Life’s too short to read lackluster books.

Not a lot of thinking goes into the titling of my posts. The only real rules I go by are, 1, make it somewhat snappy, and 2, try not to use the “On….” construction (ie, “On Corduroy Pants,” “On Day-Old Pizza,” “On Hipster Nonsense”, etc.) Today, though, the title of my post is a sentence because it is something that I feel quite convicted of and if you don’t want to continue reading, I want you to at least have that one line stuck in your head because I feel it is so true.

Don’t waste your time reading stuff you don’t love. Just DON’T.

I have been left with meh emotions about the last few books I’ve read. I’m not even going to tell you what they are because then the seed of reading them will be in your brain and you’ll want to read them to see if I have bad taste or not, and that’s not a good reason to read a book. So, sorry. I will tell you that they are very popular and I can see why, but they just weren’t a good fit for me. I put them down before I finished them and returned them to the library. Had I read them in years past, I likely would have finished them, but I am now the parent of a baby and my time is at a premium.

More and more these days, I find myself rereading books from my past that I think are wonderful. I know my time won’t be wasted on them. These are the books that challenge me, enthrall me, make me see the beauty in the world, and truly take me to another place. They are not the books for everyone, but they are the books for me. They are the books I am married to. Marriage is something you’re in for the long haul. You will change, but the other person will change with you and always teach you something new about life. Such is it with good, made-for-you books. They will always reveal their splendor anew each time you approach them, and they will meet you where you are.

I am in a polygamous relationship with several books. Here are my lovelies.

What Is the What by Dave Eggers

This is the true story of Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee living in Atlanta. He recalls his life as one of the “lost boys” of the Sudan. Sure, it’s about survival and hope. Sure, it’s inspirational. Sure, it’s entertaining. But it’s also about how things suck ROYALLY sometimes and things very rarely wrap up neatly. Any other book would fabricate Achak’s life in a pleasant, didactic way. Not this one. His struggles are muddled with his victories. And that’s real life.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

For some reason, each time I read this book I am traveling. This is probably because it goes fast and you can easily polish it off on a three-day weekend. But just because you can read it quickly doesn’t mean it’s not worth its weight in platinum. I read it for the first time after reading two or three contemporary stinkers in a row, and it taught me not to give up on the modern novel. Even my husband – who is basically the Simon Cowell of books – was impressed with it.


Now the Green Blade Rises
by Elizabeth Spires

Elizabeth Spires is a poet who I was exposed to in college. Actually, it was in the class where I met B that I first read her poetry. It was her images of circles and cycles and continuity that really inspired me, and they still do now. For our very first Christmas together, B gave me Now the Green Blade Rises and I just love it. Her poetry is delicate and strong, and it made me finally “get” poetry.

The Once and Future King by TH White

I take every single opportunity I can to talk about The Once and Future King, a recent adaptation of the King Arthur myth (and by “recent”, I mean that wasn’t written in medieval times). I’ve hijacked a lot of discussions of perfectly good books so I could go on and on about it. I just freaking love it. This is likely because I wrote my thesis on it in college, so I got in good and cozy with it for a solid six months. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about it. It’s a sprawling story with so many layers that I could read it 100 more times and I’d still find something new to love about it. I have about four copies of it so I can always be lending it out to people.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I was turned off by Lolita the first time I read it, and I didn’t finish it. I don’t know what brought me back to it, but when I attempted it again with an open mind, I found it to be one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. Its melancholy is delicious. The language is beautiful and the prose just meanders. It’s sad and wonderful and disgusting and perfect.

What books are you married to? What inspires you?

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73 comments

  1. I have different books for different moods. When I need comfort, something by Maeve Binchy or Rosamund Pilcher is a requirement. When I am in a deep, dark funk, the Mists of Avalon is my reading companion. I have been blessed to not need to read it for a few years. And of course, when I need more magic in my life, there’s Harry Potter. When I’m bored at home, The Far Pavilions is just what the doctor ordered. I could go on.

    1. I have always wanted to read Mists of Avalon and the fact that you mentioned it here was just the push I needed to get on that and read it soon. Thanks for that! ;D

      1. becomingcliche · · Reply

        It is worth it. None of the prequels are, though, so don’t waste your time!

  2. I love this post. It’s JUST what I needed today. I’ll take your recommendations and head off to Barnes and Noble. The two that really peak my interest are “The Once and Future King” and “What is What.” The story of the Lost Boys has always stirred me.
    I have a book to recommend for you Emily, it’s off the beaten path but I think you’ll find it funny and horrific all at the same time. Sort of like the bath house. Maybe you’ve already read it…? It’s called “Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven.” It’s quick and a little light weight but something tells me you’ll appreciate it. No pressure, just a quirky recommend.
    I’m with you, I hate wasting my time on a mediocre book. If I don’t like something by the halfway point I stop reading. Life’s too short.

    1. Oh, and “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven” happens to be a true story which makes it even better. It was written by, Susan Jane Gilman.

      1. Thanks, Lisa! One of my motivations for writing this post was to get some good book recommendations from the people who read my blog, so I will definitely be checking out Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven! You had me at “quick and a little lightweight”. Hehehe.

        I took a class in college with one of the Sudanese lost boys. Before I read What Is the What, I didn’t really know the whole weight of what he had been through. I was floored that I had been sitting in class all those times with someone who had been through so much. It makes you know that you should treat everyone you meet with kindness because you never know the things they’ve seen.

        1. A gripping life · · Reply

          That’s so true. I remember hearing their story many years ago on 60 minutes and it was almost beyond my comprehension. I always wondered how they adjusted in America, I can’t imagine how they emotionally processed everything they went through and continue to go through. And to think one of them was in your class! Wow! It’s a small world.

          1. Wow, so you should DEFINITELY read it then! It directly addresses the adjustment to America. You are going to love it.

  3. I don’t read “good” books anymore because they invariably disappoint me. I should say, I don’t read contemporary good books. I am going to get through The Once and Future King based on your recommendation, but I mostly read best-selling terrible horrible fantasy books. Now, I should say that they aren’t really terrible horrible (except for Laurell K. Hamilton’s more recent books), but my friends look down on them. I am glad they don’t look down on me.

    The first time I gave up on a book was The Shipping News. I hated it while everyone around me loved it. I found it boring, depressing and the characters desperately unlikeable. But that’s just me. Now, a Jim Butcher novel? That makes me want to hole up in a room with some really good tea and no children.

    1. The way you feel about The Shipping News is the way I feel about the book I referred to in the post. Everyone I usually have similar taste to seems to sincerely love it, but I think it’s massively over-rated (and it’s not 50 Shades; ewww. I would have no problem saying aloud that it’s garbage.) I guess I should be more annoyed with the hype than the book itself, but I wouldn’t be a good recovering English major if I didn’t shake the dust off my snob hat every-so-often.

      1. I, too, am a recovering English major. I will admit to reading some very good YA fiction. My favorite find is “Scrawl” by Mark Schulman. Oh! and The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo (I know it’s not YA). I freaking loved that whole series. Salander is such a strong, sympathetic character, the kind you’d like to have coffee with at some really funky place.

        1. I really want to read The Girl WTDT! I’m glad I wrote this post because now I’m set for book recommendations for the next several years.

  4. So now I want to really read for pleasure. I am going to jot down Once and Future King for my winter break. I am very sad that I now have to return to reading my business (YAWN) management book …. I am however going to get Now the Green Blade Rises asap. I think I can handle that one a little at a time.
    Fiction is Queen on my bookshelf.. and this nonfiction reading is really dragging me under

    1. I know how you feel! I always have two books on my bedside table – a parenting book and a pleasure book. Sometimes I feel like a bad parent for skimming the sections in the baby books about teething and feeding and development so I can get to “my” reading. Nonfiction is so tedious when you don’t want to read it. I guess it could be worse, though. I don’t think anyone ever faulted their parents for not reading Dr. Spock diligently.

  5. I too have polygamist relationships with inanimate objects. Will have to check these out next time I am looking for an addition to my book shelf which is by my bed which is one of my inanimate loves.

    1. Having polygamist relationships with things rather than people is the best, right? They never get mad if you don’t remember their birthday, and they never get jealous.

      1. becca3416 · · Reply

        Exactly! People don’t know what they are missing.

  6. I’ve read the first two and the last one on your listy-ma-bob there. Agreed, agreed, and agreed. If you lived near me, you’d be getting a stack of books to borrow from my overstuffed bookshelves. My favorites are The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Invisible Man, and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Blindness kinda rocked my world when I read it, too. All highly recommended. As are several others that are too numerous to mention here, but I can talk books for a long, long time. I should probably get a blog…

    1. I’m so glad you weighed in on this one! I knew you’d have some good picks. I think I read Blindness a really, really long time ago, but the fact that I can’t completely remember makes me think I should revisit it. So I will! Invisible Man has been getting a lot of press lately because there is a new play based on it, so I want to read it too.

      1. I hadn’t heard about a play based on Invisible Man. I’ll have to look that up.

        The narration in Blindness is so different from anything else I’ve ever read that I keep going back to it to try getting more out of it.

    2. *Blindness* was an amazing read–absolutely a must. I think we’d like each other’s bookshelves…

      1. I’d hope so. My guess is yours has several hollowed out books hiding whiskey bottles.

        1. liquorstorebear · · Reply

          I wish!

        2. You have pegged LB ;D

      2. Now I REALLY need to read it again!

  7. I don’t know why I feel so guilty to not finish a book I started–I don’t feel the same way about movies. I’ve gotten better about this, but I still usually skim the ending, just to see what happens.

    1. Do you think your distaste for not finishing a book has anything to do with the fact that you’ve written one yourself so you can appreciate all the work that goes into them? I think if I ever finished my own book, I would be a lot more lenient towards finishing ones I don’t love.

      1. Carrie Rubin · · Reply

        I’ve always been that way, even before I wrote a book. Guess I just figure I’ve invested all that time in reading it, might as well finish it. :)

  8. Reblogged this on The Waiting and commented:

    For some reason, this post is pulling a file-not -found in the ol’ reader today. So, let’s try this again.

  9. Lolita is an incredible book.
    For a different treatment of Arthurian legend, check out Guy Gavriel Kaye – the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy.
    I found TH White to just be too damn wordy. Never finished it.

    1. Very, very fair complaint. He can definitely get wordy. The entire Book of Merlyn could have been cut, too.

      I will for sure check out Kaye. I love me some King Arthur.

  10. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is AMAZING. I love that book. And Junot Diaz. I also love The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. One of my favorite writers is Jhumpa Lahiri, who wrote The Namesake, which got made into a crappy movie. It’s a really good book, but I like her collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, better. They’re amazing. I like Paulo Coelho, too.

    And I totally agree about life being too short to finish lackluster books. I forced myself to read The Life of Pi even after I had sort of lost interest in it, and I was just like, why? Why did I do that? It was okay–it got immeasurably better after the first like, 200 pages, but who has time for that? I feel like my life would have been equally as rich and satisfying had I not read it. Also, kept trying to read Wuthering Heights over and over and hating it. I finally forced myself to read it last summer and was just like, dude, I could have not read that and been just fine. Leave it to me to be bored by things that get mountains of acclaim.

    1. It is so great, right?! Junot Diaz just came out with a new book and I can’t wait to get my hands on it! I love The Namesake too. That is definitely on my reread list. I have somehow never read any Paulo Coelho, but he’s been on my list for awhile. I should really get on that.

      1. I want the new Junot Diaz, too! Paulo Coelho is a really good writer. Everyone and their dog has read The Alchemist, it seems. I liked it a lot and I’ve read a few others by him since then, and I’m happy to report I liked them just as much. I always worry that writers are going to be one trick ponies after their books blow up. lol I really shouldn’t.

  11. I had the exact same experience with Lolita; it is one book that I am glad I struggled through. However, I agree with you about skipping books you don’t like. If only there was also a way to get out of the discussion of popular literature so that I don’t have to hear one more assessment of exactly how someone’s life compares to Eat, Pray, Love. Although I thank god for Fifty Shades because that has filled the blogosphere with pure comedy gold (side-eye at speaker7).
    ANYWAY, thank you for the other recommendations.. I just about need a refill on my e-reader and I will be revisiting this for suggestions.

    1. Anytime! I’m also grateful for the crapfest that is 50 Shades simply because of Speaker7’s treatment of them (although I’m sorry she had to suffer through them!) As far as Eat, Pray, Love, I am as sick of hearing about that book as you. Talk about overkill. I’m such a hipster; I probably would have read it if it hadn’t gotten so much press.

      1. My English professor friend told me not to read Eat, Pray, Love. I was so glad to get official dispensation to not read it ’cause I wasn’t gonna read it anyway!

        1. Ha! I read Eat, Pray, Love when it first came out and liked it. Then, later, I went back and tried to reread it because I remembered liking it, and I was like, “Good God, what is wrong with this woman? This book sucks!” Ahh, maturity.

  12. I wish I had time right now to read more books! I agree that some books will remain close to your heart, so close you go back to read them again and again. For me, that happens with John Irving’s books. As for books you feel like you’ve wasted your time on? For me it was The Help. I just didn’t get into it. So many of my friends built it up and maybe that hype kinda set me up to be disappointed. But I didn’t even finish it and I found myself skimming. Not a good sign.

    1. I must live under the proverbial rock because I wasn’t even aware that The Help was a book before it was a movie. I should really read The World According to Garp; it’s one of my favorite movies so I’m sure I’d love the book too.

      1. John Irving is my favorite author too – has been since highschool when my English teacher handed me The World According to Garp and told me that I was the only one mature enough in class to read it. I have to say that I’m married to Cider House Rules. And Les Miserables. I just love them. I’m so glad you wrote this post! I’ve recently found time to start reading again and the library and I are in a very deep love affair. I needed some more books on my To Read list!
        I also read The Help and it was a good, fast read. I generally enjoy books about Southern culture, though. I could take it or leave it, honestly.

        1. Les Mis! Oh, Les Mis! I almost put that book on my list. I have read it twice which is a small feat unto itself. One of these days – likely when C is in college – I will have time to read it again. (But as always, I’ll likely skip the Waterloo part.)

          1. southernfriedinvegas · · Reply

            I have the same copy that was given to me over 15 years ago and it’s falling apart, but I can’t part with it. I’ve read it 4 times and each time, especially since I’ve gotten older and had kids, it moves me differently. It’s wonderful.

  13. I really am trying to guess which books you mean…I hate bad books, and shopping for a book is almost like shopping for produce. You think you know how to pick some limes, and then they make a crappy margarita (sorry, the liquor allusion is never far). *Lolita* is one of my all-time faves—so dark and malevolent and symphonic…there aren’t many books I re-read, but that is one of them.
    It would be almost impossible to come up with a list of “best” books. I’d be sure to forget some, but I’d mention Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”
    Very randomly, here are some recent (recent for me) good reads:
    “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen
    “Blindness” by Jose Saramago
    “The Island of the Day Before” by Umberto Eco
    “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula Le Guin
    “London Fields” by Martin Amis
    “Prague” by Arthur Phillips
    Reading “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett and so far enjoying it.
    For every good book I find I probably buy at least one crappy book by accident and several average ones. It’s hard to weed good books from bad ones! Sometimes they really trick you with the book format, endorsements, etc. Even though my mum worked in publishing for years, we have to be very cagey about selecting a book. (It is interesting talking to publishing people about what they read–sometimes it’s very escapist, sometimes not. Her coworkers would tend to read all the Harry Potter books (probably 50 Shades and The Hunger Games too) as well as more elevated stuff. There was a surprising lack of snobbery about books.)

    1. I’ll give you a clue: a very, very famous blogger wrote it. Aaaaaand cue self-loathing for hating on a blogger. But some bloggers should just stick to blogging, know what I mean?

      I really liked Heart of Darkness when I read it eons ago! Against all odds, I have never read anything by Eco and LeGuin, but now I will. This was just the push I needed! Gotta tell you, I’m pretty jealous of your mom for working in real publishing. I *technically* did too at one point, but writing copy for an industrial supply catalogue doesn’t really compare to rubbing shoulders with people who publish things other than five-line blurbs for sheet metal and insulation.

      1. liquorstorebear · · Reply

        Gotcha. We are waiting for that book to go on sale for $2 at Black Bond, or for somebody to lend it. Amusing for a blog but probably tiring after a while as a book…
        My mum worked for a small but well-regarded press. She started in admin and then got into copy editing, so it wasn’t the glamorous side at all ;) The print runs were usually 400-600 books. But it was a fantastic place to work, great people. And then the kiddies came along…
        As for industrial supply, that’s more up our alley now. The latest project-for-money is a company manual on sewage treatment. Glam!! Thank goodness we didn’t have to visit the facility.
        Another recent good book I just remembered: “Room” by Emma Donaghue.

  14. Weird- I linked to the post early this morning and then it went into space…
    I love re-reading books for the same reason – I know I will love them (Like Mists of Avalon – I never not love that book). I always learn something different when I re-read a book and a few I found don’t resonate with me the same anymore – like Tom Robbins “Still Life with Woodpecker” and “Jitterbug Perfume” –

    Whenever someone says “how can you re-read a book or watch a movie again?” I ask – do you only listen to a new CD once? Nope? Well, there’s your answer…

    I feel the same way about music- don’t waste your time listening to something that you don’t love – give new music a chance but don’t listen mindlessly to crap if you can avoid it – there’s so much amazing music out there -

    1. My husband doesn’t get it when I reread books or re-watch movies, for that matter. I guess I’m not like him and can memorize 600-page novels, heh heh. But I think the true sign of something great is if you can approach it multiple times throughout your life and it can teach you something new each time. That’s great art. And under my definition, Napoleon Dynamite is great art too, and i didn’t stutter :)

      1. Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher · · Reply

        I loves me a little Napoleon Dynamite! I can’t even count how many times I’ve watched Hairspray, Crybaby, and all of the Christopher Guest mockumentaries…

  15. Oh, look at all the pretty books and I’ve not read these!!! Thank you. I’m reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides and Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Capote. Have you read Jennifer Egan’s The Goon Squad? It’s written in 2nd person and done well. Thanks, Emily!!

    1. I haven’t read it, but I will add it to my list! I really want to read Eugenides too. I’m so glad I wrote this post because now I have enough book recommendations to last me until C goes to kindergarten.

  16. Um yes! Thanks for the book recs. Adding them to my to-read list on goodreads!

    1. Haha, you may want to take my recommendations with a grain of salt because I also really love The Scarlett Letter ;)

      1. You must have been drunk when you read it. ;)

  17. I love love love books with a passion that some (my boyfriend) would probably call weird. I haven’t even heard of those books, apart from Lolita, which I haven’t read. Maybe I shall have to see if they have them at my library. Especially the King Arthur one.

    1. If you check them out, I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! Books are wonderful, aren’t they? ;D

  18. Ooh I have not read any of theses ! Thanks for the list.
    I only read raunchy sci fi. I can suggest a lot of good ones if you into that:)

    1. One of my college professors wrote a book about how Jesus was a gay vampire. I went to a Catholic college so I don’t think he publicized his non-academic publications.

      1. must read this !

  19. I’ve been re-reading books these days too and have been wondering whether I’m wasting my time reading things that I’ve already read but glad to know you are doing the same thing! Completely agree on not wasting time on books that don’t resonate. Worst is when I bring a book that I completely hate after the first 2 chapters on a trip, I end up with completely nothing to read for the rest of the trip and tearing my hair out every night before bedtime, or struggling through boring reads.

    1. I totally agree about bringing a stinker on vacation. That’s one reason I love my Kindle; I can always download something new in a pinch if whatever I’m reading isn’t really good. And there are so many websites that let you download public domain books for free!

      1. The kindle’s the best! Can’t legally download books on it in Singapore though, and I’m not technologically sound enough to get round the barriers Amazon put in place to ensure that. Plus I’m not inclined to break laws, however minor they may seem. I hope Amazon hears my cries and just bring Kindle to Singapore already!

  20. I haven’t read a work of fiction in I don’t know how long, although recently I decided to try Wuthering Heights again since I never have gotten through the whole thing. One of my favorite authors is Jack Finney, who wrote Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Time and Again, which is one of my all-time favorite books. If I were exiled somewhere and could have only one book with me, it would be that one.

    1. I keep trying to read “Wuthering Heights”, too. Why can’t I do it? It’s a beloved, classic novel that I just cannot get through. I even downloaded it for my nook.

      1. OK, now this is getting weird because I have started Wuthering Heights countless times too but never finished it. I guess there’s a weird suckhole surrounding it. I really do like Jane Eyre, though.

    2. You wouldn’t know it from my all-fiction list, but I actually rarely read fiction too. I am hooked on nonfiction. I guess it’s just that I rarely reread them, although I probably would reread Germs, Guns, and Steel.

  21. This post came about three Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-Books too late. I like your list. I may check out some of the titles when I’m convalescing from tonsil surgery. Or I might watch Honey Boo Boo Child. It is a toss up.

    1. For selfish reasons, I am going to suggest that you go with Honey Boo Boo because it may result in some recraps on your blog.

  22. I was also surprised that I enjoyed Lolita so much. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has the same experience because they’re all expecting to be turned off by it and it turns out to be much different than you think. I’ve recently starting reading it again.

    1. I know. It’s hard to explain how a book about pedophilia can be “tastefully and artfully done”, but it is. Nabokov is awesome.

  23. Ah, Nabokov. To me he can do no wrong. Thanks for your recommendations. I couldn’t get into Junot Diaz’s book — geez — I wanted to…

  24. I feel like I read a lot of dumb books while preggo because I couldn’t commit to anything that required a lot of effort. I needed a minor escape that didn’t trigger an emotional response. Then I read all of Sarah Bird’s books again and loved them. For the third time. She’s from Austin and really witty slash poignant. Check her out, yo. And thanks for the suggestions! I’m always looking for more books to crowd me with literary comfort.

    I have been without a book for 3 weeks now and I find it weird…and unsettling.

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