I recently found a hidden treasure inside a book. I almost missed it. I almost tossed it aside, undiscovered.
This raises some questions: Why did I choose this book to read in the first place? Why did I reject it after the first chapter, and why did I pick it back up a few weeks later? And what do YOU do if you find yourself slogging through chapter one, and teetering somewhere between a deep coma and convulsions by chapter two?
Somewhere in the circuitous caverns of my brain, lies an imperative that I should always finish reading and never abandon a book. It must have been some teacher, early on, who added an Eighth to the Seven Deadly Sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony, and tome desertion. After reaching adulthood, and okay, I’ll admit it—my red hat, purple dress years, I’ve become more self-assertive and less concerned about the shoulds and shouldn’ts of convention.
How about you? How do you select your next book, and what happens if you think it’s a waste of your time? Do you have the Eighth Deadly Sin Rule holding the reigns on your reading habits? There may be some valuable lessons here for readers, in making their book choices, and for writers, from a marketing perspective.
Let’s begin with choices: First, how do you choose the next book that you’ll buy or borrow, and then actually read? I conducted an unscientific survey of friends, family, and internet comments. I admit that none of these reasons affected my choice for reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I picked up this book because I’m reading as much as I can of the same genre as my novel, which is fiction with a child protagonist. Some commonalities from my little research project:
Secondly, what happens if you don’t want to finish the book? Do you soldier on?
Or do you commit the Eighth Deadly Sin?
In my case, I committed the Eighth Sin because I initially stopped reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog because it seemed tedious, but later I atoned. What inspired me to go back and pick it up again? Two reasons: I read intriguing and sometimes startling reviews of the book and wondered what I was missing. I also wanted to know what caused such strong polar opposite opinions:
“If you are an artist, a thinker, someone who longs for more, an aestheticist, a dreamer, a seeker…. then read this book. It made me laugh and cry in a way that only a well crafted, well loved, well written book can.”
“This book is beautiful for its underlying truth: we are all worthy of love, love that will surely be given, if we will but believe we are worthy.”
“The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an absolutely breathtaking book. Just stunning. Light and airy, yet penetrating, with bits of soft brilliance on every page. My goodness, what an astonishing book.”
“When finally a semblance of plot surfaces, it is so banal that you want to cry.”
“Even if I were to overlook the self-obsessed, banal philosophical discourses that dominate this novel, I would still hate ‘Elegance of the Hedgehog,’ mainly because its characters are contrived and unbelievable.”
Okay, so much for review excerpts. What did I think of it?
I love this book and I’m grateful that I gave it a reprieve. Its philosophy could easily deter anyone whose interests don’t usually lie there, but the rewards for persevering are many. Yes, it’s a social commentary, an extraordinary social satire blended with art and philosophy and humor, expressed through the lives of two outsiders, each deceptively erudite and yet deeply aware of life’s everyday simple pleasures. Twelve-year old Paloma sums up the essence for me:
“…Just by observing the adults around me I understood very early on that life goes by in no time at all, yet they’re always in such a hurry, so stressed out by deadlines, so eager for now that they needn’t think about tomorrow…But if you dread tomorrow, it’s because you don’t know how to build the present, and when you don’t know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it’s a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today…
…We have to live with the certainty that we’ll get old …And tell ourselves that it’s now that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. …and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, and make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity.
That’s what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people.”
I can understand why Parisian psychotherapist Maude Julien prescribes this bestselling novel to her patients. “Yes, I am prescribing it, and I do mean prescribing. This book can do a lot of good,” affirms Julien, the fifteenth arrondissement’s leading psychologist. “The novel is a real toolbox that one can look into to resolve one’s problems.” (L’express, France, February 7, 2008)
Yes, I recommend this book, no matter how you usually select your reads or how you feel about finishing a book. If you can enjoy or tolerate a dose of rich philosophy, and if you have a fat dictionary handy to look up all the long words, you just might appreciate Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog as I do. The choice is yours: to pick it up or put it down. If you do read it, we’d love to know how you feel about the book.