Monday, May 31, 2010

The House of Seven Gables finished

I have finally finished The House of Seven Gables - and there was much rejoicing.

Normally I'm not in the habit of posting an update before I've chosen the next novel. In this case, I'm just so glad to be done with it that I want to review it now and get it out of the way.

House of Seven Gables is not the longest book I've read so far. It's not the least enjoyable. But it's just not my style, not something that I would pick up for enjoyment.

There is some guilt in that statement. It pains me to give the thumbs-down to a classic novel. I majored in Education in college, so that I could become an English teacher. I decided against this career because I learned that I didn't really like being around teenagers. I didn't like being around them when I was a teenager - I'll leave you to speculate on the relationship between bookishness and an antisocial personality. At any rate, it was the love of literature that made me choose my college major. I believe in literature. That means believing that when a work has been declared to have "value", I believe it means something. It has stood the test of time. It has artistic value. It says something universal that people continue to care about.

However, Hawthorne. Nathaniel freaking Hawthorne. He never met a comma he didn't like. Having given up on teaching I eventually became a technical writer. Part of my job involves editing, and that includes looking for unnecessary commas and getting rid of them. It's not like we've got a sanction on commas, but when I edit, commas are definitely one thing I'm looking at. Normally I can leave editing mode when reading for enjoyment. Not in this case. Hawthorne's placement of commas often separated completely from the laws of grammar. I could not stop attempting to edit the sentences into something that makes grammatical sense.

Eventually I just started pushing my way through the story, intentionally trying to ignore the punctuation. Of course I can't ignore punctuation, so I was really just very aware that I was trying not to pay attention to commas. I probably sound like some grammar maniac right now who is completely hung up on commas, but while talking about my issues with the commas, someone told me about a friend who was also having a hard time because of punctuation. The novel she was reading went on for pages without a period. Pages. With no clear stop. Look, people need to go to the bathroom sometimes, ok? That's why we have rules about sentence length, and call your writing "bad" if you don't follow the rules. Because people have to go to the bathroom.

All you aspiring writers out there who want to really annoy your readers? Try obnoxious punctuation.

Commas aside, my main problem with the book is that it doesn't fit in on the list. It's supposed to be a ghost story. It's not all that ghostly. There's a lot of talk about ghosts, and there's a sequence in the story in which there may or may not be ghosts - it's kind of up to your interpretation. But the acts of violence that are blamed on ghosts are not supernatural at all, so really it's more like a Scooby Doo mystery. That might be interesting if there were confirmed, actual ghosts around, chuckling about how the living always think the worst of them when it's other people they should really fear. This is not the case. When I wasn't annoyed at the punctuation, I was annoyed that the book really doesn't belong on this list. As a result I read slowly, and finished by reading almost half of this book in the last two days so I could finish up by tomorrow, when it is due back at the library. I have no desire to go through the trouble of checking it in and back out again.

On the bright side, I really enjoyed my holiday weekend. I usually feel like the extra day off goes by too quickly, but this weekend seemed very long and relaxing. I didn't spend the entire weekend reading, but I think there's a message in there somewhere about how relaxing reading is to me - even when I don't completely love what I'm reading. I guess it's nice to just sit still and handle only one task at a time for a change.
I have no idea what I'll be reading next. Tomorrow I go to the library, and my choice will be based on what they have in stock. You'll know when I do.