Monday, April 18, 2011

Judging a cover by its book

I've started reading a book recently - it makes quite a nice change to not reading a book, which is what I was doing, quite successfully, with Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy The Pickwick Papers, it's just that it was so dense, and Dickens writing is so, well, Dickensian, that at the end of every chapter (or sometimes at the end of every paragraph, or sentence) I was compelled to stop reading and do other things. For a month or so.

I eventually stopped reading The Pickwick Papers at the place where you're conventionally required to stop reading it, that place being the place that is marked The End. And though you might think that at that point I was quite relieved, I was actually rather sad. I suppose I'll just have to stop reading it at the start again sometime.

Anyway, the book I've started reading is Tim Winton's Cloudstreet. Being a big, serious, Australian-produced tome, you'd obviously expect it to be the sort of book that teachers have been using to clobber students over the head with, both literally and metaphorically, with predictable results: the students have hated it. But the book is good. I found a sentence at the beginning of an opening chapter that really stopped me:
Just near the crest of a hill where the sun is ducking down, the old flatbed Chev gives up the fight and stalls quiet.
Okay, maybe it doesn't seem quite so impressive subtracted from the rest of the book, but from the first few words I expected it to be in past tense, and then the use of a timeless image and the present tense, see... aw, gee, I hate sounding like a student essay.

So the writing in the book is pretty well wonderful. The writing on the book, however - well, let me just quote the back cover to you:
From separate catastrophes two rural families flee to the city and find themselves sharing a great, breathing, shuddering joint called Cloudstreet, where they begin their lives again from scratch. For twenty years they roister and rankle, laugh and curse until the roof over their heads becomes a home for their hearts.

Tim Winton's funny, sprawling saga etc etc etc...
Yuck! Eugh! Fawgh! And that is the kind of overly descriptive, overly pretentious blurb-writing that I could stop reading, over and over again. In fact, I could stop reading that back cover blurb so much that I kind of wish I had never started to read it in the first place. And I can just imagine school students being confronted with a Tim Winton book and turning to that back blurb and throwing the whole book away, cover and contents - this writing would be some people's first and last experience with a Winton book.

So: what books have you stopped reading lately? Are you likely to pick them up again?


Shelley said...

The Forsyte Saga - the question is not why I stopped but why I started it in the first place. I may finish it before I die but likely only if I live to be really old and people stop writing new things in that time.

Lipstick Traces. Likely to pick it up again. Bit of a mind fuck though.

In Search of Lost Time. I have the concentration span of a goldfish these days. I plan to take this up again when my concentration span beefs up.

Presently reading Great Expectations in smallish doses. It's weird trying Dickens again after nearly two decades of gah-you-tedious-man! Also reading Cryptonomicon which is serving to balance out the Dickens. I could do with a little light something for the side though.

TimT said...

The Forsyte Saga - once you stop you can't start? That reminds me of what Johnson said of Milton's Paradise Lost, 'a book which, once put down, is hard to pick up again.'

I did read one or two light books while polishing off The Pickwick Papers. It's probably good to have something on the side while reading Dickens.

I should probably read In Search of Lost Time when I have the time but... I don't have the time? (Or a better excuse).

sfw said...

Unitl I was in my twenties I loved Robert Heinlein, I recently tried to reread 'Stranger in a Strange Land', couldn't get into it. Same for most other SF writers, Phillip Jose Farmer is still a good read. I loved every Dickens book I've read, but when I tried to reread 'Pickwick'just couldn't get through it a second time. Orwells essays are superb and nearly always worth a second or third read, his novels are ordinary. I attempted Sally Morgans 'My Place' but it's self indulgent crap.

I tried the bible but too many words and I knew the plot. I had a look through the Koran but it appears to be written by someone with a psychiatric condition. I attempted L Ron Hubbards 'Dainetics', I am unable to understand how it became the basis for a religion.

I'm moving to a place called Mt Beauty soon, and I'm building a list of the ├žlassics to read there. The first author will be Tolstoy, they say he's a great writer, hope I'm clever enough to understand him.

RoxyB said...

Oh you so remind me of someone I know - in fact is that you Tim Tam?So glad you love Tim Winton - he's the best! And makes any homesick West Aussie feel better. There's a telemovie being made of Cloudstreet in Perth at the moment (am telling you this in case you are, in fact, not Tim Tam!).

Anyway, I'm trying to read the book said person above recommended - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - but am not, as yet, engrossed. Will battle on...

TimT said...

SFW, am currently in Bright which is, I believe, not far from Mt Beauty.

Roxy - I have been called Tim Tam in the past but prooooobably not by you. (Said friend lives just outside of Melbourne, not in WA...!)

Just finished Cloudstreet. It's a veeeery Perth novel.

sfw said...


I lived in West Coburg and Pascoe Vale nearly all my life, let me know if you are in Mt Beauty, I'll buy you a drink. That is if you drink.


TimT said...

Ha, too late, but there may be times in the future!

Email: timhtrain - at -

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