I’m a pretty orderly person. Some might even say obsessive compulsive. I like my routines, I like lists, I like life to follow logical patterns. This way of functioning applies to the way I read as much as anything else in my life. I keep lists. I have to read books in a certain, set order. I can generally only read one book at a time–or, at the most, one book of fiction and one book of nonfiction. I have trouble DNFing, even when I think a book is atrocious. And when it comes to the structure of books, how they are written, there are certain stylistic elements I absolutely despise. There are rules. And if you break those rules, I’m going to hate your book.
Except when I don’t.
Except when, somehow, you manage to break every reading rule in my arsenal and, despite myself, I enjoy it.
I’m writing this while in the middle of reading May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. That breaks one of my blogging rules, never talk about a book until you’re done and have some distance from it. But since it breaks all of my reading rules, I figured that might be appropriate.
I picked up May We Be Forgiven for literally one reason: the cover. Didn’t even read the jacket copy (it was a library book, so I was ok with that). To understand why you must understand my enjoyment of–nay, obsession with–that culinary delight known as cranberry sauce shaped like the can. But that is another story for another day.
The novel is about Harry Silver, a rather boring, lackadaisical history professor whose life gets turned upside down when his brother George causes a fatal car accident and goes a little (a lot) nuts. In the aftermath of the crash, Harry starts sleeping with his sister-in-law, and when George finds out, he murders her. In a rapid series of increasingly absurd events, Harry becomes custodian to three tweens, two pets, and an elderly couple, starts sleeping with two very strange women, gains access to long-hidden Nixon papers, and travels through a series of hospitals and nursing homes, rehab centers, a survivalist prison camp, and an African village.
There are resons, plenty of them, why I should objectively not like this book, why I should have put it down in the first few pages.
-First Person Present Tense. I despise first person present tense. (I think I’ve said it before- short stories, sometimes ok. Novels- aw, hell no not again). It seems to be the thing everyone is doing now, as if The Hunger Games is infecting every other book out there. And yet, I didn’t even notice it here until I was about twenty pages in. It tricked me! Ok, so I was stuck on it, POV put aside. (P.S. I like The Hunger Games. Really. But first person present tense is a trend that needs to die).
-No Chapter Breaks. This is a nearly 500 page book with no chapter breaks. There are scene breaks, sure, but otherwise it is an unrelenting Wall of Text. Yikes.
-Kids Who Don’t Act/Talk Like Kids.
It’s a fine line, because I don’t like sterotypical apple-cheeked, lisping child characters, either. But the kids here are so absurdly un-kidlike. The twelve year old is the founder of a South African village. The founder. The eleven year old is being seduced by an adult teacher, starts cutting “tribal” tattoos into her arms, and is writing what seems to be a college-level thesis about the intersection of soap opera and puppet theater. They are more perceptive than the adults, seemingly more poised and articulate, and very often completely creeped me out.
-A Year in the Life
Perhaps most potentially bothersome to me is that May We Be Forgiven is a year-in-the-life story, where in 365 days, the protagonist goes from sadsack loser to being full and alive with a patchwork family. It’s reeks of some dumb indie dramedy starring Steve Carrell. I should hate it. And yet.
Another day, another frame of mind, I absolutely would have hated May We Be Forgiven. There just happened to be something in the air the day I picked it up that let me overlook all the things that bothered me until I was so hooked that I couldn’t stop. The elements that usually turn me off instead made the book feel propulsive, vital, and absolutely stinkin’ hilarious. It makes me wonder, a bit, if there are other books I’ve missed out on because they broke my rules. (But that would mean I’d have to go back to never DNFing, which would mean I miss so many more books because, hey, you can’t read them all.)
Oh well. I think this is a dilemma that will not be solved. What are some of your reading rules? And what worthy books break them?