Monday, March 15, 2010

The Secret

You know that book? That book, that everyone you trust says is awesome, that won all those awards, the one you bought and started to read but stopped reading after the fifth page, the one that stays on your shelf taunting you even though you always bypass it for The Shining?

Yeah. I have finally, once and for all, discovered the secret to finishing That Book.

For me, That Book is Midnight's Children (well, there are others but this is the biggie). I bought it about five years ago, after hearing one of my friends, whose taste in literature I trust absolutely, rave about it. It's so good, I heard over and over. So good! So good! Salman Rushdie is a literary god!

Well, I bought it, full price trade paperback (and as anyone who knows me knows, I hate to pay full price for anything and if I do it better be worth it), and I read maybe the first chapter. And I would randomly pick it up sometimes when I was bored, and try to read it. But I could never get into it.

So here comes the secret. I discovered last year that if you want to force yourself to listen to the music you own, bring the CD with you on a long car trip and nothing else. It was in this way that I listened to the full Indigo Girls Retrospective and learned how much I liked it; it was also the way I learned how deep my MCC love really is. Now for books — when you know you're going to travel by plane, pack only the book that you want yourself to read. Pack nothing else, no other distractions except maybe work, because that's guaranteed to drive you back to the book. Do not allow yourself to buy another book. Then — and only then — when you have no other resources of entertainment, THEN you will finally read it.

Now. All that said, having read Midnight's Children cover to cover and more slowly than I normally would read a book, I have to say that I don't really care for it. I understand its premise and admire its ambition, and I also appreciate its scope and imagination. However, it did not stir any emotions in me. I disliked the dense, tightly packed prose, which to me seemed like a person trying to drum! it! into! my head how "literary" this book was. I felt no connection to the story, and at times outright disliked the protagonist (but not in a good way, not the way I think I was supposed to). I also felt the arrogance of the author (complete conjecture on my part, no idea if he's arrogant, he seemed nice when I saw him speak) or at least the arrogance that must inevitably accompany a book of this scope, a story that essentially covers all of India's recent history. This arrogance, if that's the right word, permeated the book to such an extent that I found it irritating to read and continue reading.

But that's the secret, folks. Even when I thought I couldn't bear to read another word, when it just didn't work for me, when I closed it and put it back in my bag, I had to take it out again. Because there was NOTHING else to read! Nothing else to do! I didn't have a choice!

And that, my friends, is how I got through Midnight's Children. Now, if you're interested, I'd say you can read a similar story better written if you pick up "One Hundred Years of Solitude," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, probably the closest thing I have to a favorite book and one that I have read about sixteen times and will continue to read until I die. The similarities between Rushdie and Garcia Marquez are instantly recognizable — both obviously are magical realists who (attempt to) evoke the entire range of human emotions. The contrast, however, is more striking, because I feel like Garcia Marquez is simpler, less haughty, and writes with more clarity. In short, I am a GGM girl. And I like it that way.