Thursday, October 25, 2007

Read with abandon?

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Today’s suggestion is from Cereal Box Reader:

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

I just finished reading D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow last night and for more than half the book I told myself that it was okay if I abandoned it and that I was going to abandon it. In the end, I was glad I stuck it out; the second half was much more to my taste than the first. I guess you could say I really don't like to abandon books once I've committed to reading them.

Books I've abandoned through neglect (I wrote about these back in March, books that still have bookmarks in them):

World Light. Halldor Laxness. Started in May 2003. The first chapter ends with the undersized literature-loving foster child Olafur weeping when a book he couldn't read, but kept hidden in his clothes, is taken from him and burned. But I put it down 200 pages in when the character seemed to transmogrify into someone I didn't recognize. The next February I read 200 more pages. Only 200 more yet to go and then I can read Independent People. Bookmark: one from the public library, a quick guide to Dewey Decimal classification and subject areas.

Virginia Woolf. Hermione Lee. Stopped at p. 478 (out of 755), the chapter on Vita Sackville-West, to read The Easter Party by Sackville-West. Was I waiting to read All Passion Spent as well? Bookmark: a reply form from the QPBC. Guess I didn't.

Jenny and the Jaws of Life. Jincy Willett. I know I've read more than one story in this collection--and I rarely read story collections straight through--but there's a notecard stuck between p. 26-27. The notecard is a black and white photo of a kitty touching noses with a walrusy-looking puppy stuffed in a ceramic teapot.

The Italian. Ann Radcliffe. Set aside last fall at an exciting spot: Ellena and the evil monk on the beach, p. 260. Bookmark: old-fashioned library checkout card from Harriet Hume.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard. Six out of 15 chapters read. Bookmark: a strip of Glidden paint samples, ranging in color from Pasture Green to Forest Light.

Emerson Among the Eccentrics. Carlos Baker. Stopped at the end of Part Two, intending to read Emerson's essays from the Forties before continuing on into the Fifties in the bio. Bookmark: an index card on which is written "A Conversation with My Father. Grace Paley."

Selected Essays, Lectures, and Poems. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Next essay to read: "The Over-Soul," from 1841. Bookmark: a folded envelope preaddressed to the Children's Theatre here in town.

Will in the World. Stephen Greenblatt. A post card from Sir John Soane's Museum in London between p. 92 and 93.

And then there are those I start, realize I cannot focus on, that the problem is me, not the text.

For example, my husband brought me Catch-22 to read in the hospital after I developed pre-eclampsia, my son was taken out eight weeks early and was struggling to survive in neonatal intensive care, and I was dealing with a couple of cheerfully aggressive social worker-types who kept popping into my hospital room to tell me I was eligible for free government cheese and formula and that my husband would soon leave me since men couldn't deal with having premature babies. I didn't find anything the least bit funny and didn't attempt the book again for a good decade.

And, of course, James Joyce's Ulysses. I made it through three chapters several years ago, decided I ought to reread Hamlet, read all of The Odyssey instead of just the bits and pieces from high school, and just generally get a lot smarter before I attempted it again. I gave myself until I was 45 to shape up. I'm now 48 and am thinking seriously about attempting it at some point next year.

via Booking Through Thursday


  1. Halldor Laxness writes magnificently in his short novels (The Fish Can Sing iswonderful), but his long ones always look offputting to me for some reason.

    I'm with you on Ulysees, but Iwill try again.

  2. What a great idea for a post.

    I was much younger when I tried to read Ulysses, perhaps it will make sense to me now that I've matured. Perhaps not ;-)

    One other book that I remember starting & not finishing (twice actually which is a record for me) was Stranger in A Strange Land.
    More surprisingly since I am a fan of science fiction. Go figure.

  3. Anonymous3:56 PM

    I like this meme, too, and will have to do it myself. I just recently bought Hallnor Laxness's The Fish Can Sing (glad to hear from another commenter that it's good)--it's a much thinner book from the sound of things! I'm reading Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, which is very good, but sort of long. I want to read some of her other books as well. I've heard The Italian is her masterpiece (?). And I don't think I will ever even buy Ulysses.

  4. What an interesting meme - and one I'll have lots of material for. I may have to do this.

  5. I don't think I've ever met anyone who has finished Ulysses. I know the first two hundred pages so well, from frequent attempts!


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