Friday, February 13, 2009

Half assed, half reads

I have a bookcase to the left-side of my bed. It's full of not-yet-read and half-read books, mostly paperbacks. This bookshelf causes me angst. All these (perhaps great?) reads are just sitting there, within reach. Some have been there for years. You see I have a hard time not buying a used book at a low price if I think I might like it, someday. The library in my old neighborhood, which is now still a short drive away, has a great used-book room. There are almost always good books to be snagged at prices ranging from 50 cents to 1 dollar. It's hard to resist. I suggested it to my former coworker and she came back an hour later with 24 books (for 20 dollars).

But I digress, what truly makes me feel guilty is not that there are yet-to-be-read books filling the shelves of the bookcase, but that many of these books are now half read. Only half read.

I have a feeling that I'm not the only one who feels some sense of failure when unable to get through a book. For me there is some sense of personal defeat (yes, on a tiny scale, but still). It's a book, if it's not badly written and you at least like it, then just suck it up and finish it, right? What's the big deal? Turn the page, just do it.

It's been happening a lot lately. I had to abandon one today, in fact. It was Brick Lane: A Novel by Monica Ali, a story about a Bangladeshi woman who immigrates to London for an arranged marriage. I wasn't dis-liking it, and it's a subject I usually find interesting, but it was just not doing it for me. Not right now. I need something, um, more riveting, or faster paced, or trashier, or something.

It's almost as though certain books, at certain points in time, don't fit right. It's like trying to wear your skinny jeans when you're PMS-ing, or your low-cut shirt with your newest Wonderbra to church. It just doesn't feel right. I know that for me, if I end up leaving the house in an outfit that I don't really like, I spend the day feeling less good than I could. "Oh hell, why didn't I just wear my Buffalo jeans again? No one cares and I would feel a whole hell of a lot better."

So I succumbed. I abandoned Brick Lane for.....are you ready? Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik. Go ahead, judge if you will. But I'm already on page 111, and I'm almost positive that I'm going to finish this one! And maybe, just maybe, when I'm done with this one, my mood will be such that I can finally get through:

The Way the Crow Flies by Ann Marie MacDonald, or The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, or Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan, or Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi, or Mexico by James Michener, or The Fig Eater by Jody Shields, or The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory, or Mornings in Mexico by DH Lawrence, or one of my other strewn-off half reads.

If you've made it through any of the above mentioned titles, I'd love to know if their worth the second half.


Rita.the.bookworm said...

I am one who feels no guilt about abandoning a book. I give myself a three chapter minimum and if after that I don't really like it, I quit and never look back.

There are so many books on the earth that if we did nothing but read, we still wouldn't finish them. So, it's a waste of valuable reading time to put that time into a book that you don't like.

Also, in my (almost!) 40 years on the planet, I can say from my experience, I've never muddled past a book where I didn't like the first three chapters and then was suddenly overcome with the greatness of the book. Maybe it's happened to other people, but it's never happened to me. Every time I've forced myself to finish a book that I didn't really like, I've regretted the time I wasted because it never picked up and rewarded me, it just either continued to be bland, or went further downhill.

I do have a habit though, if I'm going to give up on a book, I flip through it and read random parts to see if maybe it improves somewhere, and I always, always, always read the last 1 or 2 chapters, because I've just gotta know how it ends.

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Well, let's see.

Yes on The Way the Crow Flies by Ann Marie MacDonald, yes.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, definitely yes. Great one.

Stones From the River by Ursula Hegi, yes, but I don't think I liked it as much as everyone else did.

The Fig Eater by Jody Shields, I read it but can't remember it. Sigh. Happens.

I don't think I've read the other ones. But you never really know....

I almost always finish a book. Or I do if I read more than the first few pages. I almost never put something down halfway through. Which is less about my moral code and more about my complusion.

But, man, I love the reading. I've been on a tear lately.

Happy Reading!

(Oh, and I read Brick Lane, too.)


Femin Susan said...

How awesome! Thanks for sharing!

Me, You, or Ellie said...

I also hate it when I can't slog through a book. I'm having that problem with The People of the Book, and although it's getting better and I look forward to finishing it, it never really grabbed hold of me. I was expecting to love it, Year of Wonders was one of my faves.

I did love Birth of Venus. I was riveted by The Way the Crow Flies, I wouldn't say that I loved it but it sure stuck with me (you read her first one, right) I can't remember Stones from the River... but it sounds familiar.

I've got a big stack on my nightstand too, I keep trying to start The Book Thief, which everyone loves but I keep setting aside. I was famously (in my own head, anyway) unable to finish A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. That book drove me nuts. Pulitzer, my ass.


XUP said...

Hey - you should never, ever, ever "slog" through a book or feel guilty for not finishing one. Holy crap. The book has the responsibility of so engaging you as to make you want to finish it. It's not your responsiblity to finish reading a book just because it's been written. No wonder so many crappy, boring books continue to get published if people feel they "have" to read crappy, boring books. Sheesh. Read what you love, what makes you smile or think or feel good or whatever it is you go to a book for. Life's too short to force yourself to read stuff you have no interest in. My goodness....

Me, You, or Ellie said...

How interesting, Jacqueline. I loved "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius". It didn't win the Pulitzer, though -- it was a finalist for General Non-Fiction in 2001. But, more importantly, "The Book Thief" is one of my favorite books ever. Top 5.

And I really *do* think it's interesting, how a book can grab one person, and leave another cold. Keeps the world spinnin'...


Pat said...

There are many things about getting old that are awful...I will spare you this morning. But there are many things about growing old that are great, and one of these is that given whatever time I have left, I am not going to spend it reading a book I don't enjoy after 75 pages.
So, as your mother Beth (and auntie to Jackie and Ellie), I give you all permission to quit on a book if it doesn't grab you. Life is short!

Kathi D said...

I used to feel guilty about unfinished books, and then I realized that life is too short to spend time reading a book that I'm not interested in.