Monday, March 16, 2009

The In-Between Kite Running World of Q&A

OK, so I was at a bloggy book-club meeting last week and the book was Vassanji's The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. I was so excited to read it. I took a Canadian literature in university, and loved Vassanji's work (especially No New Land).

I couldn't get through it.

Granted, I was doing a play. I was very tired. My limited subway-related reading time was axed now that I'm a stay-at-home mom. BUT. I did manage to finish other books while doing a show. I gave up napping "while the children are napping" in order to finish some of them. But I didn't.

I almost never give up a book without finishing it. I can count on one hand the number of times I've done this. White's The Once and Future King. (And for the record, I did like it and got within 50 pages of the end and just gave up because it was soooooooooo loooooooooong. I have a short attention span. I felt life was passing me by.) Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. Um, boring, much? DON'T TAKE THREE PAGES TO DESCRIBE A SUNSET. You'll lose me. There were a couple other books - probably French ones because I was in immersion classes - but they didn't make enough of an impression to stay in my memory.

My (very intelligent) summation of Vikram Lall? Too many...words. There were so many foreign words used that I spent half my time trying to figure out what they meant instead of enjoying the story. And by the way...what story?? I'm still not sure what the book is about. I'm sure, though, if I could make myself read more then something would happen. Eventually. I don't like reading books where it takes FOREVER to get the plot going. Oliver Twist was like that. The movie-musical starts on page 495. I know. I read the whole damn thing, cover to cover for english class.

Anyways, a good friend and I were talking about the book at the meeting, and how it made us feel stupid to read it. We then went on to compare it to The Kite Runner, which is equally foreign to a Canadian middle class audience, and yet we both loved it. And felt like we even maybe learnt a thing or two. In fact, I still can't stop thinking about The Kite Runner. It's my top recommendation for anyone looking for a sensational read.

A very smart lady pointed out that Kite Runner was written with movie adaptability in mind, while Vikram Lall was not. And that is why Hosseini's novel is more accessible to general audiences. She got me there. I had no clue about that.

Then I got to thinking. Why on earth would you write a book that is NOT accessible to the general public?? Vassanji was writing a popular fiction novel, not a text book. I can only assume that he wants to reach as wide an audience as possible. I'm not a stupid person. I'm no beginner reader. I like book-candy as much as the next girl, but I'm also a person who reads Tolstoy and Shakespeare FOR FUN. I certainly hope that Vassanji's goal was not to alienate a potential fan of his work by creating a novel that is only for Elite Readers.

Or, have I just turned stupid? Can people get stupider as they age??? Don't answer that. I don't think I want to know.

I also read Q&A by Vikus Swarup, the novel behind Slumdog Millionaire. Pretty much my favourite novel EVER (since Kite Runner). It was such a charming, clever and wonderful book. I loved it so much. I was SO excited to see the movie. I loved the movie too, but it was different from the book. They made the romance so much more central in the movie (of course). But what shocked me the most is that they changed all the questions asked on the game show. Why?? To make them more accessible to a general movie-going public? The questions in the book were fine. There was no need to change them.

Why does everyone in the film industry feel the need to "dumb things down" for the movie-goers, and why do some authors feel the need to "smart things up" to make their books more erudite?? I don't know if I'm coming or going. Stupid or smart.

Again, don't answer that question. I don't think I'd like the outcome.


Kyla said...

I wonder the same thing. I wish there was more of a balance of enjoyment and intelligence!

Woman in a Window said...

I think I am living scientific proof that yes, stupiding is an aging situation. See.

Mimi said...

Oh dear, I'm the literature prof who hasn't read any of these books. I *can* say, though, that most novelists don't intentionally 'smart things up' out of malice or one upmanship. I think it's like different styles of painting: some painters want to evoke character and story, and some painters want to explore the limits of the form. If a painter is interested in the limits of colour, it's not likely that she is going to be capturing the nuances of an eyelash or even the barest contours of human or fruit or hillside form! Similarly, some novelists focus on story (and Hardy-style practicioners of literary realism deploy 3 page sunset descriptions to overawe us with the sheer fullness of the world their characters inhabit) and others are interested in the limits of form--think of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, which is a good story and readable, but all of a sudden the first person narrator is a different first person!

It's really not a question of whether you're smart or not: it's about what you're interested in reading in the context in which you have occasion to read. Right now, I just finished The Book of Negroes, which is a rip-roaring story, but a bit disappointing as a literary (r/than historical or narrative) work. I also just read some early Fay Weldon which really challenges what a 'good read' is. But it took me a really long time to get through its slim 120 pages, because the writing was demanding so much of my attention, and sometimes it's a kind of attention I"m not much willing to muster.

You know?

Mac and Cheese said...

Gettin' dumber with age over here...

metro mama said...

I like Mimi's answer. And, for me anyway, a lot depends on my mood when I'm reading, whether or not I have long stretches uninterrupted, what I'm expecting from the book (historical narrative, or poetry).

But, yeah, sometimes a book just seems pretentious. And most movies are dumbed down.

kgirl said...

Oh. Mah. Gawd. We are like, so on the same wave-length - I just posted my review this morning.

And let me tell you, it's a good thing you make me sound smart here, becuase my review? Not so much. Reading the thing took all the smart out of me.

Beck said...

I FREQUENTLY don't finish books. I probably only finish a QUARTER of what I start. You don't grab me in the first chapter? I am G-O-N-E.

Lisa b said...

Um, what Mimi said. That's what I meant. Yeah.
I almost laughed outloud at being 'the smart lady' because all I did was plagiarize the smart lady from the lecture I went to. I told you that. Stop trying to make me sound smart you smartpantz.