Sunday, January 16, 2011

Abandoned: The 8:55 to Baghdad

I've decided this year that, when it comes to "abandoned" books, I want to do more than just keep track of the number of them I encounter.  After all, abandoned books are, in their own way, just as remarkable as books that I absolutely love -  they are just at the other extreme end of the rating scale.  These are books that even fail to allow me to turn their pages without almost groaning out loud from the effort.

That does not mean, of course, that they are necessarily "bad" books.  It simply means that after giving them a fair shot, I see going on with them as being a colossal waste of my time.  It reflects my personal reaction to these books.  Others may very well love them; see the next paragraph for proof of that.

This brings me to my experience this weekend with The 8:55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames.  This is another book I discovered through Nancy Pearl's Book Lust to Go and is the first of hers to which I've reacted negatively.

The premise of The 8:55 to Baghdad is that its author will recreate Agatha Christie's 1928 train trip from London to Baghdad, the trip that spawned her famous Murder on the Orient Express.  The book's subtitle, From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie, tells readers what to expect.  As Eames remarks early in the book, making this trip in 2002 is much more difficult, and potentially much more dangerous, than the trip that Christie took.  World War II and other recent conflicts in Europe have redrawn some borders and made them more difficult to cross, and the political unrest and actual fighting in the Middle East was, in 2002, getting worse by the month.

I have read and enjoyed several train-trip books in the past and expected that this one would be a treat, filled with interesting fellow passengers of the author's and lots of colorful stories about the stops he made along the way.  That might very well prove to be the case - eventually - but after slogging through 60 pages of some of the more tedious prose I've read in a while, I will never know.  I simply cannot take another page of lifeless characters and writing so dry that I can barely concentrate on two consecutive sentences long enough to get their meaning.

The 8:55 to Baghdad is definitely not for me and I am stamping it as officially abandoned.

10 comments:

  1. I like writing about my abandoned books (that ones that I give a good fifty to a hundred pages, not ditch after sampling just a few) and also find it interesting to see why other readers toss books aside. Certainly this one appears to be a book I wouldn't finish either!`

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  2. All I can say is that I really like the cover.

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  3. The past year I'd been blogging about books I abandoned - I figured it'd help me and others to know why I couldn't finish it. I agree with you that these aren't necessarily bad books, just not for me.

    Case in point - I couldn't get into this book (don't even think I made it to 60 pages - I don't have a "magical page number" to judge a book on") - American Uprising (http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/01/book-review-american-uprising-untold.html) and yet, one of the bloggers I followed just gave it 5/5 (her review: http://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/sunday-salon-review-of-%E2%80%9Camerican-uprising-the-untold-story-of-america%E2%80%99s-largest-slave-revolt%E2%80%9D-by-daniel-rasmussen/)

    So I appreciate reading why people can't finish a book!

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  4. Jeane, I think it's fair to write about books that we give a fair shot to...50 pages would seem to be a reasonable minimum for this purpose, I think.

    I see Book Chase as, in part, being my personal book journal and I think it will be appropriate for me to record here even those books I didn't finish if I spent an hour or two reading from them.

    Have you ever gone back and given an abandoned book a second chance, or do they leave so bad an impression that you can't imagine doing that?

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  5. C.B., it is kind of a nice cover - and an interesting concept. It just didn't work for me. I could never get into the author's prose rhythm and it finally became too much of a chore, with too little return for the effort.

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  6. Christa, thanks for that encouragement about posting on abandoned titles. I do think it offers something to the conversation and would love to hear from others who totally disagree with me about books I've given up on. There are numerous reasons a book just doesn't work for a person...sometimes they are temporary, sometimes they are fatally permanent.

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  7. I have actually given some abandoned books a second try. There's a few sitting on my shelf that just didn't work for me on the first attempt but get so much acclaim I feel obligated to try them again (A River Runs Through It, Zorba the Greek, The Known World, etc). Just last year I finally made it through Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I'd tried to read years before and made no headway. I'm glad I finally read that one all the way through. But most of them get put aside and never approached again.

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  8. You make a good point. When we abandon a book it only means we don't like it, it doesn't necessarily follow that the book isn't any good. If I take that attitude I think it will be easier for me to abandon books. In the past I always have felt that I should finish every book I start.

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  9. Jeane, from the tone of your comment, it doesn't sound that going back for a second try on an abandoned book has been very successful for you. Same here, but I just hate to give up and, every once in a while, my curiosity gets the best of me and I try again.

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  10. I used to feel that way, too, Kathleen, but the older I get the more reluctant I am to waste time doing ANYTHING, much less reading. Way too little time in this life for me to be using any of it foolishly. (At least that's what I shoot for - not always very successfully, I admit.)

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