view I much preferred I'm Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti.

I read  French novels occasionally and thanks to a friend's gift voucher have just ordered Lorsque j'etais une oeuvre d'art by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt. I knew nothing of this writer 'til Crafty Green Poet recommended his book to me. There's a good chance that this time next year I will still be reading it, so choppy and fanciful are my reading habits.


Rick White said...

I have to confess that I often quickly skim over anything overly descriptive. Unless there's something relevant to the plot in that "dark, empty parking lot," then I don't really care about anything except that it was bloody dark and empty.
And if the "dark, empty parking lot" is some kind of metaphor, well OK, please don't beat me over the head with it. If I don't get it, then maybe it's a shitty metaphor!
And please, I don't want to read about sex in the "dark, empty parking lot."
In fact, I don't want to read about sex at all. I think "And then they had sex..." would be a suitable substitute for about 99.9% of every sex scene ever put to paper. Kind of like "And they lived happily ever after..." you know?

Kidding aside, the devil really is in the details--what is interesting/relevant, and what isn't.

Oh, and Happy New Year! ;-)

Crafty Green Poet said...

Oh I hope you enjoy lorsque j'etais un oeuvre d'art as much as I did!

Good to read that you enjoyed I'm not scared. I finally found a copy of that in Italian and I'm hoping it will be easy enough (I've seen the film so it should be okay and the book is quite short which helps too....)

If I find myself skimming over too much of a novel, I usually give up, specially if it's in a foreign language.

Non-fiction I'll try to keep going to the end even if I'm skipping a fair bit, particularly if the topic is interesting enough.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I actually like descriptions, but they need to be relevant, and as a birdwatcher / naturalist, I enjoy long pasaages about nature, though they're best when they create mood or are described from a characters point of view, which can reveal a lot about the character.

nmj said...

Happy New Year to you too, Rick! Am with you on the detail, I just can't absorb lots of description, and it becomes meaningless if it goes on and on. The problem with sex scenes is, I think, that sex should be confined to those who are having it, no one should ever be watching, hence such scenes are excruciating to read *and* write.

Hey Crafty, I think the issue with landscapes is that they are lovely to look at but hard to describe in a way that sustains your interest - or maybe it is just my concentration that is the problem. And I am terrible with French novels, I start out full of enthusiasm but if I need my dictionary too much it just becomes tiresome and tiring so I give up (when I was at uni all those year ago I would look up every damned word and write it down in my vocab notebook, geek that I was). And I usually go for very slim books.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi Nasim, I try to ignore the dictionary! If there are too many words that I don't understand I give up on the book. Mostly I let words slip through without understanding them if that's not stopping me from understanding the whole story. I know that's probably not good practice but it works for me. I do look up words that keep cropping up or that are particularly unusual.

nmj said...

Hey Crafty, Old habits die hard, I think I'm still studying when I pick up a French book, that is the problem! The vocab doesn't really stop me understanding, I am always able to get the gist, it is probably more idioms that throw me, ones I have forgotten or not familiar with. And it took me a long time to be able to ditch a book (in English) if I didn't like it, I think also comes from studying English lit when you had to study texts you didn't actually like (Martin Chuzzlewit still pains me, having to trek through it). But now I have no qualms about stopping a book, none at all, I no longer force myself. Life is really too short!