Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Question of Quality

Rarely do I get steamed up about a book.

Most of my friends know my for my passion for literature and the written word, and many a friend has rolled their eyes as I spout on about my latest find. Often, the book I'm crowing about will be loaned on to the friend for a read. My friends are good - they return books.

Others are aware that I co-ordinate the book group of which I am a part. I don't run it  - but I make the restaurant bookings each month, send out the reminder emails, bag up the lollies for the annual vote and occasionally step in to mediate in the odd issue that may arise. A current issue is whether non-fiction should be put up for selection in out annual book choosing. It's proving to be an issue, so we may as well get it sorted. You have ten women with large personalities with differing opinions - it's like herding cats.

For the most part, book group is a democratic group. We choose the books by voting - most people stick to the rules - books of literary or quality popular fiction, under 500 pages, preferably not autobiography (unless there is a compelling reason why you want it there) and all is well. Most people realise that they're not going to like everything on the list. Sometimes you find a hidden gem.

So over the years, I've watched as people have loved Marcus Zuzak's "The Book Thief", distained a Salman Rushdie, pondered Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Bram Stoker, argued over "The Slap", cried over "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and half-laughed, half-despaired over "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."

We have a varied list.

Being the convenor, I have a perceived responsiblity to at least have read the book and to show up. In the five years I've been a member of this group, there's only been a handful of books I've missed reading. It was too hot for "Love in a Time of Cholera", I failed with Louis Nowra's "Ice", despite starting it about ten times, and I wanted to come after Anne Bronte with a chainsaw for the woeful "Tenant of Wildfell Hall."

I try not to moan. I'm trained, as a student of English Literature, to read fairly critically, read around things and form a grounded, informed opinion. I also try and find the good in most things. So when we read "Eat, Pray, Love", rather than diss it for popular crap, I found that the middle section in India fantastic - as I could relate to the struggles with meditation. Even "The Finkler Question", a difficult read, I found some redeeming features - actually the more I thought about it, the more I got out of it.

Others in the group will boycott books or authors they don't like - at least having the good grace to not front at the meeting - though I don't feel I have that luxury. Part of me thinks this is a little odd - why else be in a book group if it's not going to get your reading stuff you wouldn't normally - but that is their perogative and I have to respect that.

However, I'm sitting here, absolutely LIVID about a book choice - something I am being forced to read, something that is on the book group list for next month, which has me fuming.

I've never felt this before. As our system of choosing books is democratic, I'm fairly easy going with the choices. Okay, you'd never get me voting for anything Paolo Coelho has written - I think he's a load of new age wank - however, other's don't think that - I will have to learn to live with that. I'm sure others aren't enamoured that we have "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" in the list - especially as they hated the movie ("But it's my favorite ever book!" I cry, " Don't see the movie - the book is amazing...")

So how this thing - I can't call it a book - got on the list, is beyond me. I'm ropeable! This has to be the worst book I have ever had the misfortune of reading. IT'S CRAP! I'd rather read "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" again (Which I actually didn't mind that much)

I'm a bit of a connoiseur of crap in general - I can forgive a lot of things - I've read the Da Vinci Code - but for something that was terribly written, the story and ideas were great. I've read all of the Twilight series - and by the end of it I was ready to run over Stephenie Meyer's word processor with a lawnmower. I've read a lot of Mills and Boon. I've even got through the second Bridget Jones book - which was dire.

This shite surpasses them all.

Now, for the problems attached to this. Firstly, Blarney put the book up for nomination. I did ask her to reconsider when she said what it was. I stated that both of the books she was nominating were autobiographies. The other one she listed was Kate Holden's "In My Skin". This I thought was more appropriate - great material, well written, good topic - if you're going to put up an autoiography, that would be one to consider - but this other one? Hmm. Blarney said it got great reviews in America and it had sold over a million copies.... my bullshit meter started to twitch. What American reviews? A million copies? Was this an airport novel?

Here's me thinking that the group would have the sense to stay away from this book, with a kitten on the cover - of course they'd ditch it for one of the others. Schmaltz. Stay away. Not of the standard we like to read.


When the count was done, this book snuck in with ten votes.

I've been reading this book for two days now. I wouldn't paper a budgie cage with this. I really do reckon it's one of the worst things I've ever had the misfortune of reading - and I read quite a bit.

And it's not just the writing. It's boring. It's boring and attrociously written. I'm used to reading book group books and revelling in the language. This is a piece of shite. I groan loudly a couple of times a page at the cliched, hackneyed writing style and the complete lack of grace, the pointless storyline and the complete bollox this person has made of what could have been a gracefully written book. I feel like seeking out the publisher and clubbing him like a baby seal.

Ah, there's my spleen, thought I'd lost it.

If I had a cricket bat I'd go wallop the author - or the publishers for having the gaul to get this crap out into the world. It seriously has all of the literary bent of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical! (Another pet hate)

I'd want to garotte the book group members who voted for it too - but I have to let that one slide. They've all been subjected to things they haven't liked. I still don't get how they let some gems like Geraldine Brook's "The People of the Book", Jonathan Franzen's "The Collectors" or Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore" go by the wayside for this wad of fecal matter, but we have to blame the democratic process for that.

I think what makes me mad is that I could have written something better, of a better quality, of a more interesting bent - but would I get it published - no way. I'm not a reknown journalist. I don't have friends in places where you can get your schmaltzy book about your stupid cat published. Don't get me wrong - I love cats. But I'm only allowed to talk about cats for five minutes - after that I button up. 300 pages about a stupid moggy. Like WTF?!

We've all made mention, especially the older members who were there when the book group was in another incarnation, that the choice of books is more even since we got the voting going. Stinkers such as Kate Mosse's "The Labyrinth" and Kostova's "The Historian" haven't been a part of the club for a few years now. Also, we don't have to cook for each other any more - which is good. The "do not prepare" list was long and arduous - no coriander, cream sauces, sausages, seafood, spice... on and on it went. At least at a bistro you can chose your own meal and you don't have to clean the house for visitors.

But as for this book. Well, I've got about a hundred pages to go. I will groan and moan and wonder what the frigging point of the novel is and think about what I'd do to the author if she was at a writer's festival - egging might be a good start.

As for the reviews. Well, a couple of Minnesota grandmother's and Salt Lke City Mormons can't be wrong, can they?

At least it's an easy read, even if I really do wish that the blue escort that ran over this woman's child ran over her in the process.

Right, I think I'd better take a handful of vitamin B, starflower oil and chocolate and go to bed.

See of that improves my mood any...


P.S.  The book is "Cleo" by Helen Brown - a "Marley and Me" for New Zealandish cats. Read at your own peril.


Marc said...

Googled the author and title. Would you believe this was actually translated to Dutch and a whole lot of other languages? Imagine having to do THAT!

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

Mrs PM has just read that - I've got it in front of me and it says "How a small black cat helped heal a family"

I'll ask her what she thougth of it.

I will follow your advice - I was dragged to see the movie "Marley and Me" and I HATED it. It is one of the worst and most vomit inducing films I have ever seen.

I would never consider writing a book like "Cleo" - we have TWO black cats and if you own them you absolutely know there is NO WAY a cat could heal ANYTHING.




Cowgrrl said...

Long time lurker, first time commentor.

I too, struggled with the book but since I'm a member of the same book group I slogged through it.

I complained the whole time whilst reading it and it took me much longer than it should have to finish since I was procrastinating so much about it. I do feel however that I have not as much cause to complain about the choices on this year's list given I didn't have a chance to vote :(

This book is clumsily written, she comes off as so naive about cats I really find it hard to believe.

I for one will be voting no non-fiction at the next meeting :)

The Elephant's Child said...

I'm with PM. Black cats in our household at least ARE NOT HEALERS, and there is too much crap written about my life with animals. Sigh.
Good luck with getting through it AND the meeting in question.

Kath Lockett said...

Oh you poor thing - the little I've heard about it has made me grimace and turn the page/blind eye/away from the telly....