Books I Never Finished

I very rarely give up on a book.  Even when I dislike a book, I will usually finish it out of obligation (like ‘The Immoralist’ by André Gide, for a French literature course) or sheer bloody-mindedness just to say I read it (like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen) or simply to get people to stop hassling me about it (like ‘The Hobbit’ by J. R. R. Tolkien).  But occasionally, life is just too short.  Here is a list of the books I have given up on in the last couple of years.

Everything is Illuminated: Jonathan Safran Foer
This was the last book I couldn’t finish a few months ago.   To compare the linguistic experimentalism of this book with ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess is a sin of the highest order.  To try and stretch out an unfunny joke about Ukrainian attempts at the English language over an entire book is completely unforgivable. Sorry, I just didn’t get it. 
 
Possession: A. S. Byatt
I sort of skimmed the second half of this book but hand on heart I can’t really say I properly finished it, especially given that I skipped great chunks of it.  I always thought that the world of academia was where I truly belonged.  This book assured me that this was definitely not true so maybe Byatt did me a favour in some respects.  I have a copy of one of her other novels ‘The Children’s Book’ on my book shelf which is still unread – even though I know it will be a different story, I still don’t want to relive my tedious experience of reading ‘Possession’.   
 
Howards End: E M Forster
I think I got about two thirds of the way through and then finally gave up.  I would consider having another go at reading this in about twenty years time but probably not before that.  I am too mentally scarred by my first experience.  It wasn’t so much the pretentiousness of the writing that bothered me, it was the dullness of the characters and the fact that I didn’t really know (or care about) what was going on.  That’s as good a reason as any to stop reading a book.  
 
The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes): Henri Alain-Fournier
This book was recommended to me as a French version of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, supposedly all about melancholic youth and whatnot.  ‘The Lost Estate’ is many things, but that description is  certainly not one of them.  What disturbs me most is the number of glowing reviews there are on Amazon for this book.  I was hoping to find at least one person I could share some solidarity with over this but apparently it’s just me who didn’t see what was so mesmerising about it.  Maybe something was lost in translation?
 

If you have a case to make in support of one of these books, you can try and persuade me to persevere and try again… but your reasons will have to be exceptionally good because I tried, I really did try the first time round.  Which books have you given up on?

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “Books I Never Finished

  1. I couldn’t get in to Everything is Illuminated at all, but I really enjoyed Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

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  2. I am the same with books – I rarely give up on them. Funnily enough, I gave up on Possession but did get through Everything is Illuminated. But I think you can come to books at the wrong time in your life. I gave up on Watership Down when I was a child, but I do wonder what I would make of it now as an adult. I once gave up on Coetzee’s Disgrace, and I really don’t know why; it’s such a slim book anyway. I went back to this book several years later, read it and loved it. I almost gave up on Faulks’ One Week in December, but I ploughed through it out of some perverted sense of loyalty.

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  3. That’s a rather impressive list of books you chose not to finish (well, the mistake with the Foer was beginning in the first place). As an undergraduate I tossed The Brothers Karamazov out the window (but later read it through carefully and was very impressed with Dostoyevsky and the ‘newer’ translation is front-and-center on my bookshelves). I also pooped out reading The Decameron, but since it’s in the form of a collection of stories, I suspect I can resume reading it without too much loss.

    My confusion with your post concerns the entry for Le grand meaulnes (pronounced ‘moan’): are you comparing it to the depths of overrated trashy literature represented by Catcher In the Rye? If you started out with the premise that Le grand meaulnes was as bad as Catcher In the Rye, why even open the book at all?

    Le grand meaulnes is great literature and highly recommended, but it is of its era. How do you feel about The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil?

    By the way, I read all the poetic entries in Possession at least two times: the entire novel was exquisite.

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  4. I’ve never been able to finish Pride and Prejudice (or even get through the first chapter). The mother drives me up a wall.

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    • Austen succeeded then. The mother is supposed to drive you up the wall.

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      • A fair point, jdellevsen. I suppose it is a matter of taste as to whether she is a well-written character because she provokes so strong a reaction or whether having her do so that early on in the novel before readers are fully committed to it is a mistake. A related example–Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint is one of my favorite books even though I feel physically uncomfortable the entire time I am reading it because Alexander Portnoy is so annoying. I like the book because it makes me react so viscerally. But I’ve met numerous people who hate it for this reason. I like Austen’s Emma and Mansfield Park, but just can’t get into Pride and Prejudice.

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  5. I rarely give up on books either, but Philip Hensher’s The Mulberry Empire and Mann’s The Magic Mountain were two noteworthy exceptions. I got a fair way in to each and then decided I couldn’t care less about any of the characters!

    I have read Possession, but none of the others on your list.

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  6. I could start explaining what I love about ‘Howard’s End’ and ‘Possession’, or what I think you may have overlooked or misinterpreted, but I think that would defeat the purpose.

    Life is short; books are many. If you don’t like a book, put it aside and go read something you do like.

    Although I’m tempted to write critically and at length about books that disappointed me, or whose popularity annoys me, I’ve made a decision that that’s not the best way to promote books, reading and writers. I’d rather tell people about the books I’ve enjoyed. My list may not match theirs, but that’s OK because at least I’m sharing the positives of reading.

    There are some books that I’ve persisted with because it seems that having invested a certain amount of time and effort, there’s no going back. Other times I’ve abandoned a book (in some cases within a few pages, in some after 300 or more pages). Sometimes persistence pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve also discovered that a book that doesn’t reward you at one point of your life will reward you later. Life changes you; reading changes you.

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  7. I rarely put a book down without finishing. There was one I didn’t finish last year (can’t even remember the title!) but before that, my book group read Reading Lolita in Tehran – my book group loved it, I loathed it (and only read half).

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  8. I used to plod through even the most unrewarding books with a false sense of self-betterment. Now I listen to my breathing, realizing that each breath is part of a finite number, and if I’m not feeling some kind of delight or anticipation of delight while reading, I gently put the book down with a reassuring note to self to return some day when it calls to me again. But the books rarely do. There are always others to replace the ones put aside. Thanks for the honest commentary.

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    • So beautifully stated, Tom. A gracious explanation. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t expect to love or even like every book I chose to finish; the reasons for setting a particular book aside (and Iike Tom, it’s rare that I return later to an abandoned read) are as varied as the books themselves, but if I am not captured by style or characters in the early pages, I move on. I maintain an “Abandoned” shelf on Goodreads – it currently has 76 titles, including several from some of my favorite authors such as Margaret Atwood, John Banville, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan; classics from George Eliot, Gabriel Garcia Marquez; highly-praised works from Orhan Pamuk, Thomas Pynchon, Colum McCann. And yes, Jonathan Safran Foer.
      But I adored “Possession”.

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  9. Sometimes I abandon a book because I started reading it at the wrong time and my brain was just not receptive. In that case, I come back to it later and give it another go.

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  10. hariqhuang

    The only book that I have given up on is Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien. I happen to a fan of “Middle Earth Books” (including The Hobbit :D). When I found out that Roverandom had nothing to do with Middle Earth, I simply quit on the first chapter…

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  11. The book I simply cannot stand is ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan. I have to confess, this is a book we HAD to study for A-Level, but I hated every single lesson. Then a couple of years later, I thought I’d give it another go… I didn’t get past the third page when I decided to call it a day forever. I can’t remember the ending. All I remember is the balloon on the front cover…

    ‘Atonement’ though – loved it 🙂

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  12. I gave up on Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell after about 20 pages. Then I picked it back up after a year, gritted my teeth through “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” and was rewarded with the wonderful Robert Frobisher segment (the casting of Ben Whishaw as Frobisher in the upcoming film is quite possibly the best and most perfect thing in the history of anything). After finishing the book I quickly got my hands on all other David Mitchell books and am eagerly awaiting the newest book (hurry up already, David!) – although I’m still not a massive fan of Adam Ewing…

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  13. A book I should never have finished – Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, Oh Lord, I feel like I deserve a medal for surviving such an ordeal.

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  14. Saturday, Ian McEwan – I found that kind of boring. I gave it 100 pages, but it did not become more entertaining

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  15. Like Tom, above, I battled bravely through Mill on the Floss by George Eliot after having loved Middlemarch, but put it down half way through. The other book I abandoned, quite close to the end, was the Fellowship of the Ring. Loved The Hobbit, but The Fellowship just got too dull when they spent chapter upon chapter in the golden forest of Lothlorien. Okay, and I was about 12 when I tried to read it. But I have no desire to try again.

    ps. thanks for visiting my blog and liking a post! I look forward to reading more of your reviews =)

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  16. My most recent abandonment is The Line of Beauty by Allan Hollinghurst. I am attempting to read all the Booker prize winners and this one I just couldn’t continue after the first fifty pages or so…perhaps it was Booker fatigue, so many winners are about grief and depression, after a while it got to me! I don’t like abandoning books but I also believe that unless you let go what doesn’t work for you, the stuff that does will stay elusive…after I took a break from the Bookers…I’ve had a fine string of fabulous reads, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide…, The Night Circus, Alias Grace, The Help and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen to name a few…so no complaints 🙂

    This post and your other on Books to re-read were really interesting. I hope you wouldn’t mind if I did similar posts at some point in the future?

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  17. I took a women’s lit course in college and at the end the professor gave me an A after making me promise to read Silas Marner. That was 40 years ago…I’ve tried numerous times; it has been by my bedside more (and longer) than any other book, and I’ve never made it through more than 75 pages. Oh the guilt….

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  18. lol…I never finished Possession either. The concept of the story seems interesting, but I just found it a chore to read. Maybe if I tried reading it again, I’d be able to finish it.

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  19. I got all the way through Possession. 10 points to me for perseverance. 10,000 points to you for reading something more interesting.

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  20. Pingback: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  21. Pingback: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  22. I couldn’t finish Everything is Illuminated either. At one point I just had no idea what I was reading.

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  23. Pingback: Books I Have Neglected | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

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