Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reading is a personal thing, or why I never recommend books

So I heard about a movie that some guy had shot about his search for an author. He wanted to find this guy because he had read his book and wanted to read more but there wasn’t any more and he wanted to know why. I thought that a book that inspired something like that was worth looking into so I got a copy of Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman out of the library. The very first sentence had me worried. ‘When August came, thick as a dream of falling timbers, Dawes Williams and his mother would pick Simpson up at his office, and then they would all drive west, all evening, the sun before them dying like the insides of a stone melon, split and watery, halving with blood.’ Dream of falling timbers? Stone melon? I didn’t even know what any of that meant. But I decided to press on and see what the next 580 pages had to offer. And I found more of the same: ‘the moon was a round white reptile’s stone,’ ‘he watched himself pour himself through the shadows on the water,’ ‘a membrane thin as breaking mirrors at sleep.’ I found it hard going with all the metaphors comparing things to things I couldn’t understand or picture. I felt like I was trying to pick the story out from between all the imagery that I didn’t get. Mossman creates a lot of very interesting characters. Dawes and his family and friends are engaging and watching Dawes grow up among them is a good story. And sometimes I liked the language: ‘Dawes, who was already shut up anyway, shut up some more,’ ‘throwing out rocks into the night as if he were sounding for long-lost submarines.’ (Perhaps I like the last there because I actually understood the reference.) All the good points did make it hard to abandon completely but it was almost like work reading it. I found I had to read it a little at a time, between other things.

But I did finish it (having to renew it several times) and then I watched the movie, Stone Reader by Mark Moskowitz. (If you do not want to know the outcome of his quest you should stop reading.) In which the audience basically watches him drive all around talking to people about books. Some of whom did know Mossman, some he thought just might have, and some who didn’t know him at all. Some of the conversations were interesting. It’s fun to hear people who love, and know, books talk about them but much of it didn’t seem to have much to do with Mossman. And I was starting to get annoyed when he would contact someone but not tell them what he wanted only to find out after he had driven out there (with us in tow) that they had never even heard of Dow Mossman or in one case being told on the phone that the person did not remember Mossman and going anyway just to find out that even in person he had no recollection of Mossman. And much of it was rather slow. Watching him drive around (literally) wasn’t much fun and the lullaby sound track wasn’t helping.

But, after talking to a bunch of people and traveling to places Mossman had been, he did finally find Mossman, who seemed like a very nice guy and made me wish that I had liked the book more. Especially since it obviously took so much for, and of, him to write it. But the book certainly would not have inspired such a quest in me. I wouldn’t have even looked to see if he had written anything else. My reaction to it was completely different than Moskowitz.

It was said that the first sentence grabbed you right away. Well, I told you what my reaction was and I wouldn’t say it was gripping. So maybe that is a good test. If you think the first sentence is gripping you will be one of the many people who loved this book. But if you are like me and are left wondering what the heck is going on you should probably stop right there.

This is one reason why I find it so hard to recommend books to people. Reading is such a personal thing. Two people can have opposite reactions to the exact same book. Lots of people really loved Stones of Summer and I wouldn’t want to tell someone not to read it and have them miss out on it just because I didn’t get it but in all honesty I can’t recommend the book. On the other hand I don’t want to give someone a book I loved and have them tell me that they hated it. All which leaves my speechless when someone asks me to recommend a book. And makes me feel a little ridiculous since I read all the time, and everyone knows I read all the time and I can still never come up with a title to offer. I’m still working on an answer to my recommendation phobia. I still have hope that this blog will help. I just have to work up the nerve to actually tell people I know that I have a blog.


Anonymous said...

I agree - I hate recommending books to people. I can tell them why I like something, but that's about it. I haven't even heard of Stones of Summer, but that opening sentence sounds pretty pretentious, is all I'm saying.

Anyway, you should tell people you have a blog! That way they can make their own mind up about a book.
- it's what I do anyway. Although I HAVE gotten a lot of crap for my hatred of Jane Eyre.

Becca said...

When I started reading Stones of Summer I couldn’t decide if I just wasn’t smart enough for the book or if it was just so pretentious that it had slipped into nonsense. So I know what you mean.

I like Jane Eyre but I respect your right to hate it. :) It isn’t for everybody. I don’t think any book is.

Roy B. said...

I don't agree with you about the book, but I thought your write up was fair and honest. I found about 85 percent of the book interesting and readable, but your comments reminded me of that last 15 percent, most of which (for me) was in that last section of the book. One of the people from the movie had a comment that I think applies here: "It's like reading Faulkner. It might not make immediate sense, but it may make eventually sense, and so you roll with it."

I've used this film and select passages in some of my college undergraduate courses. The movie and all of the interviews are great ways to introduce inspiring writers to the writing life, to what awaits.

Anyway, nice write up. Have a great weekend.