Thursday, September 27, 2012

Books, the Boring and the Bad

I love books. Really. And I understand that they can't all be great, or even good. But some of them are so remarkable for their not-greatness that they seem to deserve special recognition.

For the past two weeks, as part of our history reading, I've been reading aloud Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance. Friends who had already read the book warned me that it was spectacularly boring. But I went by the reviews on Amazon instead. Oh. my. word. Long chapters on real estate purchases, obscure poets, etc. Here is a very representative sentence from the "Black Metropolis" chapter:

 "The Reverend Adam E. Clayton Powell Sr. reported the purchase of a limestone-front private house with mahogany woodwork on West 136th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues for $6,000) ($109,020 in today's dollars), which was resold six years later for $15,000 ($272,550 in today's dollars)."

Page after agonizing page. In fairness, the kids find this book quite entertaining. Not the text, but the sidebars. In the awful chapter on real estate, for instance, there is an amusing section on "The Legendary Pig Foot Mary." Mary sold pigs' feet and other revolting delicacies from a baby carriage she parked in front of a saloon and made so much money that eventually she was able to invest in real estate and make a fortune. Their favorite, part, though, is the section on Jive Talk. "Bardacious" (wonderful), "Dog mah cats" (an expression of astonishment), and "fooping" (fooling around) were much appreciated. The book would be fine to flip through for the interesting bits, but slogging through one boring chapter after another is no fun (and has made me feel rather resentful of the Harlem Renaissance, which might be a little unfair).

And now the bad! This is better, both because I feel no guilt over calling it on its badness and because I didn't buy it! I don't read much new fiction, but A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, caught my eye. The blurb on the back says "Equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense..." Sounds good! But what I failed to notice was that it is vampire romance. And that the romance seems to take precedence over the history. And (and this must have been in the very, very small print) that the writing is excruciatingly clunky. I read a paragraph to the kids -- they thought it was hilarious and Travis now says he is going to write a vampire novel and make our fortune! In all honesty I should admit that I made very little progress in this (well short of the often suggested 50 pages) before the writing did me in, so maybe it gets better, but that still wouldn't help me since I have no interest in vampire romance. However, Travels with Charley is waiting next in line and I'm pretty sure that will be well written and vampire-free!

No comments: