Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ten Books...

...I've started, failed to finish and feel guilty as hell about. They're scattered about the house, permanent and quietly malevolent reminders of a thousand broken resolutions, talismans of my enduring ignorance.

1 Ulysses - James Joyce
2 Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
3 Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
4 Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon
5 Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
6 Lanark - Alexander Gray
7 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
8 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
9 The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
10 The Sea - John Banville

And ten more that are also lying around but will never get finished because for various reasons I really didn't like them:

1 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
2 Shame - Salman Rushdie
3 A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - Maria Lewycka
4 Atonement - Ian McEwan
5 The Quantity Theory of Insanity - Will Self
6 Why Read the Classics? - Italo Calvino
7 Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey
8 Possession - A.S. Byatt
9 A Family Madness - Thomas Keneally
10 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown. This one's really in a category of its own. I hated it.

Actually, there's dozens more lying around that I've started and been unable to finish but those are the the most recent ones. When I was younger I forced myself to finish every book I started but now, well, maybe I value my time a little more. Or maybe my polymath dreams are over, charred embers on the altar of experience.

Dammit, no, that's not the reason. The reason is that mostly these books failed to live up to the publishers' hype and I resented being conned. Not really the best frame of mind for reading a book. Maybe one day I'll give them another go. But don't bet on it.


  1. Should we expect to like everything that is put before us? No, and we shouldn't. I finished some of the ones that you didn't and hated some of the same ones as well. 'The God of Small Things' was nearly a non-starter, but I returned to it at a later date and it has since become a fond memory.
    Life is a box of chocolates, Forest.

  2. Midnight's Children took me six months to finish.

    Ada by Vladimir Nabakov. Forget it. What was I thinking? I should have returned it and asked for my money back.


  3. I will sometimes resolutely avoid a book just because someone tells me I simply must read it.

  4. Ulysses is also one that I keep meaning to get all the way through!
    It's a project for this year! Midnight's Children was also a mission but I got there. I have mixed views on it: mad and charming. I 've got loads of books that I've bought but haven't got round to yet. :)

  5. I--and I bet you, too--approach each new book with curiosity and eagerness. If I don't finish, it's not my fault, it's the book's, or the author's. It's the author's duty to interest me; it's my duty to make myself genuinely available. After that, it's strokes and folks.

  6. This serves as a reminder of Mark Twain’s perceptive remark that a classic is a book that everyone wants to have read but no-one wants to read.

    Of yours, I have read all the way through only Catch 22, One Hundred Years of Solititude, Midnight’s Children and Atonement. Like you, I have started, but not finished, Ulysses and Wide Saragosso Sea. Others, such as The Catcher in the Rye and A Dance to the Music of Time, have passed me by.

    But why no War and Peace, and above all, why no mention of the world’s greatest unread book, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time? But then, of course, you may have read these from cover to cover. I’m starting again with Proust in the most recent translation, published by Penguin. I also have some of the CDs of Neville Jason’s sensitive reading of the work recorded by Naxos, as well as the first volume in French and a French cartoon version. I do try.

  7. Oh, Baralbion, don't get me started on the classics I haven't read. They are too numerous to list and I'll only end up feeling even more of a Philistine than I do already.

    That's a neat point, John. Not my fault, it's the author's. Although, I feel we are obliged to put in some effort that might be commensurate with that expended by the author. Wasn't it Joyce who said, when someone complained about how hard it was to read Finnegan's Wake, that it had taken him a lifetime to write and maybe it might take a lifetime to read?