I have long struggled with the idea that it’s OK to abandon a book.
Part of it is that I think of my books as friends, acquaintances, potential soulmates and I don’t relish the idea of leaving one to find something better. Part of it is that I always think that maybe it will get better and the end will totally be worth the work of getting there.
Mostly I dislike the time I spend reading something that I don’t finish, which then doesn’t count towards my reading total.
But sometimes a book comes along that just needs to be left alone. Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement was a book like that for me.
I’ve recently realized that I LOVE books about Asia. I love the history and the culture and how these books have such a strong sense of place about them, I love how strong the women in these books tend to be. I hadn’t read Amy Tan before but I was excited to start on the work of the author of the beloved The Joy Luck Club. Naomi @ Consumed by Ink told me to read The Kitchen God’s Wife recently. Both of those books are still on my list.
But The Valley of Amazement was the one I found first and holy cats you guys. It was terrible. At least the 200 pages that I read were.
The Valley of Amazement supposedly tells the story of Violet Minturn and her mother over several decades, over San Francisco and Shanghai and all their changing fortunes. Violet’s American mother runs the best courtesan house in Shanghai but when the monarchy falls, it’s suddenly not a great idea for foreigners to stay. She plans for her and Violet to leave on the next ship but when it’s time to leave, Violet is left behind and her mother thinks she is dead.
Violet is sold to a new courtesan house and is enslaved as a “virgin courtesan”, to be feted and wooed until someone pays the highest price to take her virginity. Then she’s a proper courtesan, caught between the world she never wanted to be a part of and the world she felt entitled to as an American. She doesn’t realize until she’s 8 or 9 that she’s half Chinese, guys.
Listen, I’m no prude. I read smut and have zero issues with it. But the smut has to be good. All this talk of stems and peaches and flower gardens and pudendas. I could not with that. And ok, it was 1912 and things were different but reading about the process whereby a 15 year old girl’s virginity was sold to the highest bidder, was just ick. Violet isn’t likeable, 200 pages in I still didn’t have any kind of STORY aside from the fact that Violet was going to have to have lots of sex for money and make all these gross, old men feel like a million bucks for the work.
At some point, you just have to admit that a book isn’t for you and walk away. Sure, I wasted DAYS reading this when I could have been reading something I actually wanted to finish that would count towards my totals but at least this was a library book!
What’s the last book you had to walk away from?