There are no book police. If one doesn’t care for a book – or a movie – there is no need to suffer through. Indeed, I’ve walked out of two movies in my life.
The first was Pulp Fiction, which opens with scenes of extreme violence. The theater was packed with stunned viewers. Aside from intermittent gasps, all were silent. Except for the obese man behind me. He wore a white T-shirt, which rode up on his belly. His skin was as pale as his clothing. And as characters were battered on the screen, he laughed. Not once – out of shock. But again and again, as though he enjoyed himself. Subject matter – yuck! Environment – yuck! I climbed over legs and, a few steps later, rejoined a world of sunshine.
The second movie I left was Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The film had made a reputation for itself. It was the first movie in which animation and photography had been seamlessly joined throughout. But there were gaps in those seams, which vibrated or fuzzed in and out. The sound was loud and chaotic. I wanted to cover my ears. And the shifting images made me queasy – like riding the Mad Hatter’s teacups at Disney World.
Sometimes, it is better to discard a purchase, and move on. With that in mind, I’m tossing To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (Harcourt, Inc., copyright 1927).
I’d watched The Hours with Nicole Kidman, and found the main character, writer Virginia Woolf, strangely intriguing. Although I’d heard her name, I had not read any of Woolf’s works. On a whim, I decided to change that.
I chose To the Lighthouse because, according to the back cover, it was “the novel that established [her] as a leading writer of the twentieth century.” Seemed like a good place to start. I would read it over a couple of weeks, taking in a little before bed each night.
So I tuck myself in, open the book, and start reading. A few pages in and I’m lost. What is she referring to? This character? That one? Did I zone out somewhere? I reread, but remain unsure.
I take off my glasses and slip the book into the nightstand drawer. I’m usually a light sleeper, but that night I’m lost to the world. The alarm sounds, and I can’t believe I’ve slept through.
Second night. I think I understand what Woolf’s getting at – when a woman is older, she still wants the attention of men. But older women who feel desire soon attract gossip. Being older and married, the main character interacts with men, but does so by mothering her husband’s University students. I think that’s what she’s saying. But there are lines and lines of description – no period in sight – that appear to lead nowhere. I look for symbolism, but the words seem unfocussed. Are they gibberish? I close the book, and again wake with the alarm.
Next night. More meandering prose. Tonight’s theme: Men sometimes develop crushes on their friend’s wives. Is that really an insight? Is that worth paragraph upon paragraph of circular chatter? By now, I’m suspecting that Woolf may have been more disturbed than portrayed in the movie. Instead of thinking about the characters, I’m now wondering how Woolf’s husband survived it all. Did she speak like this too?
Another night follows. The pages wrap male insecurities; how wives drop everything to sooth and flatter once they arise – which is frequently. New characters appear. They watch their neighbors from an adjoining field. This pair is unmarried with an ongoing romance. Or lack of romance. Or something like that.
I close the book on page 54 and, in spite of her ability to cure insomnia, catapult Virginia into the trash-heap. She won’t be lonely though, since I add two additional books that I dread returning to. Good-bye guilt-books! Hello room for new inspiration.