September’s Page Turner

Page Turners

Page Turners

by Val Tobin

Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is right for them by reading the first page of the manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I’ll post the first page of a book and you’ll vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.

After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.

While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece and voted, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.

Today’s Excerpt

Genre: Literary Fiction/Coming of Age

The absurd does not liberate; it binds. – Albert Camus

Chapter 1: Boy with a Skull

While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. I’d been shut up in my hotel for more than a week, afraid to telephone anybody or go out; and my heart scrambled and floundered at even the most innocent noises: elevator bell, rattle of the minibar cart, even church clocks tolling the hour, de Westertoren, Krijtberg, a dark edge to the clangor, an inwrought fairy-tale sense of doom. By day I sat on the foot of the bed straining to puzzle out the Dutch-language news on television (which was hopeless, since I knew not a word of Dutch) and when I gave up, I sat by the window staring out at the canal with my camel’s-hair coat thrown over my clothes—for I’d left New York in a hurry and the things I’d brought weren’t warm enough, even indoors.

Outside, all was activity and cheer. It was Christmas, lights twinkling on the canal bridges at night; red-cheeked dames en heren, scarves flying in the icy wind, clattered down the cobblestones with Christmas trees lashed to the backs of their bicycles. In the afternoons, an amateur band played Christmas carols that hung tinny and fragile in the winter air.

Chaotic room-service trays; too many cigarettes; lukewarm vodka from duty free. During those restless, shut-up days, I got to know every inch of the room as a prisoner comes to know his cell. It was my first time in Amsterdam; I’d seen almost nothing of the city and yet the room itself, in its bleak, drafty, sunscrubbed beauty, gave a keen sense of Northern Europe, a model of the Netherlands in miniature: whitewash and Protestant probity, co-mingled with deep-dyed luxury brought in merchant ships from the East. I spent an unreasonable amount of time scrutinizing a tiny pair of gilt-framed oils hanging over the bureau, one of the peasants skating on an ice-pond by a church, the other a sailboat flouncing on a …

Would you turn the page?

Is this a page turner?

Today’s Book Revealed

Today’s book is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

Blurb from Amazon

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind….Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction.”–Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love–and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

Would I Turn the Page?

So, right off the bat, I’m going to muddy the waters.

Reading that sight unseen, I don’t feel compelled to turn the page. There’s a lot of description, and I find myself impatient, wanting to get to the story. The writing is lovely – very literary – but my mind wanders while I’m reading it, which doesn’t bode well for the upcoming reading experience.

Did I turn the page?

Yes, but for reasons that have nothing to do with my desire to find out what happens next.

I have a friend whose literary judgement I trust. After all, she holds a degree in literature and she turned me onto Michael Connelly and Ken Follett. The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize, which makes me curious to read it and see if I agree with the choice. Also, glowing references to the book were ubiquitous, and I wanted to find out how well it lived up to the hype. And Stephen King, one of my favourite authors, says in his review that it’s extraordinary.

He’s correct. They’re all correct. It’s a good story. I almost made it all the way through. By the time I got to the last hundred pages, I stopped forcing myself to read every word and skimmed through the boring parts.

What makes a boring part in my mind? For me, it’s paragraphs of description. Give it to me straight and brief, and my imagination will do the rest. If it were up to me, that book would be about three hundred pages shorter and not lose anything of the plot.

Perhaps I have an attention problem. Maybe I’ve been hanging out online too much, watching too much television. Perhaps I’m expecting instant gratification and need to slow down and smell the virtual flowers and perfumes and wafts of cigar smoke lovingly and painstakingly described throughout. Or maybe I’m getting more efficient in my old age and have no patience for all that navel gazing.

What do you think?

Does this charm you? Intrigue you? Does it make you want to turn the page and continue reading? Will you run out now and buy the book? Borrow it?

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