I was around ten years old the first time I tried reading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I was at my grandparents’ house for the summer, and they had a set of “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books”. I remember reading a bit, and quickly losing interest. Then, when I was in my early twenties, I tried again, having just watched the June Allyson version of “Little Women” (1949), but after reading maybe a chapter or two, put it down again. The story seemed to lack vitality then, and I finally forced myself to read 33% of the book (according to Kindle), though I had wanted to give up at 25%. I’ve been wanting to write a modern version of the story, and felt I needed to read the actual book, get the big picture, rather than just the details on Wikipedia, SparkNotes, etc.
I am craving a good book right now. “Little Women” doesn’t have anything going for it in terms of plot, characterization, or even locale (which is why I read Elin Hilderbrand’s books). Even though we are told (rather than shown) how unique each girl is, they are bland as vanilla pudding, and the moralizing is a bit heavy-handed. Marmee (what the girls call their mother) seems to have more “teachable” moments with her girls than candid ones.
What killed the book for me completely was all the inanity. We are barely introduced to the girls before they have one of what one calls their “dressing-up frolics”, and we are subjected to some play young Jo wrote about characters named Roderigo, Hugo, Don Pedro, etc., which we come back to a second time, complete with some odd poem. I have never been a fan of a “story within a story”—it comes across as padding and is never as interesting as the actual story (and that isn’t saying much). This goes on for pages! (Okay, maybe I didn’t quite read 33%, because I skipped through all of this.)
Then we get to “The Pickwick Club”—the girls’ secret society—in which a periodical of some sort, “The Pickwick Portfolio”, is read. Pages and pages of awful prose. I tried, but skipped almost all of it. Every time an author inserts one of these “padding devices”, as I call them, it draws one out of the story—it’s like getting a flat tire on a long trip and having to pass the time by playing “Eye Spy”.
The last straw for me was at the picnic (chapter named “Camp Laurence”) when the guests play “Rig-marole” (where “one person begins a story, any nonsense you like, and tells as long as he pleases, only taking care to stop short at some exciting point, when the next takes it up and does the same”). Again, pages and pages of painful drivel. I forced myself to read more after this, but I felt, having read at least a third (probably closer to a quarter because of the portions I skipped), I could write a legitimate review. After all, if a food critic cannot finish a dish because it tastes so bad, why can’t a book reviewer review a book she at least took several bites (or read several chapters) of?