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I have this self-imposed rule that you don’t buy a book with the movie photo on the cover.  I’ve broken this rule twice – once for A River Runs Through It (the one with a silhouette of Brad Pitt), and a few weeks ago for Shutter Island (which, I’ll admit, I bought at the grocery store – I’ve really purchased books everywhere). 

It also goes against my general beliefs that one should not read a book after seeing a movie, but after many years of wanting to do this and stopping myself I finally relented (it’s my own rule after all).   I really like Dennis Lehane’s books and though I hate most Martin Scorsese films (yes, even the ones with Leo in them), I wanted to see this movie because the author himself said he really enjoyed it.  After seeing it I was so intrigued by how it would play out in print form.  It was an impulse buy at the checkout line, pure and simple.

So in the interest of alleviating some cognitive dissonance (how’s that for a psychological term?) I decided to change this rule too.  My new rule:  it’s acceptable to buy the movie version of the book – only if it’s a trade paperback. 

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I’ve written before about how I develop ( oftentimes extreme)  author crushes.  Chabon and Maguire are two of the my biggest.  They make me want to a be better writer (which is to say a good writer), they make me feel ashamed that I  have never created the kind of sentences they do, seemingly effortlessly.  I often stop and reread, particularly in Chabon’s case, a phrase that is a brain teaser, something you have to really sit and ponder before you really get it.

Suffice to say, I love these guys.  I adore them.  If I were a worshipful person, I might even deify them. 

Which is why these two books were such a fist-in-the-gut disappointment. 

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We’ve talked about this before.  A poorly written book with a good story at its core can still be very interesting.  In fact in a lot of cases, it will be wildly popular and ridiculously lucrative.  A badly written book can still compel you to keep reading.  Even as you wince and groan at the language, you keep pursuing the ending.  You want to see the story unfold, so you stick with it.

Unfortunately.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been slogging through the over 600 pages of The Historian, lugging its hardcover heft to work and back (so much so the binding broke) and all I can think is that 1) Thankfully I read this book when I was commuting by train again and 2) I’m glad I only paid $6 for this book.

This book commits a crime greater than just being poorly written.  It’s a repetitive, drab, pedantic history lesson yes, but that could be forgiven (I loath little more than a character summarizing what another character has just said – apparently for the remedial reader’s benefit).  The problem is that between verbose and awful, awful prose (example – “It was too serious to not be taken seriously”) there are hidden gems like this one:

“. . .but it seemed to me now that a Catholic church was the right companion for all these horrors. . .I somehow doubted that the hospitable plain Protestant chapels that dotted the university could be much help; they didn’t look qualified to wrestle with the undead. ”

Sounds intriguing right?

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AngelicaTo delve into a book completely is, to me, the greatest part of reading.  There is great freedom in suspending your own internal voices and embracing a story without reservation.  Which isn’t easy when the voices in your head are used to being listened to (as mine are).  Oftentimes part of this suspension  is allowing yourself to be easily led where the author wants you to go.  Which can be exactly where you don’t want to go and sometimes it can be away from something you want to see.  They lock the doors and take the lights out on the stairs.  All we can do is turn away and go where the path is open.

I make a habit of not reading book sleeve synopses.  If I did, I might have been forewarned.  Angelica is divided into four parts.  I was only two sentences into part two when I realized I had been duped.  Part one is centered on Mrs. Barton (Constance) and a pernicious spector haunting her life.  I believed it all without reservation – it’s a great ghost story through and through.  Of course she’s haunted.  Of course she’s unable to remove it. Of course she hires someone to expel it from the house.  Of course her husband has something to do with it.

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The ability of children’s literature to handle the “hard topics” is often underestimated.  Sometimes authors are criticised for pandering to children; they are accused of telling kids that the world is a good place where the bad guy always loses.  Embarrassingly my return to YA fiction in my adulthood was for this very reason.  Mostly it has been about nostalgic memories and a yearning for simpler stories.  As I creep farther and farther in adult society, children’s stories address a need for clear cut lines and black and white outcomes. 

If only it were that simple.  That I am misremembering is becoming increasingly clear.  Books like Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte’s Web, and Tuck Everlasting are simple?  Clearly not.  They delve deeply into the basic questions of life: death, love, family and loss.  I’m finding that most YA fiction written today follows the example of these classics.  In fact these days authors more often come under heavy fire for treating kids as they should – as intelligent beings able to deal with complex issues.

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