I find it hard to abandon books, once I’ve started them.
Not impossible by any means, but hard. Years ago I read a novel by Aldous Huxley which I loathed so much as I was going through it that I almost didn’t finish it. I pushed on though, and in the last chapter Huxley turned it around for me and with his ending made the whole book marvellous.
Huxley did me no favours with that particular feat. Most books if you hate them by the penultimate chapter will not redeem themselves with the final pages. Hell, most books if you hate them by the second chapter likely won’t redeem themselves.
These days, I’m more prone to giving up and I feel less shame for it. I dropped Julian Rathbone’s rather epic novel Joseph some fifty pages from the end when I realised that I couldn’t bear to spend another page in the company of the protagonist. I don’t read novels for sympathetic characters, I couldn’t care less as a rule whether I like a protagonist, but I struggle a bit when a novel consists of the author being sadistic towards creations he himself made loathsome.
All of which takes me to an old post. Back in January 2009 (ouch, now that is shameful) I posted about books I had started but neither finished nor abandoned. The original post is here and it described seven unfinished books.
It’s been over 18 months since that post, so, how am I getting on with those books?
Well, I finished Zanzibar which was my then current read without any problems. I returned to What I Saw by Joseph Roth two months later and finished that (my thoughts on it are here, in summary though it’s a great little book).
And then there’s the other five. Ahem. Here’s what they were:
At the moment, I’m clearing out my flat of excess clutter. Part of that sadly means a lot of books going out the door. Two of them are books on that list.
The Undercover Economist is a good book that just didn’t interest me enough to finish. In essence, it’s a bit like Freakanomics but with a less annoying tone and a lot more humility. If you liked Freakanomics you’ll probably like this. If you didn’t like Freakanomics, you might still like this because it’s better written. The author, Tim Harford, has a great website here and seems a pleasant and intelligent guy. It’s a shame I didn’t like his book better, but that’s a reflection on my interests rather than his writing.
The other book on the list that’s going out the door is The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart. This is a fair sized book that I got half way through, and then one day I put it down and without consciously realising it I just started reading something else. It’s a well enough written book, it has good characterisation and although the basic story structure (Arthurian myth from Merlin’s perspective) is old Stewart still manages to make it fresh and original.
This is a book with a lot of fans, and from what I see rightly so. The problem is I just don’t care. Years ago I noticed that my grandfather, Jim, wasn’t using a bookmark for his then book. I asked why not, and he answered that if you couldn’t find your place in a book you weren’t enjoying it enough for it to be worth reading.
I have a bookmark in The Crystal Cave, but if I didn’t I’d never have known where I was in it.
So, it gets abandoned. It’s solidly written and a fine readable novel but whatever it is that connects me personally to a book just isn’t there. The near 250 pages I’ve read so far are no reason to read the same again. If you’re interested in retellings of Arthurian myth this is a classic of that niche genre and you should seek it out. If you’re not, well, I’ll leave it to you to form your own view because I don’t have the will to open it to look for illustrative quotes.
And there we are. What of the others?
The Libya book I wasn’t that far into and it’s been so long I’ll just restart it at some point. It’s survived the current flat cull though as the subject matter’s quite interesting. As a rule I dislike restarting books but when I haven’t got that far in and don’t remember it well can be worth doing.
I’m shocked to see how long I’ve left The Histories. I’ll try to continue that as it’s still rich in my memory. A marvellous book that deserves far better than the treatment I’ve given it.
And that only leaves the Raymond Carver, or as we now know the Raymond Carver/Gordon Lish. I enjoyed the stories I read, and as I write this I find I remember some of them well. I’ll probably start it again from scratch, like the Libya book. Although I do remember it it’s a short work and the stories won’t suffer from rereading.
So, there we are. Two books abandoned (not counting the anecdote about Joseph at the start of this post), two to be restarted and one to be finished as soon as I’m able. All that’s left is to ask whether anyone reading this has their own views on when they abandon a book, when they restart it, and when they plough on regardless of how little they may be enjoying something.