Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The night of the living unread

When you pass on book after book, you have to wonder, is it them, or is it you? 
Here is an abbreviated list of books I have been unable to finish recently, followed by my excuses.

 Robert Harris, author of  The Ghost Writer, the basis of one of my favorite films from last year, also penned Archangel. BBC made a series out of this, starring Daniel Craig, another seal of approval.  Mr. Harris is an amazing writer, just pick up Imperium and you will find yourself privy to the mind and soul of Roman Cicero, and you will care, and care deeply.  Halfway through Archangel, set in Russia five years back, however, I still had no idea what the title referred to, nor why I should care. Nyet.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, whose book jacket details his many fellowships, awards, and a photo which reveals him to appear about 19; this is one of those novels that has been glowingly praised just about everywhere.  So hip and arty that if flies far above my pedestrian interests in plot and plausibility. Halfway through I finally realized I'd rather have an ingrown nail than follow their lives any further.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.  Incomprehensible.  Intentionally so.  Put me right in my place and I returned said novel to its rightful place--somewhere between the potato peels and the coffee grounds.
Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle.  I'll confess, this one's all me.  The preface alone reminded me how little I've done with my life--and instead of galvanizing me forward I kind of got paralyzed, and was unable to turn to the next page.

Gentle reader, which novels do you admit to being unable to read to the very bitter end?


  1. Hah! I sense an unbook club. I have so many, where to start. Will circle back with my list (it's lengthy).

  2. I'll join the club. I have had all the same reactions to various "best read ever" recommendations, just to other titles and authors.

    I feel somehow like it's a personal failing to start a book but not finish, but I have found myself failing a lot recently. Doestoyevsky is on our book club agenda for this month, for example, and I have tried and tried but cannot get through "Notes From the Underground."

    I will give a modest thumbs-up to Boyle's memoir, however. Too much god in it for me (surprise!) but a fun and touching read if you concentrate on the many anecdotes rather than the sermonizing. In fact, it is very much like a good, light sermon and you'll breeze right through it as soon as you overcome the paralysis and pick it back up. You'll definitely enjoy it - no guilt is laid out.

  3. Speaking of the venerable, I've had three Didions to work through. I really liked her first essay from the White Album, and the railroad piece in Where I Was From. Nothing catches my fancy in Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

  4. I love it! The unbook club--the uncola, the ungame...K: Dostoyevsky for a book club? What are they trying to prove? That's aspirational stuff for the comp lit majors. I will complete Boyle's book, perhaps one day when I'm feeling better about myself...3 Didions? Why not make it 4? The Year of Magical Thinking was universally praised...PA: Great. Clearly to be avoided in the future.

  5. May I join, please? And I'll start with Didion, if I may. "The Year of Magical Thinking" was (and I'm sorry about her grief, but) so pretentious, so unthinking. She should have waited another year. And really, what was with all the Dan Brown italics and isolated sentences? I hated it when he did it.

    But at least we expect him to be a pulp writer.

    I have a ton more. They're in Paula's garage. She keeps saying she's going to have a book exchange party.

  6. Oh. "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova. That would have been a really good book if someone had told her to cut 25% of it.

  7. Yeah, we have a few book club members with interesting choices! But since everyone gets to choose at least once a year, at least it's democratic.

    Two more I absolutely could not get through: Proust's book one (Swann's Way or Remembrance of Things Past? I couldn't even get the title down) and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

  8. Wow Karen, I don't think I've ever heard Proust and Fannie Flagg used in the same sentence. (I find Remembrance works in small doses.)

  9. So many, so so many. But I'll tell you what book I finished and Hated: that stupid Kite Runner.

  10. Wow, Karen and Margaret, those are all on my list of "I really should read those."

  11. Ladies you make me laugh! I tried the Historian, for about one page--I became claustrophobic--I have not attempted Proust, mainly because of the madeleine trope, and I don't think I'm up for a novel-sized flashback.
    P: WHY do we have a "should read"? I have one, too, but now I've forgotten its purpose.
    (Tried to italacize, a la Didion--but couldn't figure out how).

  12. Retraction: "God and Mr Gomaz"

    Pg 165.... G & G's off the list now. Akin to reading Bill's story in the big book of AA. The dated language kind of throws you off but when you finally allow it to be, it takes on a certain charm. Plus my book is signed by Jack Smith. Plus it was given to me by Tash. Plus t was Tash who encouraged me to go back and reread the "Year of Magical Thinking" after I had placed it on "the list". She read it in an act of morning (her father). I returned to it in an act of morning (my cat). Timing is everything

    btw: (I like to italacize) I like all those unloved keys that look like little icons that serve as stops for all those pesky run on sentences I'm prone to.

  13. I liked the Kite Runner just fine until the ending, which I totally hated. I even refused to see the movie.

    Yes, I could imagine small passages of Proust might be digestible. (To throw up the madeleine reference again.)

  14. I have just about decided to plunge headlong into the Game of Thrones series. Anyone read them? I'm in the mood for a page-turner and I haven't read any for what seems like a long time.

  15. I'd like to read those, too, Karen. I admit to liking medieval stuff, King Arthur stuff.

    Although years ago I read Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon" and loved it. I tried picking it up again a few months ago and it was like reading a dirge.

  16. Goes back to PA's assertion about timing timing timing!
    Series: not fantasy, but I do love Kate Atkinson's novels, recently featured on Masterpiece Mystery starring Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brody.

  17. You're right about the timing. PA and I had talked about the book. I guess I'm still mad at Didion, yet both PA and Tash liked it a lot.

    My book group is reading "The Time Traveler's Wife" which I avoided for a long time because I'd heard too many good things about it. It was so built up for me I was sure I'd hate it, but it's one of the most absorbing novels I've read in years.