Where's the book?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book #13 (sort of) and a visit to the land of Kims

Boring Kim

If I haven’t actually read the book (or at least the entire book), do I still get to write about the book?

Since I make the rules around here, I say yes. Especially if, for all my good intentions (and I had them, dear reader, I did), I could not bring myself to read every word of what one astute Amazonian called, “A plotless, meandering exercise in boredom.”

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim is an English-language classic and, according to many, a “ripping good yarn.” I am not one of the many. First published serially in McClure’s Magazine, it came out in book form in 1901. Set in 1880s India, this picaresque tale has been compared to Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn.

Rudyard Kipling--great eyebrows!
Kim is a white orphan boy, the son of an Irish soldier and a poor mother, living a happy native life in colonial India. The story touches on more topics than I can (or care to) count, from Buddhism to British intelligence. Kim journeys alongside a Tibetan lama, is discovered by his father’s old regiment, sent to an English school, works as a spy, encounters religious seekers and Russian intelligence agents. It all unfolds against the background of what was known as the Great Game—the Russian-British battle for supremacy in Asia.

Is you ask me, there's way too much plot, uninteresting characters, an overly sentimental tone, language that was often meandering and difficult to track, and a linear direction that I found frustratingly superficial. None—let me repeat that, NONE—of my difficulties with the book have to do with a condemnation of imperialism or colonialism. Not that I approve of them, of course, but art is of its time. “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book,” Oscar Wilde said. “Books are either well written or badly written. That is all.”
Slutty Kim. Creepy friend.

So why was I plodding through it at all? A book group pick, of course. I wanted to read it for the group—and because I’ve long heard wonderful things about it. But after a truly heartfelt effort (I made it more than halfway through, really, I did), I started skimming, and the last two chapters are completely a blur. I just couldn’t do it.

Crazy Kim
I get, I think, why Kim is considered an important book. It’s #78 on the Modern Library list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century (cross one more off, woo-hoo!). But it’s not #78 on my list. It won’t even make my list at all.

As an aside (and a heck of a lot more interesting, if you ask me, than the book itself), if you google “kim,” out of the ten top results, six relate to Kim Kardashian (her net worth, her baby bump, her significant other…), one to actress Kim Richards (never heard of her? me neither), one to Real Housewife Kim Zolciak (never heard of her either), one to Korean nutcase supreme leader Kim Jong-un, and, finally, one to Kim Novak (I’d so
Beautiful Kim
rather be watching Vertigo).

And by the way, why doesn’t anyone name their kid "Rudyard" any more? Damn fine name. If you ask me.