Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Giving (Up) Tree

Sure, all the hipsters love him. And his love affair with another noted writer was the stuff of narcotic-laced fairy tales.

But I can't help it. Try as I might, I can't bring myself to finish his masterpiece.

I first picked up Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer several years ago, at the recommendation of a friend. But I was a literature student at the time, and if there's one thing we know about literature students, it's that they never have time to read the things they want to.

So after "re-checking" it out of the library three or four times, I eventually gave up. But I was somewhat tormented by that sense of failing to complete an objective, and I felt compelled to give it another try. But rather than go through the library fracas, I opted to purchase the text. And not only that, but when I packed up all of my possessions for my most recent move, Tropic was the one book I left out, thinking I'd read it on my "spare" time.

And read I did.

Or, rather, I read until about page 80 — at which point the rest of my books were unpacked, and I decided to abandon the Mr. Miller altogether.

I realize this makes me a philistine. I realize my giving up on Henry is an indication of my waning affiliation with academia — perhaps even a symptom of intellectual decay.

But I can't help it. Miller's narrator is so unlikeable — his disregard for women so intense — that I don't care about the philosophy inherent in this blatant display of ex-patriot nihilism. I don't care that the spiritual and emotional decadence is somehow parallel to social collapse.

I wasn't at a good place in my life (when are we ever?) while reading it, and Cancer seemed to only make things worse. Along with other grotesque passages, expletives were too often used (by men) to describe females (and their sundry body parts), which served only to temporarily increase my own disgust for the opposite sex (stupid boys).

So I returned it to my shelf, and plucked Jonathon Franzen's How to Be Alone in its steed.

Not only does Franzen seem to be more appropriate for the times, but if there's one thing grad school taught me, it's that life is too short (and reading lists too long) to trudge through things that don't sustain your interest.

Still, I can't help but wonder if the simple act of closing the door on Henry Miller (for now, at least) means I'm undoing years of education. I wonder if it means I've knocked a couple of points off of my IQ.

But a part of me really doesn't care.

Next up: Why I Love Harry Potter.


Anonymous said...

Life IS too short (and there are WAY too many good books out there) to read something that you don't like.

And I prefer to be called a Dumb Ole Boy, thank you! *laughs*

Michael K said...

Don't sweat it. I gave up on reading everything that I am supposed to read years ago. In fact, I have not read a novel in several years. All I read are biograpies, history and political satire.

Unacademic Advisor said...

Ummm, just because you aren't interested in one writer, regardless of what friends, academics, or the Ivory Tower itself may say about that particular writer, hardly indicates intellectual decay or an undoing of your education. I know several quite well-known academics who aren't in the least bit interested in the work or material of several other quite well-known academics. Being able to say why you don't like something is a sign that you haven't lost anything. And I think some of our very intellectual and academic friends will concur with me. If not, I'll be happy to get some hardcore Ivory Tower dwellers to give you some external validation. Just say the word.

Winter said...

Holy Crap T! Can I change your mind?! I'll think of a way..

(Sorry big Henry Miller fan.)

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

BPP - I was worried about offending with that comment. But anyone who's read Cancer knows it's well-deserved. :)

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Michael - Is it a stretch to assume you might share my fondness for The Onion?

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Un Ad - Actually, if you could find a smarty pants academic to beautifully articulate (i.e. say in ways I don't understand) why Miller isn't worth a bother, that'd be great.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Winter - Is it worth it, in the end? In Tropic, I mean. Or will I just wind up scapegoating men in general for the things the narrator says and does?

Regardless, I may return to it eventually. Now just isn't the time.

Stacy said...

I recently had a similar experience with James Joyce-Dubliners(gasp!). It wasn't that I found it sexist or rude or unenlightening in any way, it was simply boring. Thank goodness I am a dumb unacademic and I am unashamed.

Lee said...

I've had this same relationship with Zeb and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Just can't finish it.

disgruntled world citizen said...

if you don't like the book, don't read it. simple. a former co-worker of mine, who now works in a bn somewhere in your city once said this, and i like it as a philosophy: "i'll never get the time back again." i use that for books, movies, and even conversations. time wasted is time lost. perhaps a fine copy of Confederacy of Dunces will tickle your fancy.

ohh, i look forward to reading your love of harry potter. i may just start re-re-reading the books in re-preparation for the next book. is it bad that i just finished reading them about two weeks ago?

i need a topic to write about in my blog, help me out?

Pamela said...

I say to each his own. If you don't like something, why waste time on it. Life's toooo short.

read wnat you enjoy.

Michael K said...

No stretch at all.

Woodrow said...

I think 80 pages was a sufficient effort. I have several "popular" books on my shelves that didn't get that much love.

Lee said...

Haha...Zeb. I'm a retard.