Tinker Tailor Soldier - Why?

I've now mentioned in two other posts that John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is making me angry. We're reading it in my book club and my reaction to it has been strong. I can usually read my book club book in enough time to read an additional book between meetings, but this month I am struggling with finishing it.

So why is this interesting, or relevant? And why should you care?

My experience with Tinker Tailor has taught me two things that I thought I'd share: first, that every thing you are upset about now is actually something that has already happened to you, and second, that I am afraid of things that are difficult, which is not a good thing.

Now, one of the 'charming' aspects of Tinker Tailor is that it is a spy novel, and as the reader, you are as much in the dark as the main protagonist, who is recruited to root out a high-level mole of thirty years standing. I have not found being in the dark charming.

It has clearly rustled out some insecurity I'm storing in the depths of my soul (dramatic much?) about not being able to comprehend literature on a high level, unlike some friends of mine who studied literature at university (or college, for the Americans). Despite being an English literature whiz in high school, I was not allowed to study such a subject during my higher education.

Before handing over the tuition money, my Dad specified that I would have to find a career-oriented topic to study that wouldn't leave me jobless and directionless post-graduation. So I ended up studying applied economics and working for the college paper, in order to make myself employable as a financial journalist. I figured such a path was the best chance of making me not just a journalist, but a highly employable one. And it was certainly not a bad strategy. I've had an interesting career – one that gave me a very decent salary in Manhattan at the young age of 22 and then eventually paved the way for me to move overseas.

Dad's strategy got me thinking about how to make myself employable, which was a good thing, but it doesn't mean I'm not still a little sad that I wasn't able to spend my college days reading and analyzing literature and having lively debates with other like-minded people (like in the movies), instead of grinding my way through stats classes and business law. I also know many financial journalists who majored in English, so who's to say I couldn't have had the same path?

When I read a book 16 years after I filled in those college application forms and feel like crying because I don't understand it, could it be that disappointed 18 year-old rising to the surface?

So that's point one.

Second point is that the panic I feel at not being able to understand a complex spy story on first read and letting said 18-year-old take over, is clearly not a good thing when it comes to continuing to develop my skills as a writer (a big chunk of which involves reading).

When things get tough, fearful backing away only limits you. Yes, I know it's just one book, but I try to read all sorts of books -- not just my favorite types. Perfectionists (including me) will often turn back at the first hurdle because they are deathly afraid of failing, and so it's easier not to try.

So faced with my own perfectionism and my discomfort at reading a book which is not entirely clear to me from the get go, I decided that as much as I hated it, learning this lesson was important. When I'm faced with a task that seems tough, I sometimes shy away. But when I actually try, I always learn something. So why can't the process be less traumatic, why can't I be OK with not understanding everything right away? Learning requires a little bit of discomfort, but the rewards in the end are well worth it.

And so I plow ahead with Tinker Tailor. I am no longer actively worrying about understanding everything, but trying to enjoy and absorb. And maybe by the end I'll get it a little more. But more importantly, I'll have increased my tolerance to discomfort and confusion and realized it's not all as bad as it seems.

 Related Posts:


  1. I actually have trouble reading most books by men. Not that I don't like men - I do, very much (wicked smile here) - but most males write about gee whiz plot twist this and gimmick that, while their characters are flat and their work... bores me.

    I flipped through that book, or maybe some other LeCarre, and it didn't grab me. So, maybe it's not YOU.

    I know, I know, they say never bad-mouth an author if you're a writer, in case you run into them someday. Don't care - if it doesn't do it for me, it doesn't do it for me. I'm glad if other people love it, I hope all authors do very well for themselves (and I hear LeCarre's doing okay,) but I'm not going to join the crowd gushing over Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which I found excruciating for 74 pages before I decided to have mercy on myself and stop. Or whatever the newest "in" book is. I reserve the right to like or not like the books I read, whether anyone else approves or not. Writing in Flow

  2. @Bevery – I love the fact that you are defending me (vs Le Carre)! I have come around to the idea that finishing a book when I am hating it is not necessary, especially as I have grown older and realized how short life really is. However, one of the reasons I joined my book club was to make sure that I did read some variety of authors/genres, even if they weren't my favorites to make sure that I developed a good sense of what I think works and what doesn't.

    With this book though it wasn't a normal 'I don't like this' feeling – it was weird and dramatic. I even cried over it (which, as open a person as I am, I don't really like admitting). So I thought it deserved a bit of exploration.

    But I am totally with you on the idea that we have to be honest about what it is we like and what we don't, and don't just follow the herd and read every 'in' book (I was lucky enough to avoid even attempting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because the Hub told me how average it was). And I am certainly not revisiting Le Carre ever again!


Back to Top