August 27, 2006

I Must Reduce Myself to Zero

Reading a book, especially a long one, is like being in a relationship. There must be a strong sense of commitment. I don’t take this commitment lightly. As a writer and teacher, I like to promote the idea of never abandoning a book until it is finished. No matter how bad the book, I find it is beneficial to see it through to the end. This dedication fosters a feeling of devotion and respect for the author. Because after all, if the author felt the need to write those god awful last one hundred and fifty pages, then you should show the respect to the read them.

I have, believe it or not, actually discovered some great endings to some average if not horrible books. Unfortunately, I can’t think of the titles right now. I am quite serious about the vows I take when I start books. I have been reading one book after another, consistently, since I was about twenty; I am now thirty-two. I can only remember two books that I have stopped reading before finishing, and both abortions (probably not the best word choice, but it works here) held conspicuous circumstance. The first was War and Peace. I started the twelve hundred-page opus, while looking for work in Angola, thinking that I would be there a while. Don’t get me wrong. I love Tolstoy. Anna Karenina is a classic, but after nine hundred pages of Natasha cooing over some army officer, I was about to go nuts, but I couldn’t stop after nine hundred pages. Well, one thing led to another and I came home and never picked it up again. I am still haunted by the fact that I have read nine hundred pages of War and Peace but never finished it

The second book is another classic. After much deliberation, I finally decided to jump into Don Quixote. Again, I was nearing page one thousand on vacation in Thailand, when the tsunami of 2004 came and washed away our entire hotel, taking the novel with it. Need less to say, I have yet to buy another copy.

So this brings us to the book that has been torturing me since July. The thing about a bad book is that once you are in, it takes such effort to drag yourself through it. Every session becomes a tedious brawl. Again, very much like a miss matched lover or spouse, you think that maybe she will change or get better, but every night as you lie down to read, the book offers up the same old shit. Most people stop, but I have already described my issues. I keep going, because unlike a dysfunctional relationship, I know the book will end.

And tonight ladies and gentlemen, I am free. I broke up with the book that almost ruined my summer. Ghandi An Autobiography: The Story Of My Experiment With Truth, five hundred and five pages off dull, monotonous, torture. I know what you are thinking. Ghandi was an amazing human being; he must have led an extraordinary life. Well if he did, he decided not to write about it. Instead, he delves into the minutia of his everyday comings and goings. Each chapter is filled with such worthless information like who and why he chose someone to be his secretary, or his all time favorite subject: his dietary experiments. All fruit, no milk, goat’s milk….

So after two months, I am free to go out with a new date! Sorry Mr. Ghandi, but the sixty pages you spent describing your boarding house in London, didn’t do it for me. Tonight, as I crawl into bed, I will go back to a favorite author, one I know will not let me down. I will start, Creating True Peace Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World by Thich Nhat Hanh.

I will keep you posted on how that goes.

He could free a nation from the shackles of slavery, but couldn't write very well about it. There were a few gems in there like this one on the second to last page:

"To see the universal and all-prevading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creatures as oneself. And a man that aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any filed of life. I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him."

See! It was worth finishing the book.


  1. say it with me people- ghost writers!

  2. BZ, as Kaia gets more mobile, you will find that life is too damn short to slog through bad writing. At some point, you just need to cut it loose.

    As for Don Quixote and the Tsunami, well, I get it.

  3. I have a similar belief, although I give a book the first date treatment before I commit. One of the reasons I have read so few books I didn't like is I rarely continue with something I dislike right off that bat.

    Good to know your free. I remember talking to you about that accursed book sometime earlier this summer.

  4. hi bz, thanks for visiting my blog. i'm weighing in with the same take on life: cut loose bad writing and stand proud!


  5. Gandhi and Mary Poppins got in a snit. Gandhi called her a meddling bitch. SHe called him a super callous fragile mystic vexed my halitosis.

  6. I had the exact same problem with books for years. Books I couldn't struggle to the end of (and feel ashamed about) include Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, a book repeatedly listed in All Time Top 100s. I've got a solution now, though, in the form of my husband. When he got sick of listening to me complain, day after day, about Michel Houllebeck's Atomised, he snatched it out of my hands and tossed it onto the barbecue. I only had 30 pages to go.