A Hologram for the King, or: Not Everything I Read is Good
I've noticed a lot of bloggers recently are lifting the veil on their perfect lives to show the mistakes and misfortunes that don't make it in front of the public eye. To be honest, I really like those little admissions of humanness (even when the problems divulged aren't really that problematic). But I realized that people may have similar misconceptions about PAPER/PLATES and my reading life. After all, I make my living recommending excellent books to you good people. Actually, that's not entirely true. I make my living as a professional writer, and I'm not the only one recommending great books. You can thank the rest of the team for a lot of the amazing recipes and reviews you read here each week.
Back to the point: Not every book I read is good, and I don't always finish books I don't like. A recent example of a dissatisfactory read is Dave Eggers' A Hologram for the King. This story of a washed-up bike salesman who moves to Saudi Arabia to sell IT services to King Abdullah's city of the future—which appears to be in the midst of construction but, in fact, isn't—is an exercise in futility. While the pages go by quickly enough, the plot progresses about as quickly as the city, which is to say, slowly. The pace is so leisurely, in fact, that I didn't realize that I was reading as many pages as I was. Then, suddenly, I reached the end and felt I hadn't accomplished anything by doing so.
Perhaps this was intentional on Eggers' part. Perhaps he was commenting on the way that everything is promised and nothing gets done in Saudi. Recent innovations would dispel that theory, though. More likely, Hologram is an exploration of the woes of the modern salesman, he who made the production system so efficient, he wrote himself out of it. This, of course, is a fairly compelling narrative and perhaps what earned the novel a finalist slot in the National Book Award race last year.
Browsing the shelves at Open Books, a great local bookstore committed to facilitating literacy here in Chicago, I picked up the book, lured in by Eggers' reputation and, yes, the NBA sticker on the front cover. Some 331 pages later, I was glad it was all over. This story stirred very little in my heart; I won't be recommending it to friends.
But Hologram isn't the only book I've disliked recently. Some other titles I actually abandoned because I just couldn't go on were A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon and The Five Acts of Diego Leon by Alex Espinoza. The former, I think, told the story of two young men from vastly different backgrounds who meet at Harvard in the early 1960s and become friends. Perhaps it gets better as it goes on and becomes more than the tale of one very obnoxious and one very stoic man and how they become friends. I'll probably never go back to this book, so if anyone else knows, feel free to leave me a comment about it.
Diego Leon, on the other hand, started out with promise. A young boy in rural Mexico is sent away to live with his rich grandparents in the city, but, years later, flees to Los Angeles to escape an impending marriage to a woman he doesn't love. That, and he wants to be an actor. At first, the frank look at the challenges facing a Mexican in 1920s America is interesting. Then the story branches into his exploration of his sexuality, which is not a bad topic in and of itself. Rather, it's the handling of this storyline, the way it's suddenly thrust into the narrative, with little forewarning and limited grace, that tainted the book for me. Will I ever find out if the man achieves his acting dreams and reconciles with his family? Probably not, but I'll live with that.
Your turn: What was the last book you abandoned, and why?