Reading Hitchcock - The Trouble with Harry by Jack Trevor Story

harry
harry

I'm not sure I've ever had so little to say about a book I've read than what I do about The Trouble with Harry by Jack Trevor Story. "Eh."

I didn't like it, I didn't hate it. No, the real problem is this: I didn't get it. I suppose my mind isn't wired to fully appreciate farce. I can't stop thinking how much easier it would all be if they'd just do the logical thing and call the police. I remember having pretty much the same reaction to Hitchcock's version. It was okay, had some funny bits, but the humor wasn't broad enough for me to forget the ridiculousness of it all. Overall it was a movie I was happy to say I'd seen so I'd never have to watch it again. Exactly how I feel about the book.

Reading Hitchcock - Psycho by Robert Bloch

Psycho-Overlook
Psycho-Overlook

The problem with reading a book after seeing a movie is constantly comparing the visual medium with the written. In the case of Psycho, the movie is so ingrained in the pop culture consciousness generally, and my mind specifically, it was impossible to read Bloch's psychological mystery fresh. And that's a shame, because it's a very good book with a nice twist. Hitchcock isn't known for faithful adaptations of source material but with Psycho, he stayed true to the book. That's probably because it's a damn near perfect psychological horror novel so well-written I can easily imagine the shock readers felt in 1959, when Psycho was published, when they discovered who the killer really was. As perfect as the movie is, as much as I loved the shock of the movie twist, I'm disappointed I didn't read the book first. For me, there is nothing better than a book that takes me by surprise. Fifty-five years on, with the movie as what people think of when you say "Psycho," and with the shower scene an iconic horror movie moment, there was no way to capture the happy astonishment you feel when a well-crafted story takes an unexpected turn.

Still, Psycho is well worth reading. The characters have a depth not shown in the movie and if you're a writer, you're bound to learn something reading Bloch's tight prose.

Reading Hitchcock: Before the Fact by Francis Iles - "A terrible book with a good ending, a good movie with a terrible ending."

hitch2

Hitchcock put a light bulb in the milk to make it glow. Suspicion (1941) is Hitchcock's worst movie.

That's a bold statement about a movie nominated for Best picture, won Joan Fontaine an Oscar for her portrayal of Lina Aysgarth and allowed Cary Grant to play more than just a romantic lead for 95% of its run time. Grant carrying the glowing glass of milk up the stairs to an ill Lina is a standout among the plethora of Hitchcock's enduring images. Still, the movie drops to the bottom of my list because the ending is a slap in the face to all that had gone before.  All of the tension Hitchcock masterfully built, all of the lurking evil Grant brilliantly played was ruined by the glaringly bad ending Hitchcock was forced by the studio to tack on for fear of ruining Grant's "heroic" Image with the public.

 

beforeBefore the Fact (★★★), the 1932 psychological thriller Suspicion is based on, has great intentions and almost delivers. From the very first line, the reader knows who the murderer is,  the question becomes who will he kill and will he get away with it? Iles tells the story from the victim's point of view - another unique choice - but any sympathy you might feel for Lina Aysgarth has evaporated by the end of the novel. She is a born victim who only half-heartedly tries to get out of her situation before using tortured logic to absolve Johnnie of past and future crimes. Lina isn't sympathetic, merely pathetic, and as I neared the end, I was openly rooting for Johnnie to kill her already.  The ending, famously different from Hitchcock's adaptation, was bold and would have been unsettling and affecting if the reader had been able to root for or sympathize with Lina even a little. I admire Iles for committing to it, but wish the execution of the characterization of Lina had been stronger so I would have cared what happened to the character.

Life is too short to read bad books.

Tuesday, Goodreads posted an infographic "The Psychology of Abandonment," detailing what books are most commonly shelved as Abandoned, Not Finished or Unfinished, as well as the reasons why. I suppose you should take the infographic with a grain of salt, especially the percentages at the bottom, since there is no explanation of their methodology or a given sample size. Were 1000 people surveyed? Ten? Twenty? Did they email the survey (I never received one) or was it stuck on a page somewhere in their somewhat un-user friendly website that could only be found by a determined search or a lucky stumble? Those questions aside, the results are interesting and somewhat telling. The most common reason books are abandoned is "Slow, Boring" coming in at 46%. The next nearest reason is "Weak Writing" at 18.8%. That's a pretty big disparity and helps to explain why so many poorly written, but fast paced books top the best seller lists year in and year out (I'm looking at you, James Patterson). It also explains that while literary fiction will get the critical praise, it won't ever get the popular acclaim, it being more thought provoking and methodical as a general rule.

I wonder if all of those series obsessed publisher's hearts dropped at seeing only 2.5% of readers are compelled to finish from a dedication to the series? A whopping 36.6% sound obsessive compulsive, "As a rule, I like to finish things" and 25% are insatiably curious, "I have to know what happens."

Nearly 40% of readers finish a book regardless. That is astounding. I decided long ago life was too short to read a book I didn't enjoy. If a book hasn't caught my interest by the first turning point (which is usually at the 1/4 mark) then it's not going to happen. Those are the well-written books. If a book is poorly written (bad dialogue, canned characters, stupid plot) I'll dump it earlier. It's extremely rare I read a whole book I thoroughly dislike, though it has happened.

I'm not surprised Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the top five abandoned, nor am I surprised about The Casual Vacancy.  I haven't read the latter, mainly because the story doesn't interest me that much, but am not surprised the shallow reason "it's not Harry Potter" was so often cited. That was rather the point of the book, wasn't it? And, as I said a month ago, I tried with Fifty Shades.

My top two reasons for dropping a book is 1) bad writing and 2) boring. What makes you abandon a book? Or, are you one of the many who must finish no matter what?