Thursday, January 12, 2012

Two Books That I Won't Be Finishing

Life is too short to read bad books.  Not even if I paid good money for them, not even if they are by great authors. 

As such, here are two books that I won't be finishing. 

1.  The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco. 

Umberto Eco is sometimes called the thinking man's Dan Brown.  Well, yes, for those who have only read The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum.  One of my personal favorites, though, is The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, the tale of an Italian book dealer who wakes up having lost all memory of his past.  He holes up in his country house, re-reading his childhood books, trying to reconstruct who he is.

In The Prague Cemetery, Eco returns to conspiracy theories -- this time to the story of the plagiarist who wrote The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Such a protagonist is bound to be anti-Semite, and a number of readers have found the book to be distasteful for that reason.  But Eco is not condoning bigotry; he is only holding it up to the light of the day.  And if you can live with that, then an intellectual romp through fin de siecle Europe, including  the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the Dreyfus Affair ought to be a good read. 

The problem is, Eco has made it into an utter bore.  He simply deposits his historical research in piles,with no apparent thought given to which details help to move the story forward, and which do not.  Nor does the writing contain any of the magical moments I have come to expect from Eco.  50 pages was enough.

2.  Fun With Problems, by Robert Stone.

Most people my age have never heard of Robert Stone.  The man needs more publicity.  Because those who have read his novels almost all agree that he is one of America's greatest living writers.   In particular, I would recommend Dog Soldiers and Bay of Souls, two novels that share little in common except that each contains a concentrated brew of masculinity, drugs, sex, desperation, overindulgence, and philosophy. 

The drugs and sex are also present in Fun With Problems, a book of short stories that explores people having some very real problems.  I entered into the first four stories, knowing Stone's writing well enough that he wasn't going to offer these characters redemption.  The problem is, he didn't really take them anywhere at all.  Though Stone a master of sprawling, messy tapestry, I got the feeling that he didn't know where to go when working in the miniature.   I won't be reading the last three stories in the collection.

Related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment