Why I stopped reading “Pillars of the Earth”


Delighted was I when I found Pillars of the Earth, my book club’s next selection, at a church yard sale.

If only the church ladies had read it—honestly, I would have appreciated some well-intentioned censoring on this one.

Yesterday, I stopped reading Pillars of the Earth; I was on page three fifty something, in the middle of the scene where (spoiler alert!!!) the former earl’s daughter is unwittingly applying for a position as a prostitute. She does this because she’s anxious to earn the one penny that the jailer demands as a bribe for her to see her father, who is in prison after his plot to overthrow the dubiously appointed king is discovered by an otherwise lovely priest (one of the book’s few bright spots) and foiled by the girl’s very bitter, violent, and misogynistic former suitor.

The earl’s home is brought to ruins, and the girl hides out in the ruins until she is raped by not one, but two men. After she escapes from them, and then escapes one more time from some thug in the forest, she finally finds the jail where her dad is imprisoned and sadly is turned away, but not before she finds out that he’s dying.

Oh, and did I mention the other sunny plotlines about the abandoned newborn, his mother’s death in childbirth, the pig stealing, child clubbing, rampant unemployment, and the woman so ugly that she looks like someone in a painting about the tortures of hell?

If I wanted all that, I would have re-watched Pulp Fiction—at least it’s got some dancing.

What also needled me about Pillars of the Earth was all the profanity. Believe me, I’m under no illusion about the moral standards of the 12th century. Besides the raping, pillaging, drinking, and general thievery and deception, I’m sure there was plenty of bad language. But was it the same bad language that people use today? Was it the kind of the thing that you’d hear streaming out of Joe Pesci‘s mouth in Goodfellas? I haven’t done extensive research on this, but I’ll tell you, there’s nothing that will shake me back to the 21st century faster than the careless placement of an overused modern-sounding expletive. And if the profanity in the book was authentic to the period, then all I can say is shame on you 12th century-ers: your mouths need a good washing out.

I closed the book for all of those reasons, and, thinking about it now, I abandoned the story because it was so very hopeless. In this book, you don’t just lose your job. You lose your home, your pig, your wife, your baby, your forest-acquired lover, your clothes, your dignity, and all your tools besides. If you score two horses, then you’d better know that they’ll be stolen away by the next chapter. It was like a fortunately/unfortunately record that skipped eternally on the unfortunately part, until it was so lopsided that it was downright demoralizing.

Part of me wants to finish the book because I want to be able to discuss it at my book club meeting next month. Part of me wants to burn it because I don’t want anyone else to consider prescription medication to chase away her intense reading-induced blues. With 600 pages to go, I guess somebody might suggest that I just hang in there.

Um, no.



  1. Craig S. said,

    August 11, 2009 at 7:53 am

    I, for one, suggest that you drop it in the trash. On the brighter side of life, I like the Monty Python picture because it adds a glimer of humor to what otherwise seems like a very dark century that we call “The 12th.”

    • Cheryl said,

      August 11, 2009 at 8:11 am

      “Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here!!”

  2. Emily said,

    August 12, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Bravo, Cheryl! I applaud you! I have stopped many a video over the years for the same reasons!

    • Cheryl said,

      August 12, 2009 at 10:56 am

      I’ll take applause whenever I can get them, Emily. Thanks!

      I keep thinking about “Sideways,” a movie that I should have stopped watching for any number of reasons. To this day I have ugly flashbacks to scenes from that film. Ugh!

      Thanks for chiming in!

  3. Andie said,

    August 12, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Hooray for you! I stopped reading a YA SF book recently because it really bugged me when the heroine got together with the assassin who threatened to kill her. And when the communist-type military dictator was portrayed as a really nice guy/gal (don’t ask) who gave everyone “a job and a uniform.” It seemed to me the author…like…missed the main point of living under a life-threatening military dictatorship. Oh well.

    The movie I never should have finished, was SEVEN. Eeeeewwwww!

    • scheirmad said,

      August 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm

      It’s interesting what draws the line that each of us won’t cross. For me violence toward women, at least in fiction, is a problem. If it’s a memoir of a woman’s experience, then, while challenging, I’m thankful that she’s survived and is willing to talk about it–for that, I’ll keep reading.

      Oh yeah. I heard about SEVEN ahead of time, so I never saw it. Yikes.

      Though I must add that once I wandered into the middle of “Fight Club,” was so intrigued by it that I couldn’t stop watching, and ended up kind of enjoying it! How wierd am I?!?!

  4. Lorraine said,

    August 12, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    I’m often more than a little horrified by what some of the children I teach tell me they’ve been to see or watched on DVD. It’s stuff that I won’t watch! My main reason for reading and viewing in “leisure” time is to be entertained and transported to another realm. If I’m nauseated beyond all hope that just doesn’t happen so I just don’t go there! (Should I be embarrassed to admit that I’m a Disney film fan?)
    So well done and I hope you find something that you’ll enjoy reading!

    • scheirmad said,

      August 12, 2009 at 7:05 pm

      I hear you on that one Lorraine. Craig and I removed “CSI” and its various incarnations from our viewing rotation because it was just too disturbing. Then I visit school and when a visitor asks the class, “Who watches CSI?” every fourth grader (except Jake) raises his hand! Hard to believe.

      Rock on, Mary Poppins!

      By the way, I thought everyone might be interested that this very topic of “When do you stop reading” came up on another blog that I read…just today. Check it out at http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/you-tell-me-when-do-you-stop-reading.html

  5. Amy said,

    August 13, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I am still in the process of reading the book, and have thought about putting it down numerous times. However, this was one of my late brother’s favorite books and I somehow feel connected to him while reading it. So when I come to disturbing parts (which is quite often), I just keep plugging away and hope and pray that sooner or later, sunny skies will shine down on the characters of this VERY DEPRESSING book…Won’t we have a lot to talk about at book club? We missed you the other night!

    • scheirmad said,

      August 13, 2009 at 8:55 pm

      Amy, hi!!!!!!

      I remember now that you had said that about your brother. People’s tastes are so interesting, aren’t they? I’ll be interested to know what connections you make between your remembrances of your brother and what you’ve gleaned from the book. It’s detective work, I guess.

      You’re not kidding about how depressing the book is! I’m definitely a respecter of other people’s opinions (and of depressing story lines), but this one really threw me. I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say.

      I missed you the other night too!!!! I’ll bet you had a lot of fun!

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