Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Land of Abandoned Books

I've been feeling rather listless of late, so I thought I'd make a list.

Prior to my 20s, only once had I chosen to read a book and cast it aside before finishing it. But the older I get, the more I realize how little free time I have and how many things I still want to read. If the book doesn't grab me, I stop grabbing it.

Along with the increasing number of eBooks and book sale purchases I'm now putting aside as I really embrace this philosophy, here are my most notable abandonments, in chronological order. Some might surprise you.
  1. The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkein
    I was 14 or 15. I'd just finished The Hobbit. And then, calling my geekdom completely into question, I gave up on this tome about 40 pages in.
  2. Crime & Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    'Twas May of my senior year of high school, and I didn't have to write a paper on it. Nevertheless, I stuck it out for 4/5 of the book, more than most of the class.
  3. Star Maker, Olaf Stephenson
    The first assigned reading in my freshman-year sci-fi class. Again, no paper was required. Found it so dull I forgot the title. This might not even be the right book.
  4. Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson
    I loved his three previous works. Cryptonomicon was just as dense, and longer, yet fantastic. But I couldn't get into this. Made it 30 pages in 6 weeks. And done.
  5. Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life, Allen Shawn
    I had high hopes. Written by the brother of Wallace Shawn, and son of NY Times editor William Shawn. Surely he'd share some amazing stories, right? Wrong.
  6. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster & Jules Feiffer
    Loved it as a kid. Tried re-reading as an adult and the magic was gone. Just like with M.C. Hammer and The Neverending Story (the film). You can't go back.
  7. The Drawing of the Three, Stephen King
    Book two of the Dark Tower series. Barely made it through book one. Yet I've truly enjoyed the other half-dozen King works I've read. Go figure.
  8. Watchman, Ian Rankin
    Not to be confused with the Alan Moore graphic novel. All of Rankin's other mysteries have hooked me, but this was his first, re-issued. Just not the same.
  9. Anathem, Neal Stephenson
    Furthest I've ever read before giving up (350 pages). Really liked some scenes, but had no interest in anything going on. Another 600 pages to go? Screw that.
  10. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
    Yep, the Pulitzer prize winner. At times very witty and interesting. More often, Dominican slang and phrases hurled without context. Latter overrules former.

Of course, it goes the other way as well. I've finished some books I really shouldn't have. The Chronicles of Narnia sucked the life out of me, and I should have quit after two. I stuck through all seven out of sheer stubbornness.

I nearly lost it reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (my scathing review), strained to get through The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan (scathing review #2), and was blind as to why Jose Saramago's Blindness won the Nobel Prize. Yet I finished each one. And let me tell you, I was lucky to survive. Because whenever I came across something done poorly — and oh, there was plenty — I mentioned it to my wife. Each time, after two or three such remarks, Denise was ready to kill me. I must say she showed phenomenal restraint.

So if you ever find me bludgeoned to death with a book of dubious quality lying nearby, you know what happened. I didn't shut the book, and I didn't shut my mouth.

How about you? What's the most surprising (or acclaimed) book you've ever cast aside?


  1. I am struggling at the moment to get past page 35 of the Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I really want to like it as friends' have recommended it but I just don't care about what is going on enough to continue. Think I may just watch the movie instead.

    1. Who knows, it could be like me with Michael Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, where I slogged through the first 50 pages before really getting into it and enjoying the rest. Or, it could be like me with the Tolkein's Fellowship, where I slogged through all the pages (during my second attempt, in 2001) but should have just given up and watched the movie.

      I say go with the film. At least with that, if you still don't care about what's going on, you've only wasted a few hours.

  2. Nate, I couldn't bring myself to finish your blog entry. Your point, however is well taken. I'm reminded of our conversation in which we also discussed books we were glad to have given the benefit of the doubt. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance comes to mind for me.

    1. Sorry, I stopped reading after "I".

      But seriously... For me, it's Chabon's Kavalier and Clay, but unfortunately I think from here on out I may not be as patient, and cut out early. I may miss some quality stuff, but I'll also be skipping plenty of tripe, so it should balance out.

  3. I tried reading 'The Hobbit' when I was onboard a ship. I...just...couldn't...finish...reading...the...damn...thing. Yegods it was so frikkin' hard to follow!
    I hear the movie's good, though.

    1. I've also heard the movie is...just...too...damn...long. I mean they took the full LOTR -- three huge tomes -- and made three long movies. Then they took the (relatively) short Hobbit, and are going to make three. Long. Movies. I don't get it.

  4. I re-read LOTR before the movies. I skimmed often.
    However, I really liked the Narnia series.

    1. I made a second attempt at reading LOTR before the movies. Made it through Fellowship, then decided I wouldn't subject myself to books 1 & 2; the movie was much more entertaining.

      With Narnia, I read one or two as a kid and loved them. Tried them again a couple years ago -- after I'd begun to distinguish good writing from bad -- and Lewis's style bugged me. Still, they were short, so I finished the series.

  5. Nate, you are reading the wrong books. Read The Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson. It is one of the greatest books I have ever read. And if you have not read Nancy Thompson's The Mistaken, you are missing a gripping novel. Now get to it!

    1. Okay, so only read books by Thompsons. Preferably with the middle initial S. Got it.

  6. Oh, my goodness... the Phantom Tollbooth. My daughter (9) read it in school and RAVED about it. I got about 2 chapters in and gave up. She still asks me when I'm going to finish it.. I just don't see that happening.