Arts & Culture Commentaries

Downtown View: Books Not To Read

The summer is over, and I bet you didn’t finish all the books you intended to read during this most lovely of seasons. I’m here to relieve your guilt.

Most book reviews tell you what you should read. But some books are not all they are cracked up to be. I’ve read a few books recently that had a lot of hype behind them, and they turned out not to be worth the effort. So instead of recommending books, I’ll point out the ones you can skip and not feel bad about not having tackled them. They’re not all new books, but they have been published recently enough to still be on your list.

• “Fifty Shades of Grey” was puzzling to me since it has been on the New York Times best seller list for months. I had missed the reviews of it, and I wondered what kept it there for so long. And it looked as if it had sequels.

Well, now I know why it is up there. It’s porn. Or maybe just kinky sex. But it’s still hard to figure why it’s at the top of the list. The characters are sophomoric. The author doesn’t know the difference between an adjective and an adverb, and the scenes of bondage and sado-masochism soon get plain boring as in, oh, no, not another spanking. It’s obvious now why there are sequels. You won’t find out at the end of the first book why the dominant, as he is called, needs and employs these practices. But you won’t be much interested in the answer, so skip the sequels too.

• Some of my favorite fantasies are about France, not S&M. So I was excited when I discovered in Peterborough, New Hampshire (which still has a bookstore) “Coquilles, Calva and Crème: Exploring France’s Culinary Heritage: A Love Affair with Real French Food” by G.Y. Dryanski, an experienced travel writer. Despite the serial colons and the blurbs with ingratiating accolades, the writing was boring, disorganized and uncompelling. I should have known when I saw the colons. And it’s hard to understand how following a couple through France as they enjoy the food, the company and the scenery could be boring, but the author manages to make it so. Don’t buy this book. Save your pennies and go to the real country instead.

• I try to finish books, but I understand that many people aren’t obsessive about such things. A book I’m sorry I finished was Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” The self-involved author has no eyes for anyone but herself. She’s recovering from a divorce, and you think if you’d been married to her, you too would have wanted a divorce. But she’s the one who wanted the divorce, so you wonder why she’s so sorry for herself.

She tries to drown her sorrows in Italy, India and Indonesia. She gets more unappealing as she goes. Finally she solves her problem: she finds a man. Now there’s an original ending.

Aren’t we past the man thing solving women’s problems? Then I heard she has written a sequel about her man. I’m going to skip that one. I skipped the movie too.

• Another big disappointment has a wonderful title. “Must You Go” chronicles the love story of Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser. It’s told mostly through Antonia’s diary. The book makes you realize that good writers, like Antonia, can write diaries that are as boring as the rest of the population’s. There is lots of name-dropping, and it might have been better if Ms. Fraser had just furnished a list of all the people they knew, because we get no insight into these famous dinner companions or weekend guests. The phrase, “Must you go,” is a wonderful beginning to a romance, but we never see the romance, never understand why they are so compelling to one another except that they are both accomplished people, and rarely have a clue as to what these people are feeling. A reader begins to feel that if an author like Margaret Atwood, or even Ann Patchett, had taken their story and turned it into a novel, we would have been led behind the scenes. But Fraser is too guarded about any feelings she and Pinter must have had beyond clichés.

With books like these, aren’t you glad summer is over?

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com.

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