I’ve posted before about how I could not ‘get into’ the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, nor the Narnia books and how now, I adore those series. I think there are others that I might need to go back to and carry through with them.
I used to finish a book no matter what. Then I found that there are so many books and so many that were not well done that I tend to give up on those which I am not thoroughly enjoying, yet now I wonder if I need to revisit those, or at least, most of those which I just ‘didn’t get’.
Not to say that there aren’t certain lines of behaviors or terrible writing that I will not continue to give my time to.
I have standards.
I have seen movies that I ‘didn’t get’ and found that suddenly, I understand them. Maybe it’s experience, maybe it’s maturity. So why not with books?
Here is one very personal example.
A relative by marriage wrote a book. My family was not fond of it, although for most of the time, they liked the man. I liked the man. When he visited, he was always nice to all of us, and paid good attention to we kids. He was a doting father to his own small child. We knew he was a writer and a real one, because back in the late 1950s his book was published by a major NYC publishing house, and apparently, he wrote for other concerns and gee,
he wore an ASCOT!
It is unfortunate that he did not stay in the family. There were extenuating circunstances.
I will always regret that I did not reciprocate the warm greeting he gave to me when I last saw him. In my defense, I had just turned 9 and was listening to family members talking what I soon afterward realized was nonsense. He was put into no-win situations by his troubled wife and with her family.
Nevertheless, when I grew up, I tried to read the man’s book. It was one of the first on which I gave up. My mother had told me that it wasn’t good, except for one part, “one with the girl”. (“The girl’ is throughout the story; Mom was often vague.) She told me that she thought his cousin, a very famous writer, had to have helped him to write the scene.
I wanted to see for myself, but I didn’t get very far.
Many years later I got my hands on another family copy of the book, and for the sake of his now-grown daughter, I decided to give the story another try, and again, it just wasn’t clicking with me.
Soon after that, when the daughter’s husband and I had time at a family gathering to speak alone, I discreetly asked him if he had read the book. He said that he also tried and couldn’t make it through it. (That man is an academic.)
A few years later, after hearing that the late author-in-law only published the one book, then put his time into the pursuit of arts in other fashion, I made myself ‘get into’ the novel.
It isn’t great literature, but it isn’t bad, not bad at all.
It’s about what most people cannot grasp, thank God; there are too many who now can, and back in the 1950s, there were many then who could have, or should have, but didn’t.
It is the story of a soldier who came home to a small town after World War II. He had trouble getting right back into his old life, into his family, into work, and with his girl, who left him.
Plus, he had nightmares about combat and he had flashbacks.
It’s PTSD, but it did not have a name back then.
Unless you were a “basket case” and “shell-shocked”, you were expected to get right back to business as usual.
Despite the fact that the personnel returning from WWII had much social support and the general gratitude of the nation, few could easily forget what they had seen, suffered, and had to do in the line of duty. Those around them, even those who loved them dearly, could not possibly understand how it just wasn’t as easy as taking off the uniform and slipping into civvies to get back to the same-old, same-old.
Small wonder divorce rates and ‘social drinking’ (and more), became common after WWII. (We have the same today. I nearly lost it in a store a couple of weeks ago in Elizabethtown, the next town over from Fort Knox. One older fellow ,younger than WWII veterans, was complaining how the younger men in his AA group were ‘ruining’ it by only wanting to always talk about what they had gone through in the recent wars. I was afraid to start into the mindless, heartless, soulless man. I didn’t know if I could have stopped.)
With experience, I now get what the author had to say. I can’t say that the book missed its place among epic novels, but it is fair; better than many novels which have been published since.
And the part my mother said was the best? Yes, it is the shining part of the book; I realized it after I read the scene and stopped for a moment, (as you do when you read something truly well done). The scene did indeed involve ‘the girl’, and it was better written than the rest, but I sincerely doubt that the writer’s cousin, (who wrote mostly humor), helped him. It was not out of ‘our’ author’s style.
Unfortunately, the book is long out-of-print. In fact, even my mother’s copy of the book was lost; my sister found a copy in an aunt’s library, which is the one that I finished.
I am glad that I read the book. I am sorry that it took so long. I am sorry that what the author and his fellow veterans must have suffered throughout their lives went unappreciated or assisted.
The man tried to explain by example. His publisher must have seen it as well. The public didn’t ‘get it’. Either that, or it wasn’t as sensational/shocking as Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead”. No, it wasn’t; in that way, it is superior.
I ‘get it’ now. I wish others did. But most of all, I wish that we didn’t have to.
Kudos to you for persevering and re-reading until you understood the book. Sometimes we’re just not ready to digest what someone has to say. I’m sure the author knows and is pleased.
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I hope so. As I said, I was young, but I believe that he meant well. If only things were then as they are now, so that even if he wasn’t able to have full custody of his daughter, (or was afraid to make his wife worse), he could have kept an eye on her situation. She believes that he is pleased that she has his paintings and other works.
very moving — this description of your struggle to read the novel. Also, that you tackled it again, and again, until you finally conquered it.
So sad that the book, with what was apparently its ‘promise’, never “took off” — partly, as you say, because it was before its time.
That said, there were novels written after WW1 which dealt with similar issues, though they also did not have an easily grasped term for the many issues involved.
I have to believe his agent / editor / publisher somehow saw the pain represented in his story and found enough redeeming quality that they accepted it and ran it through their process.
Would you be willing to share the title and the author’s name?
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I believe that the message in the book was too subtle for others to grasp, and that even meaningfulness behind the flashbacks and dreams were beyond the scope of most people ‘s understanding.
I nearly posted the book and author, but since I am telling other people’s private stories without their permission, I will private message it to you and any who ask.
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I wonder if this book could be found in libraries. Its sad how the topic wasn’t well received then. I’m glad you were able to finally finish reading it.
Only maybe in the Library of Congress, which used to have a copy of every book published. (I doubt that they still do that.) Probably there is a copy in the publishing house’s archives.
If you have even tried to find many classics or most books by famous authors, they are simply are no longer on library shelves. It is not yet in the public domain.
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