Monday, August 11, 2008

Books you just can't finish

I love reading. I could write a (very long) book about my love of reading...But for now, let's talk about something else. Call it the "darkside of reading." The part that's ugly and shameful (sorta). I'm talking about books we start, but never finish.

I used to obsess about finishing books. I guess it was because I still had the naive school-boy notion that everything in print was worth reading. If I was reading a book, and finding it difficult, the problem was with ME and not said book. Only when I grew up and starting thinking for myself that, like movies and albums, books can be both good and bad. Or rather, some have more merit than others.

I came to the conclusion (which I still hold) that life is too short to waste reading something that's too much of a struggle. Thus, I have a nice little list of books I've started, read (sometimes over half-way) and never finished:

1. MOBY DICK by Herman Melville--I know, as an English major I SHOULD love it...but it's so dense. And it's boring. If you want a good yarn about the sea, read something else. If you want an encyclopedia about late 19th century whaling, read MOBY DICK.

2. BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens--again, I know I should love this but "too many characters + archaic British stuff=I can't make it through this." I love GREAT EXPECTATIONS, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and OLIVER TWIST...just not BLEAK HOUSE.

3. SHOGUN by James Clavell--great, lengthy historical-epic about Japan. Problem is, it's too damn epic. Weighing over 1152 pages, I just couldn't do this one (let alone the others in the "Asian Saga"). This book was recommended to me by a friend I worked it at B. Dalton, he was a Japanese/History major. If you are too, then be my guest.

4. Every-Michael-Crichton-book-post-AIRFRAME--Used to dig Crichton's tech-thrillers, now I have no use for 'em. Much like Tom Clancy and John Grisham, Crichton has gotten stale in his old age/success. I'm pretty sure he just cranks one out anytime he need a new house. Or boat. Or house-boat. *Yawn*

5. THE LORD OF THE RINGS--again, as a geek/English major I should be all over this one...except that I can't seem to get through the last book. Once I almost did, but then I lost it. Only to find it several years later. If I could just line them all up and go for it, maybe I'd make it. But then Peter Jackson went and made a 14 hour movie that's actually better than the books (nice one Pete) so it's pretty much pointless.

6. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE--I was doing pretty good with the Potter books until I got to book 4 (also known as "the first really long one"). I see a pattern on this list, but I assure you--I can read long novels. Just not many. Guess I have literary ADD.

7. GRAVITY'S RAINBOW/AGAINST THE DAY--I love Pynchon's short stories (and his one short novel THE CRYING OF LOT 49), but I just can't do these books. I have RAINBOW, and have successfully read the first 50 pages four times. After that it gets so hard to follow/understand/comprehend that I just give up. AGAINST THE DAY was cool because I was going to read it with a friend, but he chickened out...then my copy had to go back to the library (I was a poor college student when it came out in hardback and I couldn't afford to spend nearly $60 on Pynchon's MASSIVE novel-to-end-all-novels). I saw it in paperback at Borders and just kept right on walking.

So there ya go. Now, my question is: what books have you been unable to finish? Why?


Murph said...

Yeah, one, five, and six were problems for me too. I don't sweat it anymore. I either finish it or I don't. Usually if I don't, I figure it is because it is boring me to death. If they hadn't made a movie trilogy out of LOTR I'd still be in the dark.

And since there isn't a paper due on Friday for that particular item, I feel no real obligation to finish it.

Perks of being a grown up.

Northtown, Missouri

Jimu said...

crime and punishment... slogging through electrified concrete is more fun.

Lrgblueeyes said...

CATCH -22, I could not do it, I tried so hard too

Jason said...

Yeah, I'm not a big fantasy if I can get by via a good movie (both Potter and LOTR's have excellent film adaptations) then I'll go that route. That said, I recognize the merits of both.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is one of my all-time favorite novels Jimu!!! But I case everyone has different ideas about what is "good." Still, as a philosophy person, I thought you'd be all over that one.

CATCH-22 is another one I've tried and failed to read. I wonder how many people have actually read it? Or MOBY DICK???

Jimu said...

it wasn't so much the story in C&P. it was the changing character names, the descriptions, the slogging detail.

as far as the cliffs notes, excellent read.

Terri said...

When I'm reading Russian novels, I always make a list of characters' names. A sort of personal crib list.

I agree with you about LOTR. Parts of it were charming, but I don't "love" it like my husband does. He's been on a Robert Jordan Wheel of Time kick this summer...and hours go by that he has nothing to say to me. He prefers to read.

I disagree about Moby-Dick. I was made to read it in high school. The first 500 pages WERE a slog, but the last 60 were a well earned thrill. Plus, the older I've become the more I think of the book as both very American and very global in it's outlook. It was way ahead of it's time.

I refused to read Pynchon's V. even though it was required in grad school. Bluntly, it was sexist.

Murph said...

Jason, on Catch-22, sometimes I think it takes a stint in the service to get it. Or some other truly insane organization such as, oh, adjunct teaching (no, just kidding).

Thing is, that book is frighteningly accurate in its depiction of the military mindset.

I don't get fantasy either and I have a European History background. I can never get past the strange image of a cluster of dragons at a dinner party with a plate of goodies, seared knights still in their armor with their lances and swords serving as toothpicks.

I've had that image for years but I can't put a story to it.

Northtown, Missouri

Jason said...

Fried knight, awesome! It would make a helluva scene.

CATCH-22 is a good depiction of the military, huh? Interesting. Did you read this book on your own, or was is assigned?

The Pondering Tree's Alpha Site said...

Ironically, I read it while I was stuck in the Persian Gulf for five months during that little beach party called Operation Desert Storm.

I read The Stand during that time too.

Scary, to read 22 while a sandstorm was blowing outside your tent and poor Snowden was bleeding to death with only stock to comfort him.

Least I think it was Snowden. Jesus, been years since I read that book. But no, it was not assigned.

An atrocity that was assigned was A Prayer for Owen Meaney, which pretty much solidified my distaste for my Intro to Philosophy Instructor (an asshole who has recent been promoted to Vice Chancellor, God help every last one of us). That book was atrocious.

Northtown, Missouri