Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Dislikes

I am an indiscriminate book reader. My reading philosophy is very simple – has a story, will read. I have given up – that is, not finished reading them – on only two books in my lifetime.  I finish what I start even if I do not particularly like it.

Even so, there are some things which grate on my nerves and sometimes prevent a good book from becoming my favourite. I think, all the book lovers have such criteria of categorising a book. Mine are simple and perhaps quite common too.

  1.  A perfect hero / heroine: Think of your favourite book and its central character. Was he / she a paragon? A saint so virtuous that everyone absolutely loved or canonized him / her? It is unlikely that that would be the case. The greatest characters may be larger than life but they are always human. They may be perfect for the situations they are thrown in but as people they are flawed.  Think Sidney Carter, Darcy, Howard Roarke, Heathcliff or Portia or even Harry Potter. None of them are perfect. They have their shortcomings – be it a temper or arrogance or simply a callous attitude. Absolute perfection, to my mind, is extremely boring, bland and lifeless.  
  2.  India as an exotic land / quagmire of poverty and ignorance:  There are few things which irritate me more than modern Indian writers of English who sell India as an unpalatable mix of snake-charmers, arranged marriages, call centres, Bollywood and loud, brash relatives. This trait is more common among Indian chick-lit (I dislike that term but there’s no help for it) writers and Chetan Bhagat. Then there are those who portray India as a land with no hope – a country with new, swanky malls in the cities and farmer suicides, deaths from hunger and Maoists in its hinterlands. The largest democracy where the common man, the middle classes lead an extremely depressing life. If you have read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance or Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, you will know what I am talking about.
  3. Pedanticism: Some really good authors suffer from it. Like Salman Rushdie. I have read two of his books – the really interesting Midnight’s Children and the relatively lesser known Ground Beneath Her Feet. In both the cases, the storyline hooked me. The characterization was great. I could practically see the events playing out in front of my eyes – from Veena’s descent into debauchery born out of a stubborn love to a lost Salim in the wetlands. But what ticked me off was the constant showing off by Mr. Rushdie. His narrative has this annoying stage-whisper in author’s voice permeating it: “Look how much I know. I know India’s history. I understand its present crisis. I know it all.” Agreed, a good author should have a good understanding of his setting but really, must you shout it out loud? 
  4. Moral Science lessons: I hated the subject in school, although I loved GK (General Knowledge) with which it was usually clubbed. So, it is no wonder that I cannot abide it in a book of fiction. Paulo Coelho loves stating moral of the story. I know, The Alchemist is often cited as the favourite book by most of the intellectuals, celebs and what have you. But seriously, I found the book difficult to read, despite it being rather short in length. Sure, it had some gems like the one Farah Khan shamelessly copied in Om Shanti Omif you wish for something with all your heart, the whole universe conspires to make your wish come true. But I detested the preachy tone of the book. I have not read any of his other works except a short story or two but they are written in the same manner. So, he is not on my authors-to-read-by-default list

That more or less covers it. There are some slightly lower order irritants, but the above seriously put me off a book. Yet I, almost always trudge on, unless the book is either really, really vulgar like the Shobha De novel I gave up on after reading thirty-odd pages or if the book suffers from all the maladies that I described above. Thankfully, neither of the two are common occurrences. Ergo, I almost always read a book to its end.

I wonder, if there are any other points that really irritate ardent readers? Do let me know :-)

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  1. I think language. I prefer books where the language is flowy. It need not be colloquial, but I don't want to be reaching for the dictionary every few minutes either. This is particularly a problem with Indian writers writing in English. They don't care if their book becomes unreadable as long as they can show off that they can speak/write in English too! I found 'God of Small Things' difficult to read for this reason.

    There are two books I haven't been able to finish - Rohinton Mistry's 'A Fine Balance' (I read more than half & just did not get the point of it...is there a story in there?) and 'Shantaram' (the reason being he's too patronizing towards India & Indians).

  2. @ Scarlett: Have to agree - language is definitely important. It should not be stilted and I totally hate the use of big words just for the sake of it. While I liked "God of Small Things", I know just what you feel about "A Fine Balance". By the time I finished it, I was viewing it as a chore to be completed!