A guest post by Quill To Live editor Sean Burns:
We all have that person in our lives. A family member, a good friend, a co-worker, or a significant other. One who loves reading and can’t wait to recommend another one of their favorites to you, and that’s great! You smile as you accept the book, but somehow it comes out looking like a bit of a grimace. You bring the book home and decide to bite the bullet immediately, well maybe not immediately, maybe after opening up a craft brew or some wine, anything to help you relax a little bit. You read the back cover to make sure you know what you are in for, then you take a big gulp of your drink of choice, and you crack the cover. Then, just as you suspected, just as you feared, the book is terrible. Empty. Flavorless. Your loved one has recommended another dud.
I guess I am taking a leap here, I don’t know if everyone has someone like this in their life. Maybe all you get is recommendations like The Greatcoats, Lightbringer, or Malazan. If so, you are one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed with relatively few people who have managed to consistently maintain a stellar recommendation list for me (*ahem*the-owner-of-this-blog*ahem*), but I have had close friends and significant others recommend me some of their #favorites to which I sigh internally, grimace, and prepare for the dark work of appeasing them.This post is an ode to the many times I have endured suffering for a loved one, specifically when my most recent girlfriend recommended the book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, and I hope you enjoy the telling of my journey.
My girlfriend had just finished The First Law Trilogy on my recommendation, and wanted to return the favor (perhaps sadistically so?). So she walked over to her bookshelf and reverently drew forth a large red paperback and handed it to me. A Pulitzer Winner, and the premise was intriguing, something about superheroes, young misfits, and comic books. Needless to say, it was enough to pique my interest. My to-read list has never been short, but when your significant other gives you a book with special meaning to them, it gets a free pass to the top. So I brought Kavalier and Clay home with me, and started the book. I read before bed, which usually leads to a tiring morning because I am up too late turning the pages of my latest paper-based love, but let me tell you this, I was as rested as I’ve ever been the first week I tried to get through this book. There were some great, young misfits named Kavalier and Clay with some character driven moments that countered the droop in my eyes, but then I would turn the page and there would be two full pages of description about a partially run down building in New York that served only as a monument to the author’s descriptive ability. And then it would happen again. And again. And then all of a sudden I would wake up with the sun shining through my windows, and the book lying on the floor, where it had fallen from my limp grip after sleep claimed me.
So I quietly hid the book under the rest of my to-read pile, and got back to books that filled me with wonder and joy, all the while making vague obfuscations to my girlfriend about my progress in her beloved book. The guilt of not finishing it began to build up, and soon she and I were headed out on a weekend camping trip. I decided to take a drastic step. I brought no reading material with me EXCEPT for Kavalier and Clay. Gods help me. It had been long enough that I began again from the beginning, and I quickly learned to skip the excessive descriptives. In doing so I began to see some extremely well-written and realistic characters. There are great moments of darkness, light, and the shades in between during the story of two kids becoming friends and eventual business partners. There is a great dichotomy of the successful Kavalier and the failure Clay that brings about questions of friendship. But soon the weight of the prose, and a too slow buildup of the actual story continued to tear at what little interest I had managed to garner.
I tried to hold on to my goal of finishing this book for the sake of love, this book that I would normally have never looked at again after my first attempt. However, after reaching nearly the halfway point I must have let slip one too many sighs into the tent, as my girlfriend looked upon my brow, sweated with the effort of ploughing through the book, and asked if I wanted to stop. I shamefacedly admitted I did, but luckily she cared enough for me to take the book from my hands, set it down, and suggest we go out of our tent on an Amazing Adventure of our own.
All in all, I think it’s wonderful to get book recommendations from loved ones, even if you do have to struggle through them on occasion. The great thing about loved ones is that you can (usually) be honest with them, and they won’t love you one iota less. The same goes for giving recommendations. If your loved one hates City of Stairs, well, surely they have some other redeeming qualities, right? I sure hope they do.
Rating for Kavalier and Clay: Did Not Finish (DNF) ~50% (but 100% love)