Monday, March 21, 2011

On Books & Reading

One of the perks of taking time away from my doctorate has been the freedom to read fiction again. I have always been an avid bookworm, however I realized that once I started my Masters I quickly gave up on reading fiction because I had so many non-fiction reads for class and research. I read a couple of novels every year during grad school, usually the books my mom gave me for Christmas, but I always felt guilty for taking that reading time away from my degree. Honestly, I think a lot of graduate students who like to read feel the same way - if you're reading for pleasure you're doing it wrong.

Books have always been important to me. They are a fundamental part of who I am and how I survived some tough years in the public school system. Ever since I learned to read I have carried a book with me almost constantly. That is, until my graduate school years. It has been a great pleasure to dive back into fiction again. As an informal goal I want to read 100 books in 2011. Even if I don't make it to that number, I'm going to give it a run for its money and enjoy myself in the process. I've already made it through 13 books since the New Year and discovered some new authors that are great and some books with lots of press that turned out to stink.

First and foremost of those books which I haven't enjoyed much is Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Unfortunately this book is being made into a movie. Save yourself the time of both reading the book and watching the movie by watching the trailer. It basically sums up every major theme and plot point in the book and delivers it in 3 minutes give or take. It also gives you about as much depth into the character's as the author was able to give them in the novel. I found the narrator's style of delivery to be sloppy and annoying. It also didn't really further the story or add anything new to make me confront the ambiguity of the scientific ethics of cloning.

Many reviews talked about a book where you spent a lot of time reading between the lines. While this is true since a lot of the dialogue and descriptions are vague and not fully realized it didn't stir any debate within my mind on the subject. It was not, for me, a "thought-provoking exposition on whose life is worth living and who, if anyone, has the right to set the terms and conditions" as one reviewer wrote. The essence of the book was a great idea, the execution was not brilliant. It was boring and tedious to trudge through all 263 pages. Too much time was spent on minutia and supposedly deep relationships that weren't convincing or even interesting, just petty. Worst of all is that in order to finish up the book the author spells it all out in a final meeting between characters, something he spent the previous 250 pages dancing around and never revealing much. Why bother being so vague and ambigious if you're just going to give me the point blank solution in the end, instead of letting puzzle through it and wrestle with the moral implications. A much better book to read about a dystopian society and the politics of ownership of another human being is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

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