Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some Recent DNFs and Why I Didn't Finish Reading Them

I've been a fickle reader, lately, so I'd advise anyone who is planning on reading the following titles I didn't finish not to avoid them merely because this reader happened to set them aside. Having said that, I'll tell you why I didn't finish each of these books and how far I managed to read.

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor is a fictionalized account of actress Molly Allgood's affair with playwright John Synge in Ireland, 1907. It is the 1950s and Molly is now an elderly, impoverished alcoholic reflecting on her lost love. The story jumps back and forth between the two time periods.

Ghost Light has a confusing, jumpy beginning but I was very impressed with the writing. After getting to know the characters and setting a little bit, the reading became smoother if a tiny bit tedious and I was enjoying the book. But, then I made a fatal mistake. I looked up John Synge's bio and found him so repulsive that I didn't want to return to the book. I'm still shocked that reading about the actual person turned me off so completely, given the fact that I was definitely enjoying Ghost Light. I don't even know what made him such a turn-off. I managed to read 62 pages.

Will I give Ghost Light a second chance? I haven't decided. If I do, it'll require a little bit of a cooling-off period. I can't say I was in love with the characters anyway, but what a strange reason to set a book aside! I won my copy of Ghost Light in a Picador drawing that I entered via Facebook.

Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream tells the story of a woman who has decided to end her life. She has flushed all of her mood-altering medications down the toilet, fired her assistant, canceled a showing of her artwork and given herself 30 days to wrap up a few important details like finding a new home for her cat.

Ashley Ream's writing is very witty and I thought, "Oh, I'm going to love this book!" when I started reading. But, then I kept picking it up and finding myself drifting off. I think, in this case, it was just a matter of bad timing. I'm in the mood for something meatier. After reading a page or two for about 7 nights in a row, I decided I'd better set Losing Clementine aside for later. I read 48 pages in all.

Will I give Losing Clementine a second chance? Absolutely. I'm still hoping to read it later this month. Losing Clementine was just released on the 6th of March and my copy is an ARC that I received from William Morrow. Clementine is a little bit irritating (she has told her ex-husband she's dying of cancer, which is a pretty nasty thing to do) but I still desire to know what's going to happen to her and I'm convinced that not finishing is just a timing issue.

After I set aside Losing Clementine, I picked up A Light on the Veranda and began reading it. A Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware is the story of Daphne Duvallon, a professional musician who returns from New York to the Deep South to attend her brother's wedding. Daphne is from New Orleans but the wedding is to take place at Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. The book says her arrival in Natchez "unlocks waiting forces of a past tragedy" as "her legendary namesake draws her back a hundred years to reveal secrets that can no longer be repressed from a time when the oldest settlement on the Mississippi was in its heyday and vast fortunes were made and lost."

I've read stories with similar storylines and loved them, but I should have known better. A Light on the Veranda is the second book I've set aside because it was written by an author who is obviously not from the Deep South. Note to authors not from the South: If you're uncertain about the dialect, go for subtlety. The sheer quantity of endearments like "sugar", "angel" and "sweetie pie" was unbearable, as were the additions of words like ol' this or that. Example:

"Just dashed out to the Piggly Wiggly, since all I had 'round here were those ol' red beans and rice and half a chicken sandwich. Not exactly fancy fare to serve the bride and groom on the mornin' of their weddin', do you think?"

The accent in this area is pretty strong (Natchez is about 60 miles south of us) but it's not all missing g's, little ole everything and gushy endearments. In addition to the trouble with vernacular, the characters often went into too much detail in conversations, as if the author was determined to inject backstory into the novel to prove she'd done her homework. But, since she managed to call sweet tea "sweetened tea", I think I can safely say she didn't stick around in Natchez long enough to get a genuine feel for the place. I read 55 pages before giving up.

Will I give A Light on the Veranda a second chance? No. I've been in the South way too long to tolerate a poor attempt at Southern vernacular. There are some over-the-top eccentric characters in our area, so I thought some of the characterization was okay in spite of bordering on clownish, and I do believe that a lot of people (particularly romance readers, as there are hints of romance to come) will really enjoy this story. It's just not for me. I think most people around here would say, "Well, she tried, bless her," and send the book to some Yankee they met on vacation. I got my copy from Sourcebooks for review.

I've visited Monmouth Plantation, incidentally. It is beautiful and if you're ever in the mood to tour Southern mansions, Natchez is an excellent place to do so. Look up Natchez's Pilgrimage to find out when the homes are open for touring.

The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs is a book I waited at least a year to acquire via Paperback Swap. I tend to love "year of" this or that memoirs and The Year of Living Biblically is actually the second book of its kind that I've read -- or, in this case, started. The first was about a church group attempting to follow the laws of Leviticus (they failed miserably). The Year of Living Biblically is a similar attempt but with an author trying to do pretty much everything the Bible says he should do, although there's some emphasis on the Old Testament. Much of what he attempted has been abandoned by the contemporary church; often, the author explains the reasons rules have been dropped and whether or not that reasoning is valid. The author is Jewish by heritage but agnostic by choice, mostly because his family was not religious in any way.

Since he has never been a churchgoing man, the author did quite a bit of research and found a few mentors of varying faiths to help him understand the historical and cultural background. There's a biblical rule forbidding the donning of clothing made of mixed fibers, for example, for which the author hired a man who uses a microscope to determine the fibers used (this expert claimed that labels are not always accurate) and explain which fibers specifically were not to be mixed and why.

I was really enjoying The Year of Living Biblically. It's a bit of a learning experience to have someone with no Biblical background dig into the Bible from a totally neutral perspective and explain things through the weight of research rather than a religious viewpoint. The only reason I decided to take it out of my sidebar was the fact that I hadn't touched it in a week. If I let a book sit in my sidebar for too long, I tend to become intimidated and it becomes more and more difficult to return to the reading. Don't ask me why. I sure can't figure out why that happens. At any rate, I stopped at page 92.

Will I give The Year of Living Biblically a second chance? Yes. It may be a couple months before I return to the reading, but I want to finish it.

There have been some other titles I picked up and promptly rejected but I didn't even get far enough into those to be worth mentioning and I have a cold that is totally kicking my butt. I'm going to bed. Will be back tomorrow with a review of a children's book, assuming I can stagger to the computer.

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  1. First of all, I'm sorry you're sick. Not fun! Second of all, I love how you actually look things up and research what you're reading. I should put more effort into doing that. It can lead to not reading things, though. I won't read any Dickens books because I learned some stuff about him that just ticked me off. Losing Clementine sounds interesting. I'll have to see if I can get my hands on it. I feel bad when a book gets set aside or a bad review just because I was in a bad mood for it. I hope you do pick it up again and review it.

    1. Thanks, Jenny! I haven't had a cold in quite a while. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a whiny baby, but I couldn't sleep -- too noisy with the guys home.

      As to looking things up . . . the iPad has made that so nice and easy! I have a tendency to look up quite a bit of background info as I read. Usually, doing so just enhances the reading. It's pretty unusual for research to totally turn me off like that. And, I know what you mean about Dickens. I read a little about Rebecca West while I was reading and found out an author I like had an affair with her and then totally refused to have anything to do with her or his child when she had a baby (I'm drawing a blank on his name, right now). Those details can really make you feel different about the book in your hand.

      I hope to get back to Losing Clementine before the end of the month. Fingers crossed. I'm trying not to feel bad about having to set some books aside. I always battle with that, but I'm at the age where you realize you'll never get around to reading everything you want to, so if a book isn't working . . . I move on, period.

  2. A Light on the Veranda would irritate the ever-lovin' stew outta lil ole me, I'm afraid. And I've heard such good things about Ciji Ware. Oh well. I've got the Year of Living Biblically here and plan to eventually get to it.

    1. I do believe you're right, Tammy. Lil ole you would be just a fussin' and a fumin'. I've read two other books by Ciji Ware. I absolutely loved Island of the Swans and enjoyed A Cottage by the Sea. If you haven't tried her writing, go for Island of the Swans.

      The Year of Living Biblically is really pretty awesome. I will return to it. In fact, it might be a good vacation read; it's very entertaining.

  3. Oh, even that "fancy fare" sounds off in that section you posted for the Ware book. Apparently she didn't hang around long enough to find out that even sweet tea is redundant in itself in most of the South. I think I'll pick one of her other ones when I get to trying her.

    1. LOL So true (both the "fancy fare" and the redundancy). My husband and I actually drink only unsweetened tea. It's a pain in the patootie ordering our tea because we have to say the word unsweetened with a bit of force.

      What she really missed was fixin'. Now, there's something you'll hear constantly in Mississippi. "I'm fixin' to go down to the church. Y'all make yourselves at home," would have worked.

      Try Island of the Swans if you're interested in Ciji Ware and haven't already read it. It's my favorite of Ware's books, so far.

    2. Shoot, I managed to pick up 'fixin and y'all from two and a half years in Savannah. I had the same issue with the tea while I was there. Mom never picked up her grandmother's habit of having a little tea with her sugar, so we grew up with unsweetened. My dad couldn't even take it, and he usually adds sugar to his iced tea. We learned early in our treks back east for visit family in North Carolina.

      Thanks, I'll add that one to my list. I was eying A Race to Splendor from someone else's review.

    3. Fixin' and y'all are the basics. Sweet tea is pretty quick in coming, too, if you're a tea drinker. It's really difficult to absorb everything in a totally different environment, though, which is why they say, "Write what you know."

      I've heard good things about A Race to Splendor.


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