Like many readers, I have had in the past a tendency to have several works in progress at any one time. Over the last few years, however, I’ve tried to avoid this and instead to dedicate myself to one at a time.
Trying, of course, does not always mean succeeding.
As I write this I have seven books part read but unfinished, which is a lot of part read books. And since they are all unfinished, and therefore not yet ready to write about, I thought it worth giving some thought as to why I haven’t finished them.
The first is easy, having decided to take a break from Herodotus’s Histories I started Giles Foden’s third novel, Zanzibar. I’m actively reading that and should finish it this weekend. No great issue there then.
The Histories is also easily understood. This is, so far at least, a fantastic and deeply rewarding work. But, it does need fairly solid chunks of time in which one can sit down with it and give it the concentration it both merits and requires. Since returning from Libya, I’ve been too busy to give it that time and had got bogged down in a work which otherwise I was greatly enjoying. Rather than spoil the work, I decided to take a break and return to it once timing permits. I look forward to doing so, and hope that return won’t be too far away.
But what about the others? Well, here’s what they are:
The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart. I’m at page 247 of 464, and to make matters worse it’s the first of a trilogy. It’s a fantasy novel about Merlin in a fairly historically accurate dark ages Britain. It’s very well written, it’s very highly regarded even outside of those who typically enjoy this sort of fiction, I have no real criticisms of it as a work. The difficulty is, one day I simply put it down and so far I haven’t cared enough to pick it back up again.
I suspect the problem may not be the work, but simply that I have in fact very little interest in fantasy works about Merlin. But then, I adored The Once and Future King by TH White and I enjoyed Bernard Cornwell’s Arthurian trilogy (the only works by him I like actually), so clearly I can enjoy this sort of fiction. John Self on his blog once spoke of the chemistry between a book and a reader, and for whatever reason here that chemistry is simply lacking. I have not yet decided whether I will return to The Crystal Cave or not.
Libya, From Colony to Independence. Ronald Bruce St. John. I’m at page 64 of 291 here. This is an excellent and very readable work of history that I hope to return to shortly. I stopped as I hadn’t finished it before going to Libya, and was reluctant to take a book potentially critical of the regime through local customs (in fact, I probably didn’t need to worry about that, the Libyans being mellower about that sort of thing than I had expected, but hindsight is a marvellous thing).
What I Saw, by Joseph Roth. Roth’s journalistic pieces from Berlin of the 1920s and 1930s. I’m at page 153 of 227. Tremendously well written, very interesting, not nearly as depressing as you might imagine (though I understand that changes in the last 50 pages or so). I stopped as the pieces were never intended to be read sequentially as one might a novel or history and I thought the pieces were suffering for being read in that way. I intend to read these now a bit at a time, over a longer period, which I think will be much fairer to them. Oddly, I had actually thought I had finished this, which may also be a reason it has lain fallow for a while.
What we talk about when we talk about love. Raymond Carver. I have read here a pitiable 30 pages of 134. I stopped this as it is a short story collection and reading the stories one straight after another smothered them. The tales individually are powerful, often rather haunting even and rich in suggestion and nuance. But they need space to breathe. That said, I’ve given them more space to breathe than I realised and so this is yet another that I need to get back to.
And finally, The Undercover Economist, by Tim Harford. I don’t have to hand what page I’m at, I believe I’m somewhat over half way through. Like The Crystal Cave, one day I put it down and simply didn’t pick it up again. It’s not a bad book, it’s quite interesting in the manner in which it examines everyday phenomena through the lens of economics (much as Freakanomics did), but somehow it’s not inspiring me either. I will try to pick it up and finish it, but I can’t say I’m enthused even though I have no particular criticisms of it other than that perhaps it’s a tad patronising in tone on occasion.
So, seven books, not quite seven different reasons for the hiatuses. Two paused to give them room to breathe, two put down and just not picked up again, two interrupted by events but awaiting completion, the last actively being read right now.
That said, seven books, ouch. I hope that if I ever post on this topic again I won’t have nearly as much to say on it.