The Books You’ll Never Finish
The illusion of choice is particularly applicable to books because you can buy them for small change when you’re tempted by momentary fancies. They’re still the best value impulse purchase of all. Trouble is, you sometimes put your book on a shelf where it sits for years, unopened.
For me it’s even worse, because writers get given books all the time; it’s our currency. Let’s just say that not everything we’re given is a masterpiece. I keep a ‘Books To Be Read Soon’ shelf, but that’s different to the ‘Books I Really Should Read’ shelf. The latter is mostly occupied by books I’ve started and not finished.
What is it that makes us stall when we start to read? At what point do we decide to abandon or delay our reading, telling ourselves we’ll come back to it?
The last two books I dumped were ‘Laura’ by Vera Caspery – a classic noir mystery, I know, but the opening chapter was arch and tiresome, and I suddenly realised we’d be stuck with Waldo Lydecker for the whole book, and ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’, an exercise in meta-fiction that confused before even introducing its characters.
Of course we don’t have to fully understand what’s gong on when we start a novel, but we need a reason to keep reading. Among those I’ve stumbled to a halt on and saved for that special day when I find out I have a week to live are the following;
Tristram Shandy (started it a dozen times, was enjoying it but not quite enough)
Middlemarch (read cover – sounded rural)
Vanity Fair (ditto)
Don Quixote (daunting – ‘the Everest of novels’)
The Shadow Of The Wind (started it 3 times, people say it’s great, full of clichés)
A Tale of Two Cities (what’s the problem here? I’ve read every other Dickens, including ‘Mugby Junction’. This one I will come back to.)
Anything by Anthony Trollope (had to do ‘The Warden’ at school – put me off for life)
Finnegans Wake (why – really – would you?)
Infinite Jest (I like David Foster Wallace but his mindset is too detail-oriented for me)
Good Omens (whimsical fantasy makes me ill, jokes left me cold)
On the other hand there are books I find a breeze to read and reread which I know friends have trouble with:
Gormenghast (the first two books, the third is an exercise in the removal of pleasure)
The Atrocity Exhibition (a demanding text that incorporates ideas and essays into an only-partially seen storyline)
The Flower Beneath The Foot (experimental, ground-breaking, short)
Bleak House (every sentence can be read aloud and examined)
Mrs Dalloway (Londoner, ergo enjoyed)
Pepys’s diaries (a clear idea of the man living in monumental times comes shining through)
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (seemingly reckless, but elegantly constructed)
I’m always ready to be convinced about so-called unreadable or unread books – so fire away!