The road ends, but the journey continues...

Three Novels: Giving Them a Second Chance (with Quotes)

Have you ever picked up a best-selling novel or classic titled tome, started to read and then realized, “Nope, don’t like this, even though I’m supposed to because it is a best-seller/classic/got rave reviews”?
Over the years, I’ve become bolder in my resolve to just put the darn thing down and not waste time in reading something to the end regardless of the supposed fact of its great merit based upon those criteria.  Unless it’s required reading for a class, an educational pursuit, part of my editing job, or a general curiosity, those inner promptings that state: “Nope, don’t like this, even if I keep reading it, I won’t find any redeeming quality in it,” are heeded more often than not.
Don’t get me wrong, I give ‘em various opportunities to prove their worth for my reading-time-investment. If in the beginning something doesn’t grab me, I’ll often persist in reading through farther or flip through to a section further along in the book.  Honestly, it doesn’t take much for me to give the first round of rejected books redemption based upon a beautifully turned phrase, unique idea, interesting characterization, or point of view.
More often than not, it’s just not the right time in my life to read a particular book, especially if it contains intense material during a time of my own personal upheaval. Because of this, I give myself permission to come back to certain novels at a later time.
Over the course of this past year, I returned to three former book-rejects. In giving them a second chance, they each rose to the task yielding a great reading experience.
You will no doubt be surprised at the three books in question, listed below in no particular order:

1)      The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
2)      The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
3)      The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I think at the times I first tried to read these, #1 felt too whiney, #2 felt too hopeless and #3 was just plain boring. Now, however, I present to you these three novels as my personal selections for you to consider reading or re-reading.

Quotes to entice you…

Chinese red tigerfrom: The Joy Luck Club
“…my mother often stayed in her room working on her embroidery.  In the afternoon, she and I would go on long silent rides in the city, searching for a bolt of silk in a color she could not seem to name.  Her unhappiness was the same way.  She could not name it.”
“When my daughter looks at me, she sees a small old lady.  That is because she sees only with her outside eyes. She has no chuming, no inside knowing of things. If she had chuming, she would see a tiger lady. And she would have careful fear.”

Spiny lizards, Arizona Sonoran Desert

Spiny lizards, Arizona Sonoran Desert

from: The Bean Trees
“We were flattened and sprawled across the rocks like a troop of lizards stoned on the sun, feeling too good to move.”
“But where Estevan’s smallness made him seem compact and springy…Esperanza just seemed to have shrunk.  Exactly like a wool sweater washed in hot. It seemed impossible that her hands could be so small, that all the red and blue diamonds and green birds that ran across the bosom of her small blouse had been embroidered with regular-sized needles. I had this notion that at one time in life she’d been larger, but that someone had split her in two like one of those hollow wooden dolls, finding this smaller version inside.  She took up almost no space.  While the rest of us talked and splashed and laughed she sat still, a colorful outgrowth of rock.  She reminded me of Turtle.”
Ratty and Mole on the River from 'The Wind in the Willows' (1931 illustration by EH Shepard)

Ratty and Mole on the River from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ (1931 illustration by EH Shepard)

from: The Wind in the Willows
“The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancor…He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.”
electric eighth note
This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me, whispered the Rat, as if in a trance.”

What are the novels you have set aside to read at a later date? Perhaps it is time to give them a second chance.


  1. Anna Scott Graham

    Funny that you mention The Joy Luck Club; The novel Tan published after The One Hundred Secret Senses was one I couldn’t get into, and have tried, and still can’t manage it. Like you, if something doesn’t grab me, I move on. But I haven’t had the time or gumption to revisit some of those tales. Kudos to you for giving them another go….

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks for the kudos, still can’t seem to finish Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky no matter when I try to ‘give it a second chance.’

  2. L. Marie

    I’ve never read The Bean Trees or any Barbara Kingsolver book though everyone says I should read The Poisonwood Bible. But I’ve read The Joy Luck Club and recently reread The Wind in the Willows. A book I put down that became a favorite is That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. The first hundred pages seemed as boring as all get out. But a friend convinced me to press on. So I did. And I wound up absolutely loving it!

    • laura bruno lilly

      I agree that if a trusted source encourages me to ‘press on’ through to the end, acknowledging the fact of the boredom factor and all, well I’ll go for it, too. And then there are those novels I’ll plow through regardless just to say, “Yes, I’ve read that…” But those are conscious choices I made to read it through, not because of guilt or obligation (see other comment).
      I’ve read several by C.S. Lewis, but not the one you mentioned and also, quite a long time ago. I remember not liking the Screwtape Letters, and now you’ve got me wondering if I should consider re-reading that! 😉

      • L. Marie

        I loved Lewis’s space trilogy. That Hideous Strength was such a different book!
        Honestly, Screwtape Letters is not my favorite of his. I prefer the Narnia stories and The Great Divorce.

        • laura bruno lilly

          Of course those Narnia stories are a given…we even read aloud bits and pieces of each book to the kids during ‘family’ time when they were young.

  3. Geralyn

    I’ve got a couple of books on my nightstand that I haven’t been able to finish. The Goldfinch is one of them. I heard such wonderful reviews but started reading it over a year ago and haven’t finished it. I’m close but just can bring myself to pick it up right now. Maybe someday. Maybe not. I liked The Joy Luck Club. I haven’t read the others but I’ve liked other books by Barbara Kingsolver. I used to feel obligated to finish a book but not anymore. As you’ve said, it could just be bad timing when I don’t connect with a book.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yes, obligated is a good choice of verbs…and what author really wants an obligated reader? Looked in that way, we’re not doing ourselves or the author any favors in fighting our way to the end of a book that doesn’t connect.

  4. Jane Chesebrough

    I liked Amy Tan’sbooks. Ones that I had funreading as an adult and may have rejected in my early years:
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.Anne of Green Gables and Lord of the Rings (LOL I didn’t want to read it just because everyone I knew was reading it.)

    • laura bruno lilly

      In HS, everyone was reading Lord of the Rings, some guys were even writing notes in middleearthspeak… 😀
      I tried to read further than the Hobbit, but it all just didn’t click…Until my twenties and then I read/reread the trilogy all the way through every two years or so!!! Crazy, eh?

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