Regular readers will know that my very favourite book of all time is Gone With the Wind. I re-read it once a year. Ditto watching the movie, which I still think is one of the best book-to-film adaptations ever produced.
For years I harboured dreams of having a daughter and naming her Scarlett. She’s just so kick-ass. Uneducated, yes. But not stupid. Ignorant? Probably. But cunning and determined and way ahead of her time.
Every serious boyfriend I ever had was made to watch the movie with me. By the third or fourth time I tried this, it became painfully obvious that no man was ever going to let me name a child after that character – because they all hated her.
Hubs and I have been together for almost thirteen years. In that time, he’s drifted in and out of the room probably a dozen times while I’m watching The Movie. He’s seen bits and snippets. He always says “man, that Scarlett is just AWFUL! What does Rhett see in her? What does anyone see in her? I don’t get it.” And so on. I keep telling him that he needs to watch the whole movie to understand her character better.
So he did. And at the end… yeah, you guessed it. He still didn’t get it. Nor did he get her fascination with Ashley Wilkes. Or why Rhett would be so drawn to Scarlett when there are obviously better women around and available.
I pointed out that the movie does leave out a lot of back story. That the book is so rich in character and historical detail that it would be impossible to include it all. That Margaret Mitchell talks quite a lot about the bizarre class system and antebellum societal mores that formed her character – and how the war forced her to make the decision to change or die. I practically wrote a damn book report.
In the end, we made a deal.
He would read the book. In return, I would have to read a book of his choosing, from his library, which is heavy on a) sci-fi; b) non-fiction; c) multi-book series by guys who’ve won the Hugo and the Nebula. I quailed a bit but hey, I can hack it, and I do go through books at a pretty rapid clip. I can do this.
He presented me with this:
Read the title carefully. It is Anathem, not Anathema. My brain refuses to acknowledge this. Every time I pick up this bloody doorstop of a book – it’s extremely heavy, as it is a trade paperback with heavy-weight pages and is thus quite large, not to mention many many hundreds of pages – my brain screams “ANATHEMA!!!! NOOOOOO!!!!!!” It is not inviting, this book.
It starts off with a timeline of the world where the book is set – Arbre, an Earth-like world – explaining the history of the planet that sets up the main story. It took me bloody AGES to get through the first, I dunno, 100 pages or so. My usual rule about any book is that I will give it 20 pages to grab my attention. If after 20 pages I can’t name the main character, or I’m finding it a chore to pick it back up again, I am DONE. Look, it’s been 129 pages now and I can’t name the main character. I can’t name ANY of the characters. The book uses a lot of what speed-readers call ‘abstractions’ – words that are either completely invented or not-commonly-used – and every time I hit one I bounce right back out of the story.
I’m slowly getting interested now and gradually I’m starting to get a sense of the world the author is developing, but HOLY SHIT DUDE GET TO THE BLOODY POINT.
(It’s only fair at this point to say that Hubs had a similar complaint about the opening of Gone With the Wind. “It took them 86 pages to get to a freakin’ barbeque at their neighbour’s house! But then Scarlett gets engaged, married, widowed, and has a baby in 2 pages! No wonder they lost the war!”)
I have been completely honest with Hubs about my struggles. Namely, I do not like this book. I am not enjoying it. I don’t feel anything for any of the characters. I can’t picture the world they inhabit. I can’t read it when I’m sleepy – it’s like Ambien – or distracted – or there is background noise. At the rate I am crawling through this book, I will still be reading it a year from now.
He has offered me an alternative suggestion – that I read David Brin’s Uplift series. Which is six books. Two trilogies. Now, I have read David Brin before and liked it, but there is something in my soul that is rebelling. Because 1) SIX BOOKS and 2) but then I’d be admitting defeat. And I can’t do that. It wasn’t a bet – it was a deal – but in my head it’s turned into a bet, and if he can read Gone With the Wind I can read Anathem.
Just don’t give me a pop quiz at the end.