My neighborhood book club is tomorrow night and I’m about 100 pages into this month’s fiction pick, The Tiger’s Wife. I guess that if I stay up late and cram I can finish it in time to dazzle the ladies with my literary insights. Problem is, I got to page 100 about two months ago and I have had zero desire to pick the book up again. Despite the apocalyptically excellent reviews (sorry, couldn’t come up with an adjective BIG enough for the unctuous praise the book received), those first 100 pages left me pretty cold. Sure, Ms. Obreht is a precociously fine writer, but if you’re familiar with magical realism and Eastern European novels of the last half century, you might find, like I did, that a lot of her schtick is derivative and not particularly emotionally impactful.
Or, you might think it’s a brilliant book and that I’m a boor for being bored by it. No matter. The point of my rambling today is that with any other book, I might have reached that 100-page stopping point and, deciding that life’s too short, buried the novel somewhere in the lower shelves of an overstuffed bookcase never to be seen again. But, I can’t seem to do that. This is one of those books that I feel obligated to slog through no matter how disappointed in it I already am or how certain that the next 200 pages are not going to change my mind. What I want to be reading for pleasure is a toothy thriller, or a frothy paranormal, or literary fare that speaks to themes I’m concerned with right now, or historical nonfiction with lots of plot twists and stranger-than-fiction characters, or a totally irredeemable celebrity memoir. What I feel obligated to do is finish Ms. Obreht’s opus just so that I can say I did.
I’ve always struggled with the notion of virtuous reading. On the one hand, if it weren’t for virtuous reading, my literary education would be sorely lacking in some key areas (I’m thinking of you, James Fenimore Cooper). On the other hand, with so many great books beckoning and the certainty that I’ll never get to enjoy but a fraction of the ones on my multi-page list of things to read before I die, it really rankles to devote valuable time to something just because it’s supposed to be good for me.
Where do you fall on this issue? Do I keep reading and pat myself on the back for my moral fortitude or chuck it and move on to some other page turner? What would you do?