Confessional: Books I Couldn’t Finish

(Dea and I are sorry for the long absence. We should probably do a thematic book list of stories about what happens to your work-life when your co-worker goes on maternity leave. We’re learning to cope with her absence   – and the baby pictures sure help!)

There are some books I can’t finish. And I know, I know, it happens to everyone, especially when you’re reading Breaking Dawn or Moby Dick (we all know how it ends, come on!) It’s just that, sometimes, I can’t finish a book that everyone else loves.

Today, I’m confessing that I could not finish Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I gave it a pretty good chance, too, but I just couldn’t finish it. The thought of reading more made my stomach hurt.

Bel Canto is based on the 1996 Tupac Amaru takeover of the Japanese ambassadorial residence in Lima, Peru. In some unnamed South American country, Mr. Hosokawa is having a very special birthday party. His favorite opera singer, Roxanne Coss, is singing for him and an audience of international business-persons and diplomats. Terrorists take the party hostage, and beautiful and supposedly deeply interesting bonds form between hostages and terrorists alike, but I don’t know how the story ends because I didn’t bother to find out. I suppose I could have skipped to the last few pages, but I wasn’t even interested in knowing.

I didn’t care about the characters. I wasn’t really moved by the universally agreed-upon ethereal beauty and talent of the opera singer or the the pervading beauty of life despite a hostage crisis, the dissonance between the harshness of life and the beauty of art. The repetitious, simple language evocative of a room full of people who need translators to understand each other grated on me.

Everyone says it’s beautiful, one of their top five favorites, deeply moving and amazing, exquisite, brilliant. I really, really wanted to think all of those things, but instead I felt like I was being forced to eat my lest favorite food every time I thought about opening the book (which would be a mix of peas and cottage cheese, by the way.) I was bored, and irritated, and one of my best teachers taught me the very important lesson that it’s ok not to finish a book you don’t like, because there are so many others out there waiting for your attention.

Bel Canto just wasn’t to my tastes, so much so that I’ve been wary of reading Run, which has had similarly great reviews . You might love Mr. Hosokawa and the beauty of opera as a metaphor and the alarmingly young terrorists. Maybe you love peas and cottage cheese. It’s ok, you can admit it.

After I put down Bel Canto, I picked up Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a guaranteed good read anytime.

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