It depends on the answer to,
“How much slack do you cut a ‘page-turner’?”
I am determined to read books. But there are books and there are books, you know?
Maybe you don’t, because that wasn’t too clear.
Here’s what I mean by there are books and there are books.
I am currently slogging through The Oxford History of the American People. It’s in two volumes. “Volume 1” is 408 pages. “Volume 2” is 522 pages.
It’s a history book. Laden with facts. There is a whole hunk about 1625, in the Caribbean.
If I’m lucky, I can push through four pages at one sitting. Then I’m exhausted and it’s “What on TV?”
That’s not what I want from reading. I mean, sure, sometimes, you know, to learn things. But The Oxford History of the American People is, like, textbooks. I keep turning back, hoping I won’t miss something for the “Mid-term.”
I can’t tell Charles the First from Charles the Second.
CHARLES THE FIRST: “I’m the one with no head.”
The dense material flies over me. Sitting on page 155 of Volume 1, I was asked, “What have you learned?” I was, like,
“Early America was really rough.”
I can remember the “gist” of things. But the specifics go in one brain cell and out the other.
I am also reading Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare. I’m on page one hundred and twelve. You want the “gist” of that one? At least up to page one hundred and twelve?
Here it is.
“We don’t know anything for sure about Shakespeare.”
A hundred and twelve pages of “Nobody agrees.”
The thing that stays with me about Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare so far:
On the book’s cover, Bill Bryson’s name is bigger than Shakespeare’s.
Despite these frustrating drawbacks, I am determined to keep reading. It’s just that, sometimes, I need “soft food.”
So I pick up John Grisham’s The Rooster Bar at Kennedy Airport, to take me through the six-plus hours of flying back home. (Sitting in “Coach.” We have tons of accumulated “Air Miles.” But there’s a reason for that. When we try to use them for an upgrade to “Business Class”, American Airlines won’t let us.)
John Grisham has sold more than a hundred million books, so any critique would be spitting on diamonds. And who am I to critique? We were landing in Los Angeles before I knew it.
I read over 200 pages of The Rooster Bar before reaching L.A. The Oxford History of the American People wouldn’t have gotten me past Brooklyn.
The Rooster Bar is a tightly written tale about three drowning-in-debt, Third Year students at a low-rent law school, who turn to cruising the courthouse hallways for clients pretending to be actual lawyers, collecting fees in cash, and no one’s the wiser.
John Grisham knows the “legal thriller” terrain. The Rooster Bar races along, cleverly structured, capably written, though rarely indulging in literary flourish. An “Express Train” doesn’t dally to savor the landscape.
Basically, it’s Law & Order between two covers. Although hardly a masterpiece, the book successfully serves its purpose. An efficient time-killer, on paper.
I reach the okay-but-not-special conclusion, and after the last page, there’s
“The Author’s Note.”
After reading it, I am definitely not happy.
Listen to this:
“As usual, I played fast and loose with reality, especially the legal stuff. Law, courthouses, procedures, statutes, firms, lawyers and their habits judges and their courtrooms, all have been fictionalized at will, to suit the story.”
Why did he write that?
To deter irate, letter-writing quibblers from ruining his day.
Let’s dissect this shameless disclaimer:
“What do you mean ‘You’re lying’? I’m always lying.”
“I played fast and loose with reality, especially the legal stuff”?
The whole book is “legal stuff.” What am I supposed to believe, any of it? And if it’s not all lies, which part of it is accurate?
In his defense, Grisham ropes in Mark Twain, explaining,
“Mark Twain said he moved entire states and cities to fit his narrative. Such is the license given to novelists, or simply assumed by them.”
That’s ‘The president can’t be a crook because he’s the president.’” Plus, Mark Twain never suggested he was literally “factual.”
John Grisham writes "procedurals" with fabricated procedures!
Is this what I tacitly agree to, reading fiction? I sign an invisible contract saying,
“Lie to me, as long as it’s interesting”?
I’m a rookie to this “book thing.”
What should I learn to expect?
And accept as perfectly okay?