Friday, May 16, 2014

On My Strange and Embarrassing Reluctance to Start "The Goldfinch"

I am, rather abashedly, finally--finally!--starting Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. I feel like the absolute last person in the world to read this book.  

For Heaven's sake, the novel was published on October 22, 2013.  As anyone who's been following the book world even slightly for the past 6 months will know, The Goldfinch received wide critical acclaim and landed on many best-of-2013 lists.  Tartt won a number of literary prizes for the novel, including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for 2014.  

And aside from all the praise & the prizes, The Goldfinch is exactly the kind of novel I am usually anxious to read. It's literary fiction and the plot revolves around a painting ... I love paintings! And there's suspense, there's love, there are weird underworld characters!  How much more enticing could a novel possibly be?

Even more importantly, everyone is TALKING about it.  Or they were a few months ago.  I hate it when everyone else is yapping about a book and I haven't read it (unless it's a piece-of-junk book. Then I feel superior because I HAVEN'T read it. Yes, I know--book snob.  Guilty as charged).  Anyway, The Goldfinch simply sounds like the kind of thing I should have lept at as soon as it came out.  And, in fact, I've had a copy downloaded on my Kindle since November.  There it is, sitting sadly unread, mocking me ... if, you know, books can mock.  Which I think they probably can. 

So, ummm... It's now May of 2014.  Why haven't I read this darn thing?

A couple of things likely factor into my reluctance.  I've read Tartt's The Secret History.  Twice, actually... and that was one time too many.  The first time was back when it first came out, in 1992.  I was 24 and in graduate school, so of course I swooned over it.  A circle of elite, bookish classics students, a Dionysian rite/orgy---wow!  I was disappointed that no one else in my graduate history program seemed interested in organizing any midnight Bacchanalia, actually.  Without the murder, of course. I figured maybe I just had the bad luck to attend the wrong school, the Bacchanalia-free school.  In any case, upon re-reading The Secret History nearly two decades later for a book club, the novel seemed pretty silly and, honestly, just tedious.  So even with all the acclaim for The Goldfinch, I couldn't help but wonder if Tartt's new novel would appeal to me.

And then the other stumbling block for me, I think, has been the sheer length of the book ... all 771 pages of it.  Let me hasten to note that weighty tomes aren't usually a problem for me.  Why, I have a copy of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (1,368 pages) right here in my study.  Ok, an UNREAD copy, so maybe that's not the best example (another book that's mocking me!).  But my point is, page length has never stopped me before.  What did kind of give me pause was the number of people who commented on the book's length after reading it.  I kept hearing people say, "Loved it... but it's so LONG!" Or, "It was fantastic, but should've been at least 200-250 pages shorter!"  Even Stephen King, author of a few longish books himself, ends his (highly favorable) review of Tartt's latest with the suggestion, "don't drop it on your foot."  All of that combined to make me wonder if The Goldfinch was worth the time investment it would require.

So that about sums up why I haven't read it.  And I'm starting to feel like this is an albatross hanging around my neck!  After all, I started up a book blog last month, claiming I would read all the latest literary fiction, right?  And I haven't read the publishing sensation of 2013, the big prize-winner, probably the most talked-about literary novel in years?  What kind of book blogger am I, then?  Oh, the shame, the shame!  I feel like I should take one of  those "dog-shaming" pictures that goes around the internet--a picture of me looking sheepish and holding a sign that says "I haven't read The Goldfinch."  No, no, that's too terrible; no one would expect that, would they?!

Well, I finally decided there was only one solution here... yes, at long last, the time has come to face my shame and plunge into The Goldfinch!  Only one problem: I've received all these Advance Readers' Copies of books from publishers, and I really should spend my reading time on those to build up my blog. So I used one of my precious Audible credits for an audio version.  I'm going to listen to it... all 32 hours of it!  I listen to an audiobook for maybe an hour a day, usually, so it's going to take me a month.  But I'm going to complete this sucker if it's the last thing I do! 

Look for my review of The Goldfinch in about a month, then .... I'm not sure who I'll be reviewing it for, exactly, since it will hardly be a new book.  Nevertheless, everyone needs a pointless task now and then.  It builds character. 

Anyone else out there wanting to start this book, or any other book you have been meaning to read but just haven't? 


  1. You're not the last in the world to read this one! I haven't either :D I have it on my Kindle and I hope to get to it soon. Soonish? ;)

    1. Oh, good, glad to hear I'm not the ONLY one! There should be an online support group for Those-Who-Have-Put-Off-The-Goldfinch. But seriously, I've listened to a few hours so far and it's wonderful!

  2. I actually forced myself to read this book because of your blog. You mentioned it in one of your posts and I told myself that there was no reason to keep putting it off. A friend had the book and kept offering it to me. She got it for Christmas and, you guessed it, hasn't read it yet. The length is certainly daunting. My one spoiler is that I really think the book could have used some better could have been much shorter. I found myself skimming sections.

    I do believe that when you pick up a long book you are really making a commitment, that I am sometimes hesitant to make. What if a better book comes along when I am in the middle? What if life gets busy and I have to put it down? What if I don't like it...too long to just skim to the end. I have several books on my bookshelf that fall in to this category.

    I find it interesting that you didn't like The Secret History, the second time around. I often think that people react to books based on where they are in their life. The first time I read Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, I loved it and thought it was the best book ever. For years, I said it was my favorite book....until I reread it. The second time around, years later, I thought it was awful, I found the characters annoying and generally wanted to yell at all of them to just get it together already!

    1. Yes.... I absolutely agree that a long book is a huge time commitment. Stephen King makes that point in his review of "The Goldfinch," and says readers' hesitancy to start something so long is justifiable. I think novelists should be careful of excessive length, because it can turn people away--even the very readers who would might be the perfect audience for their book.

      Also agree that we respond to books differently at various points of our lives. I was thinking of writing a post about that at some point. It has occurred to me with classics, as well, as I've re-read a few things recently. It's not something I would have thought of until recently--that our reaction to a book isn't static.

  3. Jenn FrankenbachMay 23, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    I am chuckling at 24 year old Leila loving The Secret History and then not so much later on. As you know, I listened to the audio of The Goldfinch. I am fairly certain that if I had the giant ass book in front of me it would have not been completed nor maybe even started. Even the audio toward the end was making me antsy. It could have been chopped by a hundred or so pages. Still, I loved this story. Enjoy your listen/read. Oh and I don't re-read books generally. It's like re-watching a fave movie or show. Never as good as the first time and all the annoyances that you overlooked before stand out like neon character flaws and plot holes. You can't go home...

  4. I don't usually re-read, either! Lol.... It was book club! I agree, the flaws & holes stand out glaringly. But I really think "The Goldfinch" is a better novel than "Secret History.."

  5. Ah, I have completed this behemoth! It's like the readers' equivalent of running a half-marathon. I should post pictures of myself holding the book and a medal. :). Review to follow in the next few days.