The New York Review of Books asks us: “Why Finish Books?” It’s an interesting question, one which merits some thought. I’m currently laboring through a book, which was highly acclaimed, generally well-reviewed by most major critics, and yet it’s one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. Multiple times throughout, I’ve wanted to just throw the thing away, set it on fire, or throw it onto the subway tracks right before the A Train comes rumbling along, sparking those useless pages into flames.
BUT. But I feel so strongly about finishing every book I start because of two books whose difficulty almost stopped me, but which ultimately shaped my lifelong tastes as a reader (and human being): SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, which begins with almost 200 pages of flora and fauna local to the state of Oregon; and 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE which challenges the reader to move past the similarly named characters and move into the magic of Macondo. Those books, I learned, were worth the initial hurdles of difficulty, so much that the difficulty so vanished, and the readerly pleasure emerged.
Should we be harsher on contemporary novels, though? With classics, we’re at least curious about why the books have lasted so long, have earned their way into the syllabi of colleges and high schools everywhere. The sad truth of contemporary fiction is that most of it sucks. This isn’t anyone’s fault; it’s just extremely difficult to create enduring art. So, dear readers, what say you? How many pages should one sift through in order to thoroughly judge a novel’s merits? Different page limits for new books versus the classics?
Submitted by the Literary Man