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Should I Continue?: José Saramago – Blindness

May 29, 2009

First, two things about why – and how – I read:

1) I read for enjoyment. If I happen to absorb some Literature and my mind happens to broadened along the way, that’s great, but I read as a way to enjoy myself. I don’t mean that everything I read has to be sunshine and puppies all the time, but there has to be something in a book that I’m enjoying: characters I relate to, a compelling plot, interesting new information, something. Maybe this makes me shallow or a Philistine, but so be it.

The above is particularly true of audiobooks. I use audiobooks for a number of things, but one of their main uses is as an incentive to get me to do otherwise boring or unpleasant tasks. “Just get up and do your ironing/go to the gym instead of sleeping for another two hours/finish that horribly boring labwork… at least it’ll be a chance for you to listen to your book.” Therefore, I *really* need to be enjoying my audiobooks, or else their effectiveness as incentives is gone, and I will wind up sitting around fat, lazy, in wrinkled clothes, and never getting my degree.

2) I am easily annoyed by writers who use non-standard punctuation, capitalization, dialogue delineation, etc. (I’m lookin’ at you, McCarthy.) Using it to make a point about your subject matter, I get, but at the same time, punctuation exists to enable readers to understand the language. In these cases, I almost invariably turn to audiobooks – I’m more than happy to let the narrator do the hard work of figuring out who’s speaking and where the breaks in the flow of words are supposed to be, and that way I can get straight down to the story.

So, Blindness. I’ve got a physical copy of the book on my TBR pile, but when I discovered the lack of proper punctuation, I hit up the local library for a copy of the audiobook.

Which brings me back to point number one: I am really not enjoying it. I mean, I’m sure it is excellent Literature (Saramago won the Nobel Prize, for goodness’ sake), but it is not an enjoyable read. Thus far, it has been four and a half disks of people being almost unmitigatedly horrible to each other, and devolving further and further into the worst tendencies of human nature. And I get that that’s kind of the point, and what allegorical post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction tends to focus on, but… I already know that human nature is not all rainbows and kittens. I don’t need to spend hours wallowing in that fact.

So, what I want from you all is this: If you’ve read it, does it get better? (I quit at the part where one group of the inmates have commandeered access to all of the food.) Is there a point to the extremely drawn-out descriptions of how terrible the toilet conditions have gotten? I’m curious to see how it all turns out, but not sure if I’m curious enough to endure another seven hours of people being horrible to each other to get there.

And, if it doesn’t get better, is it still worth my plowing through in paper form? Are the Literature Police going to come and revoke my membership in the Bibliophile Club if I don’t finish it? I’m definitely giving it up as an audiobook, but I am willing to plow through less-enjoyable stuff in my paper books, and I do have it in my pile. Or should I just give it up altogether and celebrate the reduction in my TBR?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2009 3:37 pm

    Hahahahahahahaha I’m lookin’ at you, McCarthy! Amen!

    I have not read Blindness, so I can’t tell you whether to finish it, but.. I still have my Bibliophile Club membership card and monogrammed towel, so I’d think you’re okay.

  2. May 29, 2009 4:23 pm

    I loved this book. I have recommended it to so many people and of course had to explain that once you get into it you forget there isn’t much for punctuation or paragraphs. (In fact while I was in that mode of reading, I read quite a few of his other works shortly thereafter.)

    I have to say it does have a great ending, but if you’re still in the ‘prison’ there’s a lot more to go before you get to where it makes it worthwhile. I am truly a fan of dystopian settings so while it did effect me, I don’t think it effected me quite so much as it does other people.

    Not sure that my response helps much in deciding whether or not to finish, but I don’t think they’ll be revoking any status if you don’t finish it.

  3. Shanra permalink
    May 29, 2009 4:38 pm

    I haven’t read this, and I know you specifically asked for people who had, but for what my two cents may be worth: if it’s giving yo that much unhappiness and stress: let it go.

    I’ve had to do that with books before and, I have to say, I’m the happier for knowing I can let myself say “I am not enjoying this. I will read something else”. I’ll still make an effort to finish a book, but…

    And I’ve never even heard of the book until you mentioned it (I think), so I’m sure you’ll not be called less of a bibliophile for not having read it. ^-~

  4. May 29, 2009 4:58 pm

    Confession: I haven’t been able to finish a single one of his books. Not a one. And in addition to being a Noble Prize winner, he’s the only Noble Prize winner from my country, which makes some people act as if I had a Moral Obligation to read and love him. I tried. None of the books I tried worked for me. The Literature Police has yet to come after me :P

  5. May 29, 2009 5:12 pm

    Aerin – Oooh, you got a towel? All I got was this lousy pack of WetNaps. :)

    Amanda – A co-worker was also trying to tell me how great the ending was… but I have some idea of what I’m going to have to get through to get there, and I don’t know if I’m up for it.

    Shanra – It’s only recently that I’ve been able to abandon books… I’m still fighting traces of being a compulsive finisher.

    Nymeth – That makes me feel a lot better about it, thank you. :)

  6. May 29, 2009 7:00 pm

    Didn’t they make a movie based on this book?

    I have this in my TBR pile. Punctuation differences don’t generally bother me–I think in some cases, it’s cultural. I have friends from other countries that use commas frequently to separate thoughts, rather than breaking them up into separate sentences.

    But if you’re not getting into it for whatever reason, it just might not be for you right now. Maybe never, who knows!

  7. May 29, 2009 7:46 pm

    I do have this book on my shelf, mainly because Matt recommended it so highly, but in general, I find Nobel Prize Winners make for very difficult reading. I usually stay away from them.

  8. May 29, 2009 10:52 pm

    I haven’t read it either. I have no interest in reading it. And since the Lit Police haven’t tracked me down, I think you’re safe. However, if I suddenly drop off the face of the earth, I’d start worrying.

  9. May 30, 2009 1:01 am

    I haven’t read this, but wanted to say that I read to be entertained too. And I like how you turn to audiobooks and let the narrator do all the difficult work when it comes to books with a challenging style.

  10. May 30, 2009 3:14 am

    Another vote for letting it go! Life is short, books are a-plenty.

    If you read 100 books a year for the next 40 years, that’s only 4,000 books left that you’ll EVER read. Sounds like a lot, but when you think about all the new books that will come out in the next 40 years as well…it gets smaller. Is it worth making this one book one of the remaining (relatively) few?

  11. May 30, 2009 8:23 am

    sorry to hear youre not enjoying it, I havent read this one. i’d probably give it another chapter or so, then I’d give up if it doesnt get any better. life is too short!

  12. May 30, 2009 9:08 am

    I’m reding this and at the same point you are at the moment, but I’m loving it even though the layout and punctuation is annoying me.
    Hoever if I don’t like something, and I’ve given it 50 pages I give up – there’s so many brilliany books I won’t force myself to read one I’m not enjoying

  13. May 30, 2009 9:11 am

    This is one of my all-time favorites, but I can certainly understand that it’s not for everybody. The scenes of brutality are among the worst I’ve ever read, but I’m not easily bothered by that kind of thing, so I was able to push through when it got particularly bad. And if you’re at the point where the inmates have just commandeered the food, it will get much, much worse before it gets better.

    It does get better eventually though, and for me, the depth of the horror makes the moments of beauty that much more lovely. But that’s just me. I know others who didn’t feel the same way, and I think you could certainly put it aside without having the literature police come and take your reading permit–and I say that as a hard-core Saramago fan. :-)

    There was a movie made of the book. I don’t know if it’s any good or particularly faithful, but it might be a way to find out what happens without putting yourself through reading it.

  14. May 31, 2009 1:52 pm

    LOL, funny that Teresa mentions the movie, which the National Federation of the Blind protested for its horrible depiction of blind people. :P

    Anyway, I’ve not read it either, and have no desire to, so I think you are perfectly justified in putting it down.

  15. May 31, 2009 3:58 pm

    I tried to read another Sarragamo book (forgot the title) and couldn’t get into it either, so don’t feel bad! I actually prefer “darker” books, but pages and pages of people just being nasty to each other would turn me off too. I would also recommend avoiding Christian Jungersen’s “The Exception.”

  16. May 31, 2009 4:43 pm

    Fyrefly – I didn’t finish it. It did not have to do with the non-standard punctuation (I love McCarthy) or the post-apocalyptic dystopian thing (Canticle for Leibowitz anyone?) I just could not get into the book. Let it go. There are too many good reads out there..

  17. trapunto permalink
    June 1, 2009 12:01 pm

    I read for the same reasons you do. At some point I realized that I take certain kinds of annoying books as a personal insult, and continuing them when I would rather ditch them was like standing and letting some tetchy French guy slap my face over and over again with a glove. “Madame, I demand satisfaction!” Best to walk away!

    That said, when I feel so insulted as a reader, I have no compunction–if I have any curiosity at all about the fate of the characters–about skimming the rest of the book to see what becomes of them. Same with draggy or badly-read audiobooks; I check the paper version out of the library to get to the end faster.

  18. June 3, 2009 1:44 pm

    I would say if you’re not enjoying the paper or audio of Blindness, perhaps you should skip off on finishing. If it bothers you to chuck it, pick up the dvd – it stays pretty loyal to the book and that way you have an idea of what happens.

    And the brutality hasn’t even hit it’s high yet from the point you are at – it gets so much worse. So if you’re disgusted now – walk away.

    I’ve read the book and watched the movie, and found both to be satisfying in the end. However I enjoy books that explore how far society can go towards destroying itself. Especially when you consider/contrast how likely it would be to happen in real life.

  19. June 3, 2009 4:54 pm

    I gave up on it about 2/3 of the way through – I think they’re still in prison – dark is one thing but horrible I don’t need to read about. There’s plenty of that in real life. I’d rather spend my free time volunteering and making things better than subjecting myself to it in a book in some voyeuristic literate gesture.

    OTOH, it is in my car. Just in case.

  20. keidalgrim permalink
    June 5, 2009 11:16 am

    Hi Nicki:

    I read a book a few years back called “The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life” by Steve Leveen. It’s a small book so it’s worth taking a look at it. One part that I really took from this book was the fact that, if you’re not enjoying a read, let it go. Put the book down. Quit and move on.

    As a book lover (and an English major to boot), that advice was anathema to me at first blush. However, I’ve come to the realization that life is getting shorter by the day while the TBR pile is growing in the other direction.

    Some books are very tough reads, but deserve every ounce of effort you put into them because the reward is a mind-opening, mind-expanding accomplishment (I’m thinking of “Moby Dick”).

    If you’ve given a book an honest go, and you’ve decided that it’s just not the right fit for you, then I say it’s OK. You’re a reader (as well as a writer), and you instinctively know whether a piece is working or not.

    Listen to that voice and trust it.

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