Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Three weeks ago I picked out a book from our local library: River of Gods, by Ian McDonald. It's nominated for, or has won, a sackful of awards. This is a book I should read, I thought. Awards = Good. That's a rule that's always true, right?

The rule may well hold in this case, but I wouldn't know. I never got any further than the first 8 chapters or so. This was due to a number of things.

Firstly, that I don't have that much time to read books these days; I'm either at work, or looking after the kids, or drooling insensibly in front of the television. Fitting in time to read around all this is difficult. Oh, and I have to talk to my wife occasionally too, otherwise I've found she can get a little irritable.

Secondly, the book is big. 583 pages. Big books take a long time to read, they take a hefty chunk out of my free time. A book has to be worth that investment. The last really big book I read was Jonathan Strange, which was very good but at 800 pages quite a struggle (especially in the middle, boring, part). No problem, I thought, this book has been getting very good reviews.

Thirdly, a book has to grab me fairly quickly. There are too many other demands for my time. If a book makes it easy for me to put it down and doesn't call me back soon, then before you know it, three weeks have passed and it's due back at the library.

The chapters I read were well written, interesting, and witty in places. All good, so far. However, they were all about different characters. Eight different characters introduced, with only the most tenuous of connections between them, if a connection was there at all. I quickly forgot who the first ones were and wasn't sure if the later chapters were continuing their stories or if these were yet more characters.

I wanted entertainment, not a memory game. Maybe if I'd read those first chapters in a single sitting, not spread out over a few days, I'd have kept track of them. When I was younger, I'd have made short work of this book - devoured it whole. I know, I ripped through the contents of our local library as a teenager. I'd like to think that I've got higher standards, more refined tastes these days. The truth is, I'm getting older and lazier. It won't be long before I start reading Mills & Boon romance pamphlets in large print editions and cuffing young whippersnappers round the ear when they question my reading choices. "They're easy to read, young 'un. Now clear off, before I jam this seven-volume derivative fantasy series up your arse."

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