Listening to My Own Advice

Shakespeare and Co.

I should know better than to keep plugging away with a book when it’s just not grabbing me, but sometimes I second-guess myself. I recently picked up Bernard Schaffer’s [amazon_link id=”1463612214″ target=”_blank” ]Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes[/amazon_link] for two reasons: 1) I love Sherlock Holmes, and 2) the murders committed by Jack the Ripper are endlessly fascinating. I was encouraged by high ratings on both Goodreads and Amazon, too. Lucky me, it was available on Kindle for $2.99, so it seemed low-risk enough. I read about 25% of the book. This afternoon, I found myself not wanting to pick it up again. That’s when I knew I should probably just quit reading it. I am a little angry with myself for giving it that much of a chance, but I told myself it must get better because of the ratings. Listen, I am no prig. Not even close. But Holmes and Watson were Victorian-era gentlemen, and if you are going to appropriate another writer’s characters, I think working within the confines of their established characters should be a given. Up to the point I read, I felt Schaffer’s Holmes was faithful to Doyle’s, but Watson? Lestrade? I just can’t imagine Watson grabbing Mary Morstan’s breasts or saying sexually provocative things to her. It seems so unlike his nature. And Lestrade taking up with a prostitute in a dark alley as the prostitute’s daughter looks on from a distance? Well, I don’t like Lestrade either, but really? A significant portion of the part of the book I read is devoted to development of Jack the Ripper, who Schaffer has researched well. Schaffer’s depiction of the killer is spot on, as far as I could tell, but it’s cured me of wanting to read anything more about the case. Disgusting. I mean, obviously on an intellectual level, I knew the Whitechapel murders were the horrific, grisly work of an absolute psychopath, but actually seeing it through the character was too much. Maybe I’m squeamish, but I was really grossed out. I don’t think Schaffer is in the wrong, either. I think Jack the Ripper is buried under some layers of, for lack of a better word, Romanticism, and all Schaffer did was portray him as he probably was. So, I put the book down. I am not going to say it isn’t good because maybe it is, depending on your point of view. It just really wasn’t for me.

I picked up [amazon_link id=”1400031702″ target=”_blank” ]The Secret History[/amazon_link] by Donna Tartt instead, and I was immediately taken. The story begins in a crisp New England fall. At forty-five pages in, I am already sure I will like it. My point is that I should listen to my own advice more often. I gave the Schaffer a longer chance that I should have. I knew it wasn’t grabbing me long before I read so much of it. I was contemplating finishing it anyway and trying to imagine how I would rate it, when it occurred to me I didn’t really have to finish it. After all, don’t I tell everyone else it’s OK to give up on a book and that there are too many good books to read ones you don’t like? Of course! So why continue? Just to see if it gets better? OK, but what if it doesn’t, and how angry will I be with myself if I read the entire thing and wasted a week or more on a book I knew on day one wasn’t grabbing me? So I scrapped it, and now I am reading a book that has grabbed me absolutely within the first ten pages.

photo credit: craigfinlay

8 thoughts on “Listening to My Own Advice

  1. I am slowly realizing that life is too short to read bad books. I have recently put down books that I can't get in to or just don't like the premise or the writing style, and move on to a book, like you, that grabs you immediately and you enjoy!

    1. I know. It can be hard to remember to do, sometimes, particularly if you read good reviews and generally like the sort of book it is—on the surface, this book looks like something I should love, but I just didn't. So at first, I thought it must be me, and I needed to give it longer.

  2. You sound like Alice: I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it. 🙂 Also, hooray for The Secret History! I hope that you do indeed continue to enjoy it! I LOVE it.

  3. I know what you mean … you can always tell when a book is going to be a struggle but I often keep on going for reasons I'm not entirely clear about. Next time, I'll listen to your advice.

    And I read The Secret History ages ago but remember really loving it.

    1. It can be so hard. I guess I want to give it a chance, and I think a part of me is sort of obsessive-compulsive about leaving things unfinished. I loved The Secret History muchly!

  4. Hello Dana, and your lovely readers.

    I appreciated what you had to say regarding WHITECHAPEL. When I began the project I had a clear understanding that it would not be for everyone. For instance, I forbid my own mother from reading it.

    As you ably pointed out, the Ripper murders are accurate, based on autopsy reports and my review of the investigation. Your view of our romanticism of the Ripper reflects my own. I am glad, at least, that my goal of challenging that worked.

    Regarding the Doyle characters…I understand having them presented in a different light is not for everyone. In truth, I love Doyle, and the Holmes canon as they stand. But those books are written, and deserve not to be imitated.

    I only sought to show the world as it (probably) really was, and how the characters that existed in it would (probably) really act.

    As for Watson touching his fiance…I suggest that it does not make one less of a gentleman to demonstrate affection in that way. He demonstrated his manners by stopping when she asked him.

    My best to you and yours. I enjoy your blog, and hope you find my next book GUNS OF SENECA 6 more to your liking.

    1. Thanks! I appreciate your comments very much. No one knows better than I that not all books are for everyone, and by all accounts, your book is very popular among readers and reviewers. Congratulations on your success!

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