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.

12 comments:

  1. The only one I've read of those is The Poe Shadow and I thought it was incredibly slow. I wouldn't have finished it except that I was lying on a beach in Jamaica and I had already read the other books I brought on vacation with me!

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  2. I have that Weisman book now at home from the library. It does sound intriguing. It'll be interesting to get into it. Sometimes it is a matter of mood and timing I think. Of course if you are miserable reading a book I say jettison it! Have you ever received a reader's copy and hated it? Do you read it anyway or tell them you oculdn't do it? I have yet to read one that I hated but I've sort of wondered how to handle the situation if it arises.

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  3. Sort of a captive audience, in the best sense of the word, Susan...that was a nice problem to have, I suppose. :-)

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  4. I have received only one ARC that I just could not finish, no matter how hard I tried, Danielle. It was just so alien to me that I contacted the publisher and explained that I could not possibly review the thing because I couldn't get into it long enough to even figure out why I thought it was so bad.

    They took it well and sent me another book to try.

    But I have given some negative reviews to ARCs before because I think, and hope, that they expect to receive honest comments. So far, that has been proven to be a true comment, in my experience, anyway.

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  5. I've just given up on one of the books that was short-listed for the Booker prize this year: 'Darkmans'by Nicola Barker. Loads of people raved about it but I found it turgid and applied my 100 page rule (seldom used). Life is too short, and there are too many other books I want to read.

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  6. I finished The Poe Shadow, but it never got any better.

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  7. Hershellian, my page rule is normally closer to 50 pages than to 100 but every so often I get sucked in long enough to read even more than that before giving up on a book. That's when I really feel the loss of time...

    I'm not familiar with the book you mentioned other than the generally good reviews that I seen about it.

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  8. Thanks for that, Jenclair. That makes me feel better about giving up on it when I finally did.

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  9. I think Matthew Pearl's writing is just one that isn't very engaging. I bought his THE DANTE CLUB a few years back,and I really wanted to like it. But nothing ever happened; it too moved incredibly slowly. Finally, about a third of the way through, I gave up. When I saw THE POE SHADOW, I thought, that looks pretty good. Then when I saw who wrote it, I figured, ummm...maybe not.

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  10. Thank you, j.s.peyton! I thought that was the author of The Dante Club. That book I found so boring that while I did finish it, I wasn't even tempted to pick up his Poe book.

    What we don't finish and why is pretty interesting. Thanks for your list, Sam!

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  11. I agree, J.S. I don't think that I'll be spending anymore money on one of his books...makes me wonder why/how he's been so successful in recent years.

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  12. Carrie, some of what I see on my list of abandoned books still surprises me because it's the work of at least a couple of my favorite writers. That's just never happened before.

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