Defeated by the books

The Guardian has an amusing article today on so-called ‘unfinishable’ books, with one journalist giving the list of the top ten books he simply couldn’t get through.  It’s all a little tongue-in-cheek, but there are some interesting points in the piece, including the difference in levels of patience and determination with age.

In my own case I’ve lost patience as I get older.  In my teens and early twenties I would devour pretty much anything, no matter how banal, boring or badly written.  Nowadays, I probably have a tendency to give up too soon.  Not quite the minute the book becomes ‘hard’, as mentioned in the article, because in that case I’d deprive myself of some truly amazing writing purely on the basis that it stretched my mind.  Which I see as counter-productive, since I read to broaden my horizons, not narrow them.

One I did manage to read at the third time of asking was ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruis Zafon, and I’m very glad I persevered as it turned out to be well worth the effort.  However, there are many books that over the years have quite simply defeated me.  Too many to mention, sadly, but here’s three that sprang to mind, in no particular order:

1. ‘The Silmarillion’ by J R R Tolkien.  In spite of adoring both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I have never been able to wade through this vast tome of turgid wordiness.  It’s like trying to eat dried up porridge.  I’ve tried three times, and each time given up about a third of the way through.  Desperately disappointing, given how wonderful its predecessors are.

2.  ‘Possession’ by A S Byatt.  It’s won awards, it’s won accolades from the critics, but I found I couldn’t cope with the utterly wooden dialogue.  I gave up after an incredibly small number of pages, and have never been tempted to go back to it.  A shame, as part of me would love to know what all the fuss is about.

3.  ‘In the Place of Fallen Leaves’ by Tim Pears.  I suspect this one is the fault of over-ambitious marketers at Pears’ publishers since the jacket blurb bears no resemblance whatsoever to the contents of the book.  Read the blurb and you expect a lyrical, even mystical literary novel about a place where time stands still.  Read the book and you get a particularly dull memoir, supposedly from the point of view of a teenage girl, which goes nowhere and takes a very long time to get there.

I’ve only once thrown a book across the room in sheer frustrated rage (a third-rate historical romance set in a medieval monastery whose author had clearly done no research whatsoever, and where the Archangel Michael was used as a plot device to rescue the main characters from an impossible situation.  Yes.  Really.  It was that bad).  I couldn’t finish that one either, so I should really add it to the list, except that I’ve successfully blanked both the title and the author.

What about everyone else?  Are there books you’ve tried and tried again, but simply cannot finish?  Do write in – I’d love to know what they are!

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10 thoughts on “Defeated by the books

  1. Tess – Really interesting post! I agree that there are some books that are worth trying more than once. We do change and grow as we mature, and sometimes that means our reading taste broadens/changes/develops. So it is worth it at times to try again. But not every book is for every person. Reading is too individual for that. So I rarely feel guilt or anything like it when I don’t finish a book, even a book that’s supposed to be ‘great.’

    • I couldn’t agree more, Margot. The first time I found a book I couldn’t finish I felt guilty, but now I just accept that I don’t like it and either move on, or set it aside to try again in a few months. Sometimes it just depends on mood/current circumstances.

  2. For me, “A Song of Stone”, by the late, great and very much lamented Iain (M) Banks. I love most of his work, but for me that particular book was trying terribly hard to be shocking, and succeeded only in being terribly predictable and boring.

  3. Haha!
    I understand you with Possession.When I was starting reading it,I wondered how I would ever finish it!! Everything was so slow and the characters were not that easy to identify with.

    However I have the principle of never leaving a book,no matter how bad it might be.Thanks to that,I persisted with Possession,and as I moved through the story,I was more and more captivated by the storyline and above all mindblown by the amount of effort put by Byatt into this book! For me,Possession is a unique piece of literature which past and present novels cannot match,as far as the writer’s efforts are concerned.

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