Or, in this case, books I’ve TRIED to read. Several times. Without ever finishing it.
I have struggled with this book for YEARS. It seemed like something I would enjoy – cryptography, WWII mysteries – and it was critically acclaimed. So I picked it up, got through the first couple hundred pages, then set it down. Months passed. I picked it up again, vowing to complete it this time, only to set it back down. I repeated this process a few times, always beginning the book anew at page 1. But finally – after getting further along than ever before – at page 608, I have set Cryptonomicon down for good. Right as it’s getting interesting. Right as the previous 607 pages of exposition and character development and plot thickening appear to be reaching a point.
Why? Why, after all this time and effort, am I setting aside this book?
BECAUSE THERE ARE STILL 545 PAGES TO GO.
AND IT TOOK AUTHOR NEAL STEPHENSON 607 GODDAMN PAGES TO FINALLY STRIKE GOLD.
Yes, gold – at the point where I’ve closed the book for good, a few of his characters have located an old submarine; stashed away within that submarine is old German gold. (If I recall correctly. I don’t know. I started banging my head on my desk around page 450.)
Who did the gold belong to? Who were they hiding it from? What is the point of this book? Honestly? I don’t care.
All frustrations aside, there are aspects of this book that I did enjoy. The story unfolds through four perspectives: an American cryptanalyst, an American Marine, a Japanese Marine, and an American hacker. The first three perspectives are set during World War II, and it was fascinating to read their varied experiences. Stephenson did a terrific job of capturing both Marines’ mannerisms, and the toll warfare took on their minds and bodies. But especially interesting to me was the cryptanalyst – I have always been intrigued by code-breaking – and intelligence efforts and breakthroughs.
The fourth perspective is set in the current day (I don’t recall an actual date being established, but I presume it is post-Y2K); the hacker is the grandson of the cryptanalyst, and he develops a working relationship with the American Marine’s son and granddaughter. These three are working together when they discover the German U-boat containing the gold – and some of the cryptanalyst’s effects.
I’m sure this is where the going gets good. I’m sure this is where all the backstory comes to a head. Both Americans cross paths during the war, as did both Marines, and I’m sure the current-day protagonists eventually discover this mutual history. I’m sure there is a point. I just don’t care to find it.
600 pages of exposition. 600 pages of backstory. 600 pages of plot development.
Walter Benjamin brutally parodied the “art” of writing fat books a 7-step list of instructions. The entire list can be found here, but I think the first step clarifies exactly why I finally refused to read a single page further: “The whole composition must be permeated with a protracted and wordy exposition of the initial plan.
I have no taste for books that are dense for the sake of density, I have no taste for current-day coding and hacking, and I have no desire to complete this 1152-page monstrosity.
Have you completed Cryptonomicon? Do you think I should finish it? Give me your thoughts in the comments!