Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book #31 - The Decameron (Giovanni Boccaccio)

Busy, busy, busy. Sometimes life is like that, and as a result the poor book blogger can't even find time to frickin' read, let alone babble on semi-coherently about whatever he's not reading, all the while hopped up on whiskey and black coffee, just like a member of congress. Between work and my immunology class (I had to file for an extension..what a slacker I am!) and other things, I've had precious little time to read the great books and ponder the meaning of it all. Funny, though, I've still managed time to sneak in the odd martini or two. Hmmm.

Anyway, books. Yep, started a new one, right after "Winesburg, Ohio". Winesburg was such an awesome reading experience, and perfect for the mood I was in at the moment. So on a wave of optimism fueled by the depressing isolation of Anderson's Winesburg, I decided to take my reading back to the late middle ages and tackle Giovanni Boccaccio's "Decameron". Now here's a classic that definitely fits the definition of "stood the test of time". Can't lose, right? The thing was written 650-something years ago...even before I was born! So if it's stuck around that long, it's gotta be the quintessential reading all the books I've read so far put together into one huge volume of awesomeness! Woohoo!

Well, uh, fuck, maybe not. I can't seem to get into this book. I've read about 100 pages out of 750, and it's taken me two weeks. I read it, and I think "Hmmm, I should go do something work on my immunology term paper". Well, actually, it's not that's not Henry James after all, but still, I just can't seem to get it. Allow me to explain.

"The Decameron" takes place in Florence, Italy (before it was Italy) during the bubonic plague. The plague comes to town and is killing everybody, so a group of 7 young women and 3 young men decide to escape town to a villa in the country and hang out until the plague has passed. So when they get there, they need something to do, and since it's the 1300s and TV won't be invented for another ten thousand years, they decide to tell stories to pass the time. They tell ten days worth of stories, and each of the 10 people tells one story per day, so the book is composed of 100 stories framed within the narrative. "Well", you might say, "stories are cool. What could possibly be so bad about reading a book of stories?" Well, I wouldn't say they were bad, it's just they seem, um, not all that engaging to me. And I know that's blasphemy because this is a book that has "stood the test of time". Until my time, that is.

For example: one of the shorter stories is about a guy that has a lot of money, but who is a penny-pinching miser. He's painting his house, and a guest comes over. He says to the guest "I'd like to paint something on this wall that no one's ever seen". The guest says "OK, paint generosity." Ooooh, snap! So the guy feels bad and stops being a miser. And that's it...that's the whole story. Yes, allegorical I suppose, and teaches the lesson "Don't be a penny-pinching miser or people will cut you down". But it's not all that much of a story. Where are the light sabers? The evil overlords? The dramatic car chases? Seems like the standards of what constitutes entertainment have changed a lot since the late middle ages. Sigh. Nonetheless, I continue on, hoping the book will grow on me. And hoping Boccaccio throws in a few alien invasions in upcoming stories, just to pick up the pace a bit.