Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dandelion Wine


My friend Cindy is a writer, a real writer, the kind that gets a degree and spends a lifetime honing her craft. She doesn't write simply when the mood strikes her. For years she produced a weekly column for her local newspaper, pulling from her life experience for inspiration.

I once read something by an author who said that he often sat in front of a blank typewriter until beads of blood formed on his brow. Yeah, sometimes writing can be that hard.

It is sometimes true for reading also. There are books that simply do not grab your interest. I can read 50 or 60 pages and decide that it's no longer worth my time or effort to continue. When I was young I had the crazy idea that reading War and Peace was a good idea. Pretty soon I was lost in a sea of characters whose names gave me a headache. I quit.

About ten years ago I was mentoring a young co-worker who was making at attempt to get a college education, the first in his family to do so. He was having some difficulties in a literature class and I said I'd read Grapes of Wrath along with him. Pretty soon my head was hurting. I could barely get through a page a day. I was afraid to say anything lest I squelch any enthusiasm for the work on his part.

One day he called and said, "I want to start a bonfire. Gotta any logs? I've got kindling."

"What do you mean?" I queried.

"This book is the worst, ever," he replied.

I could not disagree and we entered into a conversation as to why it sat on us like lead weights.

For me it was just so heavy handed. It's dry. It's dusty. It's poor. It's chaos. It's melodramatic. It's all too much. Page after page Steinbeck hits you over the head with the images. I got it. Seriously, I got it on page 3, and 6, 7, 9, 42, 53, nauseum. It's a literary version of that bird that's singing in my yard.

For those of you who love the book, that's fine. Very knowledgeable people declare that it's a classic, so who am I to say otherwise? We all understand that tastes in reading are as varied as tastes in food or wine, which brings me to the wine. Dandelion wine to be exact. My friend Cindy had suggested the book, "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury.

I purchased a paperback copy on Amazon for a penny plus shipping.


It has a lovely stylized illustration on the cover, although I'm sure that neither Bradbury nor his mother actually looked like this.


The book is a collection of stories loosely based on his childhood here in northern Illinois. Shortly after the book arrived I carefully set up my nightstand with a small snack and something to drink. When everything was just right I climbed into bed under the covers to read. I read five pages, ten page, twenty-five pages. Oh gosh!! This is not grabbing me. It simply is not resonating with me and I was feeling very confused because I know that Cindy has very good taste in books.


Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the paperback was older, yellowing around the edges, produced in a very small typeface.

Finally, I gave up and laid the book aside on my bedroom bookcase. Maybe in the future I would pick it up and try again.

Months later I picked up the book again and found myself engrossed. I started from the beginning, page one, and was soon captured and engaged. What was the difference? Why, the first time around, did I find it so strangely unappealing? Why? Because I tried to read Dandelion Wine in the wintertime!!

This is a summertime book, something Cindy realized. She reads it once a year, at the beginning of summer. Great plan. I shall do the same.

As for giving Steinbeck another shot...... I think not.

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Cindy LaFerle has written her own book. It's entitled "Writing Home" which is a memoir and a collection of stories of home and family life. Proceeds of new book sales go to organizations supporting the homeless.


Her blog:


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How about you? Do you ever give a book a second chance?


Becky said...

I experienced something the other day that blew my mind. The book is "Crazy Love"...about becoming a more purposeful Christian...which of course I am always trying to do. I read the first page or so, and was instructed to go to a website and watch a video! I wasn't at a computer so I just continued to read...a few more pages and was instructed to again go to the website and watch a 15 minute video. You've got to be kidding me!!!!! The book may be the best ever, but I stopped reading and that is it for me. If I want to read, I read. If I want to watch videos, I watch a DVD. I can't think of a single time I wanted to hopscotch back and forth between the two!

chocolatechic said...

It is so funny that you mention War and Peace.

When he was 15, the boy started it, got half way through and quit. After that, for punishment, I'd threaten him with that book.

He was always rather obedient after that...lololol

Suzann said...

years ago I used to force myself to finish the books I started. Then I learned life is too short and not every book is for every person. A few books I have pushed myself through and I am happy, a few others - not so much. I try to read what my children are assigned in school and many times I agree with them - I don't get it!!!
Fun post.

Chris said...

I guess I'm not very "deep". I read for pleasure. If I'm not enjoying the read, I stop reading it!

I have enjoyed many of the classics. But wondered with others if the author was paid by the word...

Lori said...

Good for you for giving the book a second chance. I don't usually do that. It's got to grab me in the first 5 - 6 chapters or it's toast and it can't be too dark either. I like lighter reads for the most part at the end of my day which is when I usually read.

I requested the motorcycle travel book you suggested through our library but haven't gotten it yet.

In the middle of America and lovin it....... said...

I just finished Feather Crowns by Bobbie Ann Mason. What a great book. I now want to get the other books she wrote. Really a good read. No I never have found a book I didnt' like. There have been some I struggled through. I think it comes with age and differences. Now I want to read Dandelion Wine.....I now put a CD on at work and listen to a book while I work......I love it.....

Glad your back keep the writing up.

MelissaD said...

My father introduced me to Ray Bradbury and I've always enjoyed the way he uses words. It's been years since I read Dandelion Wine so I may do so again this summer.
I do agree with you about not spending time on books I just can't "get into" - I used to feel guilty about it until I thought about how many books there are in the world and I should only spend my time on those I enjoy - and that has made me happier.
I had to read The Good Earth in school and can't remember anything about it other than it was horrible and dull...and I won't read it again and no-one can make me! :)

Steph said...

I don't know about giving books second chances, but why is it that the only books on high school/college required reading lists are horrible? Every now and then there will be an interesting one, but geez! Sometimes they find the crappiest longest books that you get totally lost and confused in. If they would find something good, more kids would actually read them instead of getting the Cliff Notes. I always bought those for Shakespeare, lol. And what was that book called that these boys get stranded on an island and end up turning into cannibals, I think one's name was Piggy, it was totally disgusting. No reason in the world to be made to read that book. Yuck.

Kat said...

I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand two years ago. I kept wanting to quit, but after seeing how far I had read, I figured I meight as well finish it...and actually, I'm glad I did.

Mary Rex said...

I think the aforementioned yucky book was The Lord of the Flies.

When I do not like a book, I have usually read enough that I am a little curious about what happens at the end so I will just skim over the rest...reading here and there looking for good parts getting to the end within an hour.

I just read a book that was a NY times best seller for months... a huge thick thing that my friend said was a great book. Not! It was just an OK book, but I read that to the end because I kept thinking there would be some revelation somewhere near the end.

I think I was lucky to start enjoying reading before high school, because it is true that the reading lists are full of cumbersome books.

techwriter said...

I'm so glad you gave Ray Bradbury another try, because he IS awesome! My son, now 19, surprisingly really enjoyed the Grapes of Wrath. I think the difference is that he was reading it in a classroom setting, the teacher pointed out things to note, and they discussed it in class. Reading heavy books like that on my own just put me to sleep.

bv said...

love this post! our schools need a major revamp of 'classics'. i love to read and i was always getting my kids stuff they could relate to. books do feel different at different time of my life. my mom and i can read the same book~i will LOVE it and she just doesn't see it. and no i don't finish a book if i am not getting something from it. just finished Help...Kathryn Stockett..good book. kids could read this to 'see' the south in the 60's. husband of 44 years took me to see 'lord of the flies' on our first date. at that time i was a emotional teen and love it... i always love reading whatever you write!!

Vee said...

Rarely. I am a firm believer that there are too many wonderful books in this world to enjoy without suffering through just for the sake of finishing the book. (I did force myself to finish Watership Down and was glad that I had.) Not all things appeal to all people. I'll check out your friend's work. I love essays and memoirs.

Lisa D. said...

I soooo agree with you on Steinbeck. We had to read Grapes of Wrath in high school, and a short story in elementary school. The Pearl, I think it was. They were both just awful. You described it exactly right - Steinbeck hits you over the head again and again with miserableness.
I've given a few books a second try. Sometimes I start a book, and realize I'm just not in the mood for a longer novel, I just want short stories. A Reader's Digest or National Geographic or Discover magazine fit the bill. Leon Uris is one of my favourite authors, but several of his books are very thick and take more commitment. Trinity was the one I tried and gave up one once, only to come back to it about 2 years later and love it.

Marfa (Crafting Marfa) said...

I find that books, like perfume and food, if I don't like it from the start, I never will. So, I don't give books second chances anymore because its a waste of my time.

myletterstoemily said...

what an excellent piece!

yes, i have given many books
second and even third chances:
"the mill on the floss"
"the brothers karamazov"

i LOVE the authors' other books
but can not finish these.

Velva said...

I really had a hard time with Steinbeck. I found him to be so depressing, I too, had a headache. I gave up. never ventured onto War and Peace.
Thanks for sharing yoru thoughts.

Cindy L said...

I am honored to read this post, Suzanne, and glad the book spoke to you upon second reading. That said, I've found myself in your position more times than any English major would dare to admit. Friends -- whose taste in books I respect -- recommend books often, but more often than not, I find that those books don't hit me in the right place at the right time.

You're exactly right: A book has to find you at the right time. This sounds rather magical, but it's true. Also, there are SO many good things out there competing for our time and attention. It's hard to make the right choice sometimes!

I always love and enjoy your blog, and again, thank you for featuring me today!

My Kateness said...

Do I ever give a book a second chance? Absolutely! At different times in my life, a book can strike me in an entirely new way. However, I'm still waiting to be engrossed by Ulysses or Remembrance of Times Past, both of which made my eyes glaze over when I first tackled them.
And it's the same with music. I can put on a CD and not be able to stand it, but two years later it's the best thing ever.
One changes, matures, changes, I guess.