Life is too short to read bad books

At the end of last year I made a momentous decision. I stopped reading a book a third of the way through, deciding I just couldn’t finish it as it was appalling. That decision may not seem momentous to you but I always finish books. Even if I dislike them as I’m reading them, I hope that there might be some redeeming factor, something that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile. Plus I read very quickly so it’s not a major time commitment.

But I realised that life is just too short to read bad books. If my grandparents are anything to go by, I’m almost halfway through my life. I still haven’t read Proust, Ulysses, Pushkin, most of Shakespeare, War and Peace, The Master and Margarita, Sartre, The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment and a whole host of other books I really should have read by now. So I think I must be more judicious in my reading and a whole lot more ruthless.

The book that prompted this momentous decision was Tom Wolfe’s latest, Back to Blood. Bonfire of the Vanities is one of my favourite books of all time and in my opinion, the last good novel Wolfe wrote. He followed it up with A Man in Full (which was just the plot of Bonfire of The Vanities transplanted to the South and set in the world of property development) and the execrable I Am Charlotte Simmons which was an embarrassing waste of perfectly good paper.

Back to Blood is set in Miami and in typical Wolfe style it has a large cast of characters, most of whom seemed paper-thin and unconvincing. It takes racial tension, immigration, class and status as its themes; familiar territory for Wolfe. The one thing that stuck out like a throbbing thumb while reading it was the punctation. I know that sounds silly, but punctuation serves a purpose; it provides clarity for the reader. Wolfe’s stylistic experimentation actually puts a barrier between the reader and the story. This book surely must contain more ellipses than any other novel published in 2012, which is just lazy writing as far as I’m concerned. Wolfe also uses three sets of colons either side of a phrase to show a character’s thoughts. :::IT DROVE ME INSANE:::

So Back to Blood is now back on the shelf with a page turned down one third of the way through. I might get back to reading it if one day there’s a zombie apocalypse, I have no internet connection and I’ve read everything else in my house, but until then it’s onto something else. At the moment that is BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara which I reckon I’ll finish tonight.

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