Monday, March 12, 2007


Over at the Guardian blog, Sarah Crown has a post asking for books that you've started but never managed to finish. The comments section makes for interesting reading, if only because it highlights the vast differences in what people enjoy.

Frankly, I found some of the comments bewildering. I mean look, there are a number of books that I love and have even re-read where I understand why someone else might find them heavy going. I wouldn't dream of leaving a Faulkner unfinished, for instance, but I recognise that he takes a certain amount of effort. I myself tend to read him in small bursts of 40-50 pages, after which I need to take a break just to assimilate the overwhelming impact of his prose before I can go on - it's one of the things I love about him. Something similar applies to Woolf, and to some of Henry James.

But how anyone can put down any of the following books is beyond me:

1) Emma
2) Crime and Punishment / Brothers Karamazov
3) The Lord of the Rings
4) Midnight's Children
5) Clockwork Orange
6) The Autumn of the Patriarch
7) Waiting for Godot
8) Lord Jim

Understand - it's not that these are 'great' books (though they are), it's just that to me they're so thoroughly engrossing as to be almost page turners. And yet here are people who claim that they weren't able to finish them. It's shocking.

My own list (which is somewhere around the middle of the comments) includes:

a) Mann's The Magic Mountain (I've got as far as page 300 something, then put it down because there was something else I wanted to read, and never managed to muster up the enthusiasm to go back)

b) Dreiser's Sister Carrie / American Tragedy (Both of which I found stultifyingly dull)

c) Thomas Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities (Started it, thought it seemed vaguely promising, but then sort of drifted away)

d) The Bible (Have never managed to read that one through, even though I've started a half dozen times. I'm fine through Genesis and Exodus, but at some point in Deuteronomy I tune out and only really wake up again in Job)

e) Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet

f) Spenser's Fairy Queen

g) Byron's Don Juan

h) Dos Passos' U.S.A. (which is a pity because I really did think it was promising. one of these days)

Then, of course, there are the books I can't really claim to have started - books that I own and have considered reading, but never really got down to it - like Galsworthy's Forsythe Saga or Finnegan's Wake. And one of these days I must get around to reading Updike. And Nabokov's Ada.

My current albatross is the new Pynchon. I started it a few months ago, read about a 100 pages (about 10%), liked it, took a break to read the new Vikram Chandra (because the library wanted that back more urgently) and haven't managed to go back since. Maybe tomorrow I'll get restarted on it...


venkat said...

ah yes..Updike. I plan to pick up that "Rabbit" saga thing sometime...(that's what its called, right?). Never read any of his novels, just a bunch of short stories.

Szerelem said...

Hmm....quite a few actually. The ones that are top of my mind - War and Peace(the print was too small, too many names, so darned long),The Tin Drum,Don Quixote,Doctor Zhivago.

The "Rabbit" books are really good. I read them quite a while back. Updikes new work isn't very impressive. And the Bible is actually a terribly fun read. I've actually read it! Probably has to do with the fact that I studied in a catholic convent for many years. I still have the copy of the Bible my friend gave me on my 8th birthday!

Szerelem said...

Oh, I had meant to add that there are a lot of books I picked up in the last two years of school and then just drifted away. Doesn't happen much these days....
Okay. Shall stop spamming.

Jabberwock said...

Heh. Can just picture you with a Pynchon in one hand and the Vikram Chandra in the other - you must have the biceps of Salman Khan!

losrojillos said...

Faerie Queene ? I actually quite liked it. I'm surprised Richardson's 'Clarissa' or anything by Anthony Trollope didn't make it to your list.

Actually some of Dumas' books are tough reads as well - the usual ones (The Count of Monte Cristo, Three Musketeers) are brilliant but the once you get into the territory of 'Chicot the Jester', 'Louise de la Valliere' etc, they tend to be much of the same and disjointed enough to make me stop somewhere by page 253.

Swathi said...

this is one of the most popular questions among bibliophiles...

Ulysses takes the cake for me, i have started it atleast 5 times but never managed to complete it.Another book which keeps staring at me accusingly from my book shelf is Woolf's 'Orlando'.

and like szerelem i must say that one of the benefits of studying at a convent is that u get to read the Bible!

Anonymous said...

Srezelem, I agree with you on the Bible. Much fun and debauchery if one would get beyond Deuteronomy. My mom says they weren't allowed to read it such was the raunchiness content. Falstaff I suggest you persevere, much better than the mini-skirts I assure ye.

Ok, we're going to get into the wtf area here, but seriously, szerelem, you didn't get through War & Peace? That is one heck of a soap opera - much fun! Though I almost gave up after Prince Andrei you know does what he has to(spoiler alert here?).

But Falsie, Bonfire? Honestly, you didn't get through it? Ah, well, I suppose its my Lord Jim. I'm stuck with the Pynchon as well, though the Pynchon is now stuck in a library and not sure whether he or I am happier about it. Kind of like an inconvenient relative who checks into a chronic care facility and you are relieved but once in a while you think virtuously, oh, I should visit him, I really should.


Swathi said...

n yes, i must add Satanic Verses too, very difficult to wade thro' -makes me wonder how many of those Islamic fundamentalists have read it!

The Black Mamba said...

Ulysses (which everyone seems to understand)

but if we're talking of confessions, here are a few,

Midnight's Children - the one Rushdie I've never managed to finish.

Catch 22 - I have never read it cover to cover. I always end up reading half the book and then pick it up after 6 months to read the rest. I quote extensively from this book (next only to Douglas Adams), but have never read it as a whole.

Godel, Escher, Bach - yup. though I love the book.

On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs - for all my love for this book, nope, haven't finished it, yet - 2 years and counting.

No convent, no bible.

But seriously cannot imagine putting down a Marquez or Godot down, and then living in peace.

Falstaff said...

venkat: Yup, those are the ones. I skimmed the first chapter of one at a friend's place once, and thought it sounded promising, but somehow there's always been something else to read.

szerelem: War & Peace? Don Quixote? Really? Both books that I personally wouldn't dream of putting down.

Doctor Zhivago I can see - I did actually finish it, but it took serious effort and I came away with the impression that I should have stuck to watching the film.

As for the bible - as I said, I have actually read most of the fun bits at this point. So it's not so much that that I haven't finished it as the fact that there are entire sections I haven't read.

jabberwock: ya, but at least I managed to keep my shirt on.

losrojillos: It's not that I didn't like Fairie Queene, it's just that after a point I got sated with it. By contrast, I have actually read Shelley's Revolt of Islam from start to end.

And Clarissa and Trollope would both fall into category of books I've never got around to starting. Which might explain their non-inclusion. Ditto obscure Dumas.

swathi: I didn't think Ulysses was that bad. It took a little adjusting to, and was a slow read, but once I got through the first two chapters I was engrossed / committed enough to keep going.

And Orlando? really? There are a few Woolf books that I found heard reading (The Voyage Out, Night and Day) but I've always felt Orlando was one of the easiest.

I have to admit I rather enjoyed Satanic Verses - not in the league of Rushdie's best books (Shame, Midnight's Children, Moor's Last Sigh) and some of it did drag a bit, but some of it was astonishingly beautiful. I suspect the fact that I came to SV after Ground Beneath Her Feet and Fury (books that mark the nadir of Rushdie's writing for me) may have something to do with this.

n!: Nope. I just wasn't interested enough with Bonfire. I got through about a 100 pages and it was pleasant enough, I guess, but I looked at how much more of it there was and thought, forget it, I have better things to read. Maybe one of these days I'll go back.

BM: Midnight's Children?? Really? Why?

I'm not sure reading a book in segments (as you do Catch 22) counts. There are many books I've read that way - I currently have three books (not counting the Pynchon) that I'm half way through and will eventually get back to but am leaving to lie fallow for a while.

Diviya said...

The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse.

Szerelem said...

War and Peace, I really blame my copy. The print is too small.
Don Quixote - no excuses. I should probably pick up both again.

Ulysses I have never actually started so....

And I think I've caught the footnote disease from you.

Revealed said...

I actually liked War and Peace. It seems long to begin with and then it passes by pretty quickly. My personal bug bear is The Idiot. Have never read all the parts. But I count that as a work-in-progress. I find it hard to completely let go of any book though. The possibility of what I might find if I just read the next page does it for me :P.

Raoul said...

I never managed to complete Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. In fact, haven't been able to pick up any book on epistemology after that.

Cheshire Cat said...

To finish a book is a sign of disrespect. The greatest books must needs take forever to yield up their secrets.

km said...

So everybody here finished Cryptonomicon?

Liars. :)

Anonymous said...


Finishing books means you need start them. wtf is whateverthefucktonomicon you are referring to?


Gammafunction said...

I could not finish The Karamzov brothers,One hundred years of solitude and Godel-Escher-Bach...and have not finished countless others 'coz the library wanted it back...know of friends who could not get through Midnight's children even after some 5-6 attempts

dazedandconfused said...

am currently traffic jammed with E M Forsters, 'The Longest Journey'...:(

sb said...

Gravity's Rainbow by Pynchon--I wrestled with it for quite some time before I lost...

Ludwig said...

you are, of course, kidding about the "Alexandria Quartet". it's your idea of a small joke, isn't it?

it must be...