I Will Not Read That Book

37788084343093605_97fq9uva_fLast Wednesday I ran into a brick wall.  Not literally, you will be reassured to hear, but as those of you who also suffer from fatigue related illnesses will appreciate, the figurative collision can be every bit as debilitating.  So things have been rather quite here for the last few days and will continue to be somewhat truncated until I have gathered my energies again.

This drop in energy levels couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment as not only do I have to read Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies by next Wednesday, but I’d also committed myself to re-reading Wolf Hall, as I was sure I would need to re-orientate my brain to the characters that people the world of Thomas Cromwell.  I’m pretty well up on the major players on the political field.  It was the Cromwell household I thought I was going to need to revise.  And I was right.  I’m sure I’ve enjoyed the second book better for having re-aquainted myself with the first.

The only reason that I haven’t read Bring Up the Bodies any sooner is that I knew well in advance that it was going to turn up on a book group list and I was trying to avoid yet another re-read in that area.  However, last night I was browsing through one of Nick Hornby’s collected essays from The Believer and came across this passage:

I spent a long time resisting The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time because I got sent about fifteen copies, by publishers and agents and magazines and newspapers, and it made me recalcitrant and reluctant, truculent, maybe even perverse.

Hornby had been sent these books because his son is autistic and, rightly or wrongly, it is assumed that he will want to read about a child who has Aspergers Syndrome.  And, because he is expected to want to read it, he rebels.

As I say, this isn’t the reason that I have put off reading the latest Mantel, but it might well have been.  And, if it had, it certainly wouldn’t have been the first time I have resisted reading something simply because the rest of the world (or so it seems) is telling me that I must.  I have a sort of perverse reaction to any book that is sweeping the country as the latest must read. Thank goodness I met Harry Potter at the moment when that first book was released or I might never have known the joys of Hogwarts and all its many and varied inhabitants.

The trouble with adopting this attitude is that you do miss some pretty good books along the way, a conclusion that Hornby, having finally read Mark Haddon’s novel, would endorse.  The first time that I was really aware of this perversity of mine was forty years ago in the summer of 1973. If you were around then you will remember that the book everyone was reading was Richard Adams’ Watership Down.  Well, I was not going to read a novel about a cartload of rabbits.  Sorry, but I do have some standards.

I was living, that summer, in a caravan on the banks of the Avon and I was surrounded by rabbits, at least first thing in a morning and later as dusk began to draw in, and gradually the pressure of public opinion and the baleful looks of the local wildlife broke down my reserve.  I gave in and enjoyed what I still think is a remarkable book.

Sometimes, you know, you just have to accept that everyone else has got it right and stop being such a pig-headed fool.  So, is anyone else out there willing to admit that they have behaved in the same recalcitrant and reluctant, truculent, maybe even perverse manner, I wonder?  And if so, what books would you have missed if you’d continued to dig in your heels?

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36 thoughts on “I Will Not Read That Book

  1. I am an absolute sod for digging my heels in and refusing to read thing until the hoohah dies down. Not only does it irritate me to bombarded by reviews, etc for just one particular book but I suppose it concerns me that I may get swept up in it all and allow the masses to affect my reading. I’d like to take a book for itself, not for it’s hype. Good on you for having the same attitude 🙂 You don’t miss them, merely come to it a little later with a fresh mind. Nothing perverse about it.

    1. It is the hype that really gets to you, isn’t it? I suppose part of the problem is that so many times I’ve been taken in by the hype only to find that the book is nowhere near as good as the publicists want to tell me it is. I need to wait until people whose views I really respect tell me a book’s worth reading.

  2. Funny how the same book has inspired the same reaction for two different people–I STILL haven’t read “Watership Down.” Now I guess since you vouch for it I’ll have to check it out of the library sometime soon and read it. It’s not the only book I’ve resisted, however. The “resistance syndrome” you describe is one that is very, very familiar to me, a frequent fault of mine.

    1. I’m not certain I recommend ‘Watership Down’ now. It was very much a book of its moment and although I do think it’s well written I don’t think it would have the impact now that made it such an important book when it was first published. Undoubtedly we have just as vital environmental issues, but our position in relation to them is rather different.

  3. I am another one who resists what seem to me over-hyped books or authors (as well as films and TV series – I seem to be the only person in the US who hasn’t seen Colin Firth’s pond scene in the 1990s Pride & Prejudice, and though I watched a couple of episodes of Downton Abbey, I proved immune to its charms). I resisted Laurie King’s Sherlock series for years – Holmes with a 15-year-old girl as a partner? – only to fall for them in the first pages of the first one.

    1. I can proudly say that I still haven’t seen any episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’, but then there’s nothing unusual in that – I’m not a television person. I did see the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but have always managed to resist the adoration of Colin Firth. I do think he’s a very fine actor, but I have such a strong internal vision of what Darcy is like and Firth doesn’t match up.

  4. I resisted reading The DaVinci Code for the longest time. Then I found myself on a cruise with a minor illness which confined me to my cabin. While my companions were frolicking in the crystal blue of the Caribbean beaches, I was desperate and finding a copy of The DaVinci Code some hapless person left behind, I read it all the way through. Being sick was more fun and being in bed in the darkness was far more stimulating entertainment. But it was educational.

    I learned that sometimes we resist reading popular books because they truly are dreck designed to separate the masses from their money.

    1. I read ‘The Da Vinci Code’ under very similar circumstances, Mike and the only thing I can say in my defence is that I have never read a Brown since. One of the most dispiriting experiences I ever had was going to the da Vinci exhibition in London two years ago and finding myself surrounded by a group who had gone simply to see if Brown’s suggestion that the figure of St John was actually a woman was correct. I’m not sure they even looked at the other works.

  5. I refused to read Eat, Pray, Love when it first came out because I’d put it down as a piece of self-indulgent fluff. I finally read it last year and found it to be an insightful work full of intelligence and hope. Still haven’t watched the movie, though. 🙂

  6. I think most of us do this at some point. There have been many books that everyone said I should read that I simply refused to read: The Kite Runner, The Joy Luck Club, The Country of Old Men. You could probably make a decent reading list out of books I’ve refused to read. But I still manage to find plenty of good reading. 😉

    1. It is my humble opinion that in avoiding ‘The Joy Luck Club’ you have missed absolutely nothing. But to be fair I do know a lot of people who would disagree with me.

  7. I can’r remember how long I’ve had this reaction to hype and there are many books I have resisted reading because of my feelings. No doubt I have missed some good books but there are plenty more to read so I can’t say I’m bothered.

    I hope your energy levels rise – I have to say this hot weather just saps mine and I feel exhausted. 🙂

    1. Thanks, the weather certainly isn’t helping and The Bears are wilting in their fur coats. Summer is no fun for Bears.

      You’re right of course, there are always so many more books out there. But just sometimes I worry that I might be missing something really good.

  8. I’m currently resisting Gone, Girl – it should be my type of thing but I’ve heard so much about it, I almost feel as if I’ve read it already. It’s definitely hype that puts me off. Cbjames mentioned The Kite Runner – another one I avoided because of the hype. And then was blown away by Hosseini in And the Mountains echoed and realised what a great writer I had been missing. Still haven’t read The Kite Runner, but it’s now on my ‘must read’ list…

    1. I don’t think you will really miss ‘Gone Girl’. It has its virtues, but in the end I simply didn’t believe it. ‘The Kite Runner’ is a book I would be sorry not to have read, but there are parts of it that were so painful to read that I haven’t picked up anything else by Hosseini. Clearly I’m missing something and should put ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ onto my summer list.

      1. Not having read The Kite Runner I can’t make a comparison, but although I sobbed many, many times during Mountains, I was left overall with a feeling of hope…

        It occurred to me that The Casual Vacancy is another one I’ve been avoiding, although it’s been sitting on my Kindle for months. The reviews are so mixed I can’t bring myself to read it in case I hate it – I’d hate to hate anything by JKR!

  9. I think hype is really meant for people who wouldn’t normally pick up a book, but might switch on the television or go down the pub instead. If you read a lot, then I think you inevitably approach it with a certain cynicism! What I really wanted to say was that a therapist I knew once said he was passing the butchers’ when Watership Down was all the rage and rather appreciated the sign in the window: ‘You’ve read the book, you’ve seen the movie, now eat the cast!’

    1. The Bears are horrified, and believe me, it takes something to horrify The Bears. They are mumbling something about the best way to fricassee a butcher:)

  10. I totally relate to this resistance movement… until I find myself very angry at myself for having waited many years before trying some excellent books! Btw I’m just reading Harry Potter right now (sigh)

    1. Yes, sometimes we do ourselves a real disservice by not recognising the hype might be there for a reason. I’m more inclined to follow the reviews of fellow bloggers who don’t have a financial interest in the book. If they support the hype then I’ll likely go along with it these days.

  11. Oh yes, I regularly behave in a recalcitrant and reluctant, truculent, maybe even perverse manner when it comes to popular books. I can’t tell you though what I would have missed if I hadn’t eventually caved in though because once I read and enjoy I completely forget that I was reluctant to begin with. However, I have and will continue to refuse to read anything by Dan Brown no matter how bestselling his books are.

    1. Ah, the wonderful power of the forgetful memory. What would the recalcitrant, reluctant, truculent and perverse amongst us do without it:)?

  12. Not unique here–absolutely stubborn, recalcitrant, etc about the latest book craze. I’ve given in to the pressure only a handful of times and I’ve hated every one. So I don’t feel at all badly anymore about being hopelessly close-minded. 🙂

    1. I think ‘closed-minded’ is being a little harsh on yourself, Colleen. I’m sure you read a lot of novels that those who only stick to what is popular would never dream of picking up.

  13. I nearly missed Watership Down too! That one, and Salman Rushdie I nearly missed, and The Three Musketeers, and all of those things turned out to be awesome awesome. That is totally true. On the other hand, there are times when I dig in my heels about stuff I don’t think I’ll like, and then I give in because I remember how much I loved Watership Down, and then it turns out I was TOTALLY RIGHT, and then I end up hating the book. Just like I knew I would. That also happens.

    1. Yes, I suppose all reading has to work on the basis of ‘some you win and some you lose’, Jenny. I know I always buy theatre tickets on that basis. If you don’t book for Stratford before the season starts you run the risk of not being able to get seats later unless the show is a dud. In which case, of course, you don’t want them!

  14. Greetings,I fought tooth and nail to avoid Pride and Prejudice, then feminine persuasion made me do it, begrudgingly I accept it was worth it, Perhaps I should look at watership Down as well, it seems I am not alone in not reading this one. Good luck with Mantell.

    1. I am afraid I have to tell you that ‘Watership Down’ is not a patch on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and I think very much a novel of its time. I doubt that it would have the same impact now as it did in the 70s. I’ve loved everything Mantel’s written and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ has been no exception.

  15. I never got into Wolf Hall, I may give it another go though, I was reading it whilst moving, the week before Christmas and attempting to finish by Christmas Eve to mark my 100 books in 365 days quest. One day I shall…

    1. More than most books ‘Wolf Hall’ needs a concentrated time and space until you’ve tuned in to the narrative voice. It’s very unusual and the one or two other writers I’ve read who’ve since tried to imitate it have come a cropper. By ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ Mantel has it pitch perfect. I think the books are well worth whatever effort it takes simply to watch an absolute master developing a character in such minute steps that at the end you can’t believe the journey you and he have taken.

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