I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I Flipped the Pages of Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Spoiler Alert!!!)

Bought: 2 August 2014 from Fully Booked after desperately trying to capture the (second to the) last copy available
ISBN: 978-1-61620-321-4, Alconquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014

Brand new, hardbound 

Reason for Buying: For book club discussion

Reason for Reading: I had to.

I have a problem.

I will be co-moderating a book discussion in a few days. And I’m not prepared.

And those who know me in our book club will snicker and think I’m just pretending. That I’m just lowering expectations while I prepare to whip up a surprise production number.
You see, in our book club, Flips Flipping Pages, we tend to over-prepare. In the colloquial, kina-career. When I’m moderating, I tend to get obsessive about expanding the reading experience. First I read the book, most likely a book I’ve already read before. A book I’m championing because I love it. Or a book that intrigues me, haunts me, a book that fucked my brain so hard that it bled, and I will die if I don't talk about it.

I would take my moderation job seriously. I take copious notes and highlight like crazy. I research to find interesting facts about the author, the work, the genre. I Google, er, think of thought-provoking questions. And then I fantasize about the venue, how it should be thematic—to bring the reader back to the book. Even the food has to go with the theme. And then the loot bags! Oh, the loot bags! We stop short of wearing costumes. Oh wait. We don’t.

But for this particular book, I’m not doing any of that. I just cannot muster enough enthusiasm.

It’s the first time I’m moderating a book that I haven’t read previously. This is because we agreed early last year that we would discuss a Wild Card.

In our book club, we decide on the line-up for a full year the previous year. (We have already decided on the 2015 line-up months ago.) That means that we do not get to accommodate new publications.

Last year, we decided to live on the edge. (We book-lovers are such a thrill-seeking bunch!) We assigned September for the Wild Card—a book published in 2014. We took an online poll right after the first semester and this book emerged as the popular vote.

Interestingly, we’re having the discussion with The Filipino Group, one of the most active book clubs in the country. And they chose the same book. It must be really good.  

To make a long story short, I’m not wild about our Wild Card book. There! I said it. I cannot get excited about it. That’s what I mean about being unprepared. After chasing one of the few copies, I read it early August. I'm supposed to read it again this week for a deeper understanding. But I do not have the heart, nor the energy to do so. I choose to clean layers of dust and rearrange my monster of a closet to avoid reading this book. And now, its details have wafted to the nebula of forgetfulness. 

I only realized now how important it is to feel strongly about a book. You need those emotions—whether it’s love, hate, passion, revulsion—to fuel you to champion a book and to prepare for the content and the logistics of a book discussion.

There’s a lot to love about the book, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. It’s one of those books that a friend of mine might read then would send me a note to highly recommend it to me. She/he might say, "I thought of you while reading the book. It’s so you." It’s a book about books—that always gets me lusting over a book. Even better, it’s a book about a bookstore. Heavens! Drool.

The story was nice. Really nice. Super nice. At the end, it was just that. Nice. It makes you say Awww. How sweet. And that bookstore on an island--how quaint. It’s a feel-good kind of book. But when I finished reading the book, there were two words that summarized my experience—Hallmark Channel. It is a Hallmark Channel kind of book. Hallmark Channel shows are not all that bad for me. But they are shows that I can watch while doing something else like sorting my files, repairing jewelry, semi-napping, reading a book like this one.

Look, I’m a reader who lists Robert Fulghum as one of her favorite authors. So I’m not one to automatically deride books with a Chicken Soup for the Soul feel. Not every book has to be edgy. But this book just failed to get under my skin, despite all the good things going for it. All the time while I was reading it, there was a charming classical music soundtrack playing in my head. No, not Puccini or Beethoven, the kind of classical music played fortissimo. But the kind of classical music played while you’re rubbing a dab of butter onto your dinner roll as you giggle politely in a fine dining restaurant. Boring, borderline annoying muzak.

Do I hate the book? Not at all. And therein lies the problem. We don’t always have to love the book. Hate is good too. Hate drives me to insult the author, accuse her/him of sleeping with the publisher, and passionately list down all the vile, idiotic things that make the book suck. Hating a book makes for an interesting discussion. I love it when I hate a book.

But I don’t hate it. Like I said, there’s a lot to love about the book. It cites literary pieces that I also love or would be interested to read. It has some great lines that resonated with me.

There are amusing bits that poke fun at book clubs. It touches on some emotional elements that interest me--death, marriage, adoption. And the love story is really kind of sweet. I don’t hate it. I just mildly dislike it. Or mildly like it. Whatever.

The problem is I feel guilty for disliking it because so many people seem to love it. And it feels sacrilegious for a book club founder to dislike this book that seems to pander to book lovers.  

There is a part in the book that could have saved it for me. One of the characters is stricken with a disease that affects the brain. The character’s mental faculties degenerate slowly. Note that this is a sensitive area for me, having lost a sister to brain cancer. So I braced myself to get emotional. But the narrator ends it abruptly, conveniently kills the character, skipping over the parts that could have gotten under my skin. Maybe she didn’t want to go there. But I felt I had to go there to feel something for this book. Maybe I’m masochistic.

Okay, my book club mates know that I’m easy to please, really. If a book makes me cry, then it redeems itself. It becomes worth it.

Oh—that’s the real issue, I guess. I paid 1,148 friggin pesos for a book that did not hit me in the gut or the heart. It barely skimmed the surface of my ultra-sensitive skin. And it does not even have pretty pictures. So fine. That’s the problem. I felt robbed. And now, I don’t just dislike it anymore. I hate it. Now, I’m ready for the discussion.


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