Two books down, 58 to go!
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Where did I get the book and how many pages?
I checked out this copy, with 319 pages, from my tiny local library. This is in fact the entire reason it is so far up on the list of reading; our librarian is moving away and will be leaving her job. I have no idea how long until the library will be open again after she leaves. Life of Pi was the one book from this list I was absolutely certain the library had, and I wanted to borrow the copy before I ran out of time.
Have I Read This Before?
No. I have seen previews for the movie, but that was all.
What do I already know?
There is a boy and a tiger on a boat, and they are not Calvin and Hobbes. They may or may not spend time on the boat doing math.
What did I think?
This book was interesting on a couple of different levels; there were things that caught my attention as both a reader and a writer, but it doesn’t always mean it was a good thing. First I’ll talk as a reader.
The first almost 40 pages were completely dull. Seriously, I was bored out of my mind. It was sheer will power and determination to complete this challenge that kept me going. I know it was all technical background information, things that were important to the story at least in a way. Knowing he knew how to swim, knowing he was familiar with the keeping of animals, those mattered later. Knowing the basic concept of the book, that there would be a boy and a tiger on a raft, I could understand why this was information we needed. However there was 4 1/2 pages on swimming pools in France, 7 pages on the safety and humanity of zoos, 5 pages on his nickname, another 15 pages on zoos and zoo animals, followed by almost 30 pages on religion. It was background as to who the character was, but it took a long time for me to get into the overly descriptive way the story was being told, and the way the author chose to beat you over the head with background information. While I began to get used to it around 40 pages in, I didn’t start to enjoy it until almost 100 pages in. At that point, I was hooked. The story had begun to get interesting, and I was finally invested enough to want to know what happened. I didn’t just want to know, I needed to know. Until I was around 240 pages in, and then events began to get weird. Granted, he was floating on the raft at that point, and there was to be expected that he might be getting into a strange mind place, but it was almost too weird. Until this point, you almost believe it could be a true story; here you begin to wonder if the boy has completely lost it. I honestly think my favorite part is the end. I do not want to spoil it for those who have not read it, but there are a few things they tell you early on, including the fact that the boy does in fact survive. The last ten pages made me completely rethink the entire book I had just read, but again the author was beating you a little with the possibilities, by outlining things I had already noticed. Maybe not everyone would, but it felt almost like he wanted to make really certain no one overlooked it.
As a writer, there were things that fascinated me because they seem to break the rules of successful writing. When sending a manuscript off to agents or publishers, you are usually asked to send the first 10 pages, (if they want a writing sample). This works with the writing rule to hook your audience early; if they do not like the fist 10 pages, they will never get to the next 10 pages. However, as I said before, I was not really enjoying the book until almost 100 pages in. If I had been scanning this in a bookstore, I would have probably put it back on the shelf.
Then, as also already mentioned, the end of the book seemed to be trying to spell something out for the reader to make sure they did not miss it. It left me with the slight feeling that the author wasn’t sure I would understand. As far as writing rules, don’t underestimate your reader’s intelligence is a big one for me. I don’t enjoy being talked down to, and I try not to do it to others.
The largest writing rule broken comes in the front cover; the description of the book offers the promise that this book may make you believe in God. That is a bit of a tall order. I’m not sure I can stress enough the need to not promise more than you can deliver to anyone. You may be a writer, a chef, an artist, or a drivethru worker; if you promise me the best I expect you to deliver. Promising to make me believe in God is a bit of a high expectation for a book. Religious texts have not even succeeded in conversion, why would a novel?
To see basic writing rules broken, these things that they often say if you break the rule you will never be published, was interesting enough in a published book. But this is also an award winner, best seller, and listed as essential life reading. It fascinates me to see the reward from taking a risk and writing a story the way you feel it should be told, not how someone else tells you. Sure, not everyone will be this successful, but it is a good reminder to take a risk every once in a while.
In the end I did enjoy the book. The tale of the boy and the tiger, and the fight for survival was compelling; once I got there, I had to get to the end and know exactly what happened.
Should you read this book before you die?
Eh, you can, but you will probably be fine without reading it. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it, but this was not a life changer for me. Whatever the criteria that was used for creating this list, it still won’t make my personal top 50. This isn’t a book I will come back to again and again, but I’m also not deeply unhappy that I read it. I think this book will speak to some people more strongly than others and maybe if I read it at a different point in my life it would have a more profound effect on me.
Time to move onto the next book! For those who remember from last week, the plan is Ulysses by James Joyce. This is a big one, so it might eat into my 1.3 books per week and take a little longer.
If you are reading along, I will be following Ulysses with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I know this would be easier if I simply read down the line of the list, but hey, it’s my challenge, I make the rules. I have to mix it up a little in order to keep myself interested, but also to let myself get copies of the books. Why wait to read something on the list when I have another one right in front of me?
Happy Reading Everyone!