One reason I stopped posting to this blog is because I ran into so many books that were not good but weren’t crap, either, that I found myself uninspired. Why should I waste your time or mine writing full columns about mostly forgettable books? I found myself blocked.
But then I thought, I’m here for you. The mission of Shelf Improvement is to steer you away from crap and I read all those books. So consider this a good dose of fiber meant to bring on a good dump.
I recently finished another project at work in which my grand intentions and clever plans came face to face with reality. As expected, reality won.
The project is still strong, but wow, what it could have been!
Which brings me to this week’s poem, it’s by Lebanese writer and thinker Kahlil Gibran, best known for “The Prophet,” which is likely on your bookshelf, a gift from a well-meaning friend or relative, and just as likely unread.
One day, following what must have been a prolonged harangue from me about the injustices of the world, my wife tossed a book at me and said: “You should read this, you’re in danger of becoming a grumpy old man.”
“A Man Called Ove,” is a book I’d heard about for years and had pegged it as a favorite of women’s book clubs. Her friend, not much of a reader, had loved it, as had many people I know whose tastes never stray off the bestseller lists
On the cover, above a cartoon-like drawing of the back of a man, presumably Ove, and a cat on the top of a hill, is a quote from a People magazine review: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.”
“You’re the one who should read this: It’ll make you appreciate me more.” It was a remark that kind of hung in the air.
So, Classics Challengers. I haven’t abandoned you, but I’ve stopped announcing what books to read in what order because of my few readers, even fewer are playing. I’m trying not to take it personally.
Today, I’m knocking off three categories. I picked these three books because, well, time’s getting short and I’m still not even halfway through the shortened challenge my wife and I chose in January. It’s not that I haven’t been reading, as I’ve said before, it’s that I haven’t been writing. So here we go.
Because the works are brief, I will keep my comments that way, too.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most portrayed character on screen. After reading the thoroughly delightful “Hound of the Baskervilles” for this year’s Classics Challenge, it’s easy to see why.
Because so many readers and moviegoers seem intrigued by him, Holmes has become a great canvas for quirky writers and actors to color. Currently there are two television series based on him. The British one starring Benedict Cumberbatch is too much style and not enough substance for me, and I’ve never seen the other one, “Elementary,” which has a female Dr. Watson, but which I hear good things about. Not bad for a character first introduced nearly 130 years ago.
“Hound” features, according to Sherlock himself, “the most fiendish villain” he’d ever faced, and he is pretty tricky. I didn’t even try to figure out who was doing what to whom; instead, I simply wanted to go along for the ride. This novel came out in serial form in 1901-02 after Conan Doyle had apparently killed off his detective at the Reichenbach Falls in the short story “The Final Solution.” This novel, the third featuring Holmes, is set before his death, and proved so popular Conan Doyle brought his detective back to life.
Re-reading Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” for the Classics Challenge 2016 led me to one of the most talked-about books of last year: “The Meursault Investigation.” Written by Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud, the novel takes a new look at “The Stranger,” humanizing and politicizing and the people and actions in it.
“Interesting” is the word my mother uses to describe a book or a movie she didn’t enjoy or perhaps fully understand, but in which she sees some merit. It’s the word I’ll use to describe “Investigation.” Yes, it’s damning with faint praise, and perhaps a cop out, but it’s also what you say about something that works in theory but not in practice.
Of course, that puts me out of step with the mainstream of literary criticism. This book has received praise around the world, being named to several “Best Books of 2015” lists. Still, it’s not all that satisfying: As a writing exercise, sure, but as a story, it’s not compelling.