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:
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...