I decided early this year that I was not going to finish books I wasn’t enjoying.
Generally, I have always finished books I didn’t enjoy (except Moby Dick, fuck that book). I have a pretty strong sense of what I like, and most of what I didn’t like I was reading for school (again Moby Dick). Plus:
I didn’t actually set out to make this decision. I made it after listening to four hours of the audiobook of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
I enjoyed Tartt’s debut novel The Secret History so much. I read it back in college, I related very much to the predicament of some of the characters (some, definitely not all), and the story was so interesting that I could barely put the book down.
But let’s start with the only thing I did like about the book (I can usually find one thing). And that one thing here is that the book led me to the painting. The Goldfinch is an actual painting (which, after looking at for awhile), I’ve decided I really like. It’s one of the few surviving paintings of Carel Fabritius, an extremely promising and talented student of Rembrandt’s, but who was unfortunately killed in an explosion that destroyed much of Delft, a city in the Netherlands, where he was living and working. Most of his paintings were also destroyed in the explosion.
But the book itself? No. And it’s my own fault, really. There were signs. I ignored them.
The first sign I wasn’t going to enjoy The Goldfinch was that my friend hated it. She would have put it down, but was trapped on a flight from New York to Los Angeles and so hate-read it the entire way there. My friend and I have different taste and different opinions on a lot of stuff (for example, intersectional feminism) but being from similar background and having similar interests and education usually means we like a lot of the same novels. She, too, loved The Secret History. She, too, based her choice on her love of that novel.
The second sign I wasn’t going to enjoy The Goldfinch was I read the first couple of chapters and switched to the audiobook. Usually, I listen to the audiobook at work and if I’m really enjoying it, I end up picking up the book to finish it at home (as I did after this with The Girl in the Spider’s Web). It’s not good when I read a bit and decide “Ugh, maybe listening to this will be better.” I now find this is just about never the case. There are books that are enhanced by their audiobooks – actual examples for me being David Sedaris reading his own work, Amy Poehler reading her own work, etc… but I’ve never not liked reading something and enjoyed the audiobook better.
Here is the cliff notes summary of the book, because even the cliff notes are too long:
A boy (Theo) and his mother are victims of a terrorist attack at the Met. Theo’s mom doesn’t survive, and in the chaos following the explosion, Theo, in an effort to comfort a dying man, takes a painting called ‘The Goldfinch,’ puts it in his pocket or his backpack, and forgets about it. The entire rest of the novel is about how this one innocent action, which could easily be solved by returning the painting to the museum, ruins his life.
So I got about four hours into The Goldfinch. A lot can happen in about four hours. You can do several loads of laundry. You can watch an entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ film. You can fly from New York to several other destinations within the northern hemisphere.
The Goldfinch barley got past the terrorist attack. No joke, it took two hours to get to the defining moment of the story, and in book time, we’re barely a month or two past it. The kid’s deadbeat dad hasn’t even shown up yet, and there’s like 12 more hours at least.
It was another awkward meal with the Barbours when I decided to call it quits. Theo’s friends with a Barbour kid from school and his friend’s wealthy parents take him in for awhile while authorities try to figure out what to do with Theo, and Theo, suffering from PTSD, barely speaks to them. In his own head though, he whines incessantly and is incredibly obnoxious, and it was around this time that I realized that I just don’t care about Theo.
I stopped the audiobook, went into the app, returned the book to the library (yes, I’m sure I want to return it early – TAKE IT BACK, STOP ASKING ME!) and called it a day.
I know The Goldfinch won a Pulitzer. I know it was critically acclaimed. I know. I know. I know. Supposedly the story deals with the nature vs. nurture debate as well as the fate vs. free will debate. I don’t care.
I know somebody out there likes this book. I disagree. It’s boring and awful and I highly suggest skipping it if you require anything in your novels beyond the psychological development of a traumatized 13 year old boy – you know, stuff like a plot. I learned that The Goldfinch is a genre of literature called ‘bildungsroman,’ which is a coming of age story in which character development was extremely important. There was not enough character development at a fast enough rate to justify continuing.
I live in the minutia of daily life. I don’t need to read it book form.
And so this is how I decided that life is too short to read/listen to books I don’t enjoy. I’ve quit a couple books this year, and I feel so free!