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!