Thursday, October 25, 2007

Abandoned Books

I noticed a new meme this morning that asks about books that readers have abandoned so far this year. Since I've started but not completed eleven books during the first ten months of 2007, the question got me wondering if the eleven have anything in common. A look at the list that I keep in the left hand column of this blog also made me wonder if it was always the book that was at fault. I suspect that in some cases it was as much my timing and mood that caused me to abandon a book as it was the book itself.

Just this week I read about 40 pages of Elmer Kelton's memoirs, Sandhills Boy, a book I had looked forward to for several weeks. Kelton has been on my list of favorite authors for years and I couldn't imagine not liking this one. It just couldn't happen...but it did. Kelton grew up in West Texas, in a family of real cowpunchers, and he writes some of the most realistic stories I've ever read about both 19th century cowboys and the more modern version. He removes the myth from westerns and shows cowboy life for the tough thing that it really was. Why then did this book of memoirs read like it was written by someone else? I didn't sense any of the Kelton style at all and was bored with it almost from the start. I looked through the rest of the book before giving up on it because it gave me no reason to continue. This was a major disappointment for me.

Another one that just didn't work for me is the relatively popular The World without Us, by Alan Weisman. I've seen nothing but good reviews for this one and I read about 125 pages into it before it started to seem so repetitious that I lost interest in it. I was fascinated by the descriptions of what would happen to major cities if man were suddenly to disappear from the face of the earth. Weisman painted a vivid picture of what the slowly crumbling infrastructure would look like and how long it would take for vegetation and animal life to reclaim the cities but other chapters didn't hold my attention. Based on the reaction of other readers, I think that I probably just opened this one at the wrong time and there's a chance that I'll return to it later.

And then there's Max Barry's Company, a book that was supposed to make me laugh at out loud at the absurdity of office life, an environment I experienced first hand for three decades. Well, what the book describes is definitely absurd but it didn't make me laugh even to myself. Maybe that kind of humor has passed me by. It just seemed so juvenile and silly that I soon felt that I was wasting my time with it. I'm going to give the author all the blame for my reaction to this one.

Matthew Pearl's The Poe Shadow is one that I really wanted to like. I'm intrigued by Poe and his books and was hoping to lose myself in his world for a while. I actually read half of this relatively long book before it occurred to me that it had become a real chore and that I was avoiding it. I found the book to be too long for so little plot and I gradually lost interest and ended up wishing I'd not read so many pages of it before giving up on it.

I've read a whole lot of Elmore Leonard in the last thirty years or so and have long admired the way this man writes dialog. His characters often reveal more about themselves in conversation than many writers can pack into a dozen descriptive paragraphs. But Up in Honey's Room does not even come close to meeting the lofty standards set by Leonard in most of his previous books. The main characters never became believable to me and that kept me from even coming close to losing myself in Leonard's plot. I was surprised at my reaction to this one because it is the very first Elmore Leonard book that I've ever started and failed to finish.

Those are five of the eleven incomplete reads that I've struggled with in 2007. I suppose that I shouldn't feel too bad since I'm only having that happen about once a month, on average, but I look back and regret the precious reading time that I squandered.
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