The End: A Selected List of Best and Worst Book Endings

April 25, 2011

Imagine you embark on a journey. The going may be slow at first or it may be a bit of a roller coaster ride, but when you arrive near your destination you find yourself facing a dead end. There is no option but to move forward and no turning back. That’s the best metaphor I can come up with to describe my experience of reading a book. When your destination becomes a lame ending it can be quite a letdown. I, the reader, have hung on through thick and thin, and my expectation is some sort of satisfying resolution. Yet, more often than not, I find myself closing the book and either finding myself ambivalent or, worse, disappointed. If the book is well written and the ending fizzles, I will sometimes still recommend the book, but not always.

Here are examples of a few books where the ending left me satisfied and a few that left much to be desired.

Best Endings:

1). To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The book summarizes the entire story in this wonderful look back through seasons and life. Brilliant!

2). The Tortilla Curtain by T. Coraghessan Boyle. Heart wrenching from beginning to tragic end. Fabulous, thought provoking until the bitter end.

3). The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. What a marvelous, often heart-breaking journey of death’s experience of humans. The ending sums up everything so nicely in the last line.  Fabulous! 

4). Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. What an iconic line: After all, tomorrow is another day. Unforgettable.

Worst or So-So Endings:

1). The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

I had other issues with this book. I thought the narrator was a bit pompous, but when she meets her Japanese friend, I am rooting for her. The ending of this book was a prime example of gratuitous death. It was totally unnecessary for the plot. I would not recommend this book mostly because of the ending.

2) The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I loved just about everything in this unconventional book , except the ending, which was corny and a bit hokey. I was ready to bump this book into my list of top ten dog books until the ending sabotaged my experience of the book. I’d still recommend this book and really enjoyed nine-tenths of it, but what a lost opportunity for brilliance.

3). The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. A stream of consciousness that is like the energizer bunny. It just keeps going and going right until the end (when I threw the book down in disgust). Not recommended.

4). Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. A fun read with lots of twists and turns, then near the end our hero jumps from an helicopter and parachutes safely to the ground using his jacket. Really?

Which books hold your favorite endings? What endings ruined a book for you?

Best Writing Season or Weather

April 21, 2011

What’s the best weather for writing?

Winter – Here in Northern California, the sun goes down at 4:45 p.m. in mid-winter.  That makes it dark, really dark, by 5 p.m.  I stayed home to avoid the dark and cold.  Then, there was this year’s prolific, over abundant winter rains.  Forced to stay indoors, one would think I’d have produced enough writing to fill up an eight-gig Cruzer thumb drive.  Did I?  No.  Mildew, I reasoned, would crawl over me if I sat in one place too long.  Instead of writing, I paced through our home with my light halo perched on my head like Luke Skywalker’s Light Sabre.  While I fought my Seasonal Affective Disorder, I muttered nasty comments about the cold, the rain, the dark, and the sagging world economy.

Spring – At long last, the weather is nice.  Flowers bloom and tree bud out.  The sun shines throughout longer and longer days.  Who wants to sit inside when the outdoors is beautiful?  If I sit in front of my laptop for more than ten minutes, my imagination strays to what was going on in my garden – none of it good.  Snails and slugs munch on my colorful tulips, weeds connive to overtake my flowerbeds, and rosebushes conspire to develop early curly leaf.  No time to stay indoors.

Summer – Our mild summers are the envy of all.  So nice to be in the bone-warming daytime sunshine while mild evening breezes promise easy sleep without the drone of air conditioning.  The barbeque pit begs for flaming, deck furniture whines for frequent use, and the multi-colored variety of blooming flowers plead for a lawn party.  Who wants to sit in front of the computer to write while the sun shines, and the long, warm twilight promises romance?

Fall – Green leaves change to riots of vivid colors, then drift to the ground.  While the weather turns colder, another academic year begins, football season starts, and plans for upcoming holidays are made.  What costume will I have for Halloween?  Who will host Thanksgiving dinner this year?  Where will we spend Christmas?  A good time to write?  No.  A new TV season, football games, and unscheduled couch-naps in front of a low burning fireplace take priority.

I have no idea which weather stimulates my writing.  The best time for me to write is when my lesser Greek Muse, Moussaka, lunges into my office, shuts the door, closes the blinds, disables the television remote control, and adds blocks to my email, Facebook, breaking news, weather, financial reports, and my no-cost casino games.  Unfortunately, Muse Moussaka has been conspicuously absent lo these many months.  I believe she is either in the Intensive Care Unit in the foothills of Mount Olympus with a yet-to-be-identified muse disease, or her ability to communicate with me has been severely compromised by this year’s extreme solar flares that resulted in an overabundance of alpha particles.

What is your best writing season or weather?  Cold?  Warm?  Rainy?

The Unsold

April 10, 2011

I hadn’t planned on visiting the Border’s Bookstore Going-Out-Of-Business Sale yesterday.  I already have multiple stacks of “Must Reads” that extend from floor to ceiling.  Yet, when I saw the dancing sign-holder with his red and white poster board announcing 30 to 50% price reductions, the steering wheel magically turned right into the parking lot.  

A few new releases and best seller Must Reads came to mind as I trekked toward the store entrance.  I had little hope of finding ”Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand or “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins still in stock.  When I got to the front door, my hopes of finding a bargain were further dashed by the fine print under the sale sign that indicated exceptions and exclusions apply.  I considered avoiding all temptation and turning away then and there, except for the lure of possible discounts on travel guides.  We already had purchased two guidebooks, but I confess I am an information junky when it comes to planning vacations.

The travel books were all 30% off.  I glanced through the France area.  A book on Normandy caught my eye, but we’ve already scheduled a guide for that excursion and I knew lugging an extra book halfway across the world was not going to happen.  In the Spain section, there were two specialty books, one for Barcelona and one for Madrid that grabbed my attention.  We already had a general Spain guide, but city-specific guidebooks might prove worthwhile.  The Madrid book was beautiful with numerous color photos.  It was also a bit pricy.  Despite the appealing content, however, this book had seen better days.  The lower right cover had a giant crease and the pages were bent, like an over-shuffled pack of bridge cards.  It seemed reasonable to me that the book’s condition should warranted an extra discount .

The checkout line wasn’t as long as I feared and three clerks moved product in quick succession.   The couple in front of me was even empty-handed and moved to the central register and proceeded to explain about an out of stock book order.  The dark-haired clerk at the closest register finished with her customer, but did not call me over.  I waited patiently while this clerk went over to the  explained to her coworker at the central register that the store could not order a book for th couple.  The Helpful Clerk calmly explained to Ms. Bottomline that she’d spoken to these customers earlier and had already gotten approval from upper management.  Ms. Bottomline did not look pleased as she waved me to her register.

I handed over the Barcelona book, then showed the flawed Madrid book to her and asked for a price break.  Ms. Bottomline explained in an unapologetic tone that under no circumstances would additional discounts be given.  This seemed like a foolish business decision to me.  What were the odds that anyone would a) wander into the store looking for a guidebook on Madrid and b) be willing to accept the regular discounted price for something that probably belonged in a second-hand shop? 

I shrugged.  Ms. Bottomline had saved me about $20 and had actually done me a favor.  We are only spending three nights in Madrid and two days activities are already planned.  I knew I could find enough information in my Rick Steve’s Spain guidebook to plan our trip.  I really didn’t need this book.  

I handed over the battered Madrid book, explaining I did not wish to purchase it.  Ms. Bottomline frowned and placed the Madrid guidebook on a stack of about five other unsold books next to her cash register.   I wondered what would happen to the unsold Madrid guide.  Would it be resold on the internet?  If so, would the store owner try to pass it off as in “good” condition or be honest and list it as a “fair” quality?  I hope that if the book is deemed unsellable that they will at least donate the book to a library rather than toss the pages into a recycle bin.   

What would you have done in this situation?  Would you have purchased the book at the regular discount or would you have walked away as I did?