Sunday, September 11, 2011

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Captain Corelli's Mandolin
By Louis de Bernieres

Poor Captain Corelli never stood a chance.

As I've mentiond before, I'm a strict reader that adheres to a lot of self-imposed rules (My cousin, mentioned below, thinks this makes me strange). One of my self-imposed rules is that I finish everything I start, regardless of whether I enjoy it or not. The logic is that I gain from bad books as much as I do from good books, and it forces me to read outside my comfort zone. Also, laying into a bad book is so satisfying. Therefore, once I commit to a book, I'm locked in. Period. Paragraph.

When I picked up Captain Corelli's Mandolin, I was literally at my (reader's) wits end. I picked it off the shelf of my growing little community library (one of the biggest English libraries on the East Coast of Taiwan if I may pat myself on the back for a moment. Over 800 titles and growing!). I had zero interest in reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin when it was donated to the library last year and that interest had grown by a factor of zero. It just wasn't the sort of book that screamed: read me! But it was the best book available to me at that particular moment, so I locked in.

Almost as soon as I started the book a whole bunch of events conspired to ensure I would not give this book the chance it probably deserved. Here they are:

1. My cousin came to visit.

This is an awesome reason. Living 15,000km from my entire family means that when I get a visitor from home, it's a big deal. It happens less than once a year, but it's always a monumental event. My wife and I love visitors from home and we love playing tour guide for the area (Taiwan's east coast is spectacular and should be considered for your next vacation).

The visit has meant a lot of time driving, scootering, hiking, eating, talking, drinking and the such. Tons of fun for us, but less time for reading. Oh, sure, I'm fufilling my requisite 25 pages a day, but often not much more than just that. It's hard to really immerse yourself in a story when there is so much start and stop.

2. I'm knee deep in vinyl.

My cousin brought me a new needle for my turntable. This has been heavenly. My turntable has been out of service for over five years for various reasons but now it's turning and grooving and I have spent a lot of time rediscovering my vinyl collection (I am currently listening to Stereolab).

If there is one non-athletic pastime I enjoy more than reading, it's music. I started collecting vinyl records about 15 years ago and (like most audiophiles) prefer vinyl to CDs and MP3s. But moving to Taiwan put a temporary end to collecting as I did not have a turntable or records until my Mum shipped them all over earlier this year. It arrived fine, but the needle needed replacing. It has subsequently been replaced and it has been fantastic!

3. I got a whole lot of new books!

This is by far the best/worst thing to happen to me while reading something I would rather not read. When I got about 80 pages into Captain Corelli's Mandolin, I received three packages in the mail full of books from various awesome people. The first was a extraordinary birthday package full of books (and a George Foreman Grill... Thanks Mom!). The second came from a good friend on the other side of the island who was concerned about my recent lack of books (Thanks Tom!) and the third came from another fantastic friend on the other side of the island who has been kind enough to lend me some more books about Taiwan (Thanks Michael!). I also happen to know a fourth package is in transit from Canada (Thanks JP!). If anyone wants a book, let me know. I'll hook you up.

Within the space of 24 hours my reading shelf went from empty to full. New books staring at me and begging me to be read while I was mired in a book that never really found any rhythm for me given the relative chaos of the last week.

All of this was not fair on old Captain Corelli and his mandolin, which seemed like a good story that deserved a bit more attention than it got from me. I want to say it was the sort of book I couldn't put down, and I suspect that in any other instance it might have been. But circumstance conspired against Louis de Berniere this week and I'm left with very to say about a book and an author that should most definitely be given another chance.



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