Finishing the unfinished
I’ve long given up the habit of forcing myself to finish a book even though I wasn’t enjoying the experience. But it seems I haven’t given up a different habit – putting a book on pause half way, fulling intending to return to it when maybe I was more in the mood for the style/ theme/ genre etc. I found three in this category this weekend and having given myself a bit of a talking to, they are all destined for a new home via the charity shop next week.
They’re all books which have been praised by other readers. But I struggled to be enthused.
Orhan Parmuk’s Snow has been stuck on the nightstand for three years. (I know that to be a fact because helpfully there is a date on the train ticket I used as a book mark). I bought it in a library sale because I’d never read anything by a Turkish author and since Pamuk he had won the Nobel Literature Prize I thought it would be a good place to begin. But what a disappointment. In it poet, who has spent 12 years in political exile in Germany, travels back to Turkey to report on an epidemic of suicides among young girls who were forbidden to wear their head scarves. His undeclared purpose however is to try and meet a woman he used to know. Unfortunately his trip coincides with a snowstorm that cuts off the town for three days and then there is the further minor of a military coup. The premise sounded good but I got tired of the meandering story line and the obfuscations…
Just as old is a novel that was chosen by our book club maybe three or even four years ago. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Chronicling the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento (a political movement for unification in Italy), it’s considered one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature. I ran out of time so didn’t finish it before the club meeting but had enjoyed some of the sections so fully intended to read it to the end when I had more time. That time never came. Consequently I’ve forgotten most of what it was about and don’t have the desire to start it all over again.
The final member of this trio is Delirium by the Colombian author Laura Restrepo. It’s a story about a severe episode of derangement: returning from a trip, a middle-aged laid-off academic named Aguilar receives a phone call summoning him to a posh hotel, where he finds his young wife, Agustina, staring vacantly out a window, “lost inside her own head.” Aguilar attempts to trace the cause of his wife’s mysterious ailment, discovering it has deep seated origins in an emotionally disturbed childhood. Perhaps I was tired when I tried to read this because all I can remember is how confusing it all felt.
Now this is the point at which one or more of you are going to tell me that I’m missing out on a novel that is rather wonderful and I should give the said novel a second chance. Maybe if they hadn’t been growing beards by now I might have taken your advice but its time to call a halt.
56 thoughts on “Finishing the unfinished”
Hi! I was wondering if you’d be willing to read my novel and review it on your blog. I enjoy your book reviews and thought you might like my novel as well–“A Piazza in Central Milan”–as it has a pleasant Italian/international flair. Thanks so much!
I am definitely guilty of doing this with books, and often end up dreading going back to them. Of the titles you list, I’ve read and enjoyed Snow, but that was back when I was an undergraduate and had bags of time for reading (I shouldn’t have done really, if I’d been doing the student thing properly!). I have much less time for slow plots these days. Unless it’s novella length it gets put aside.
Never a good sign is it Kate when you dread reading a book?
Thats a shame, maybe the reading habits will change again when other parts of your life settle down
No, I think if you’ve been reading them for years and they’re just not working for you there’s something to be said against a recommendation at this point – likely you’d have to start them over again and if you haven’t liked them already it would be a slog to go back to them, restart or otherwise.
Maybe some time in the future you might regain an interest and can get another copy from somewhere. A proper rest from them might make the difference.
There’s a grain of truth in your comment clearly because Even though I resolved I wouldn’t read The Leopard, I have ended up taking it out of the charity back and putting it back on the shelf.
Nothing wrong with leaving those books’ beards grow to wherever. Life is too short for books that you are not enjoying. Unfinished books are only a problem for the reader with OCD.
On the other hand, try taking pauses however long they may be. That’s how I finished a few books. Liking them is still not a guarantee though.
When yiu took the pause how easy was it to pick up the plot and themes again?
There’ll be lapses, for sure, but you can always go back to parts you’ve forgotten. Or just leave them be, which is possible with a skillful author. Sometimes, you just have to trust where the author is leading you. 🙂
Ha ha, I’m afraid I’m more of a martyr when it comes to finishing books, often because I know that, if I don’t get through it this time, in the the future I’ll almost certainly try again – and that time I’ll have to go back to the start (which I’d already found dull the first time). I just can’t face the thought…
I smiled at your selection though, because I really should have given up on both ‘The Leopard’ and ‘Snow’, neither of which I enjoyed at all. It’s good to know I’m not alone. I’ve even read ‘The Leopard’ twice because everyone seemed to love it so much and I was hoping it had just been my bad mood during the first attempt! I’ve made a note now though, and I’m going to avoid ever picking up ‘Delerium,’ a hat trick of unsatisfying reads is really too much!
you read it twice!!! Now that really is dedication. The only time I reread a book I didn’t like it was Portrait of a Lady by Henry James and it was on a course syllabus. I appreciated it more the second time but can’t say I enjoyed it particularly
This situation happens to me far more often than I care to admit. I have a couple books like this at the moment that I keep telling myself I’ll get back to while knowing in the back of my mind that I am just kidding myself about them.
Good to know I am not alone on my struggles
I’ve never finished SNOW. Started many times and failed. It seemed to be a great book for me – I love Turkey, the premise intrigued me … but i always get bogged down by it. Sometime maybe i’ll finish it. Maybe.
That’s just it Tanya, I also thought the premise interesting but the delivery was so convoluted I just felt I was wading through wet cement.
Putting books on pause is a bad sign, isn’t it? A great book is unputdownable — with the exception of incredibly dense, incredibly rich novels.
I have a copy of Delirium and I’m excited for it. I hope my experience differs from yours.
I hope it does.
I’m trying to break this habit too (forcing myself to finish a book I’m not enjoying). I think you have the right idea — spend your time with books you like instead of wasting it with those you don’t!
I hope my new found spirit of non procrastination will prevail for a little while longer
I meant – I know a lot of peaople who don’t like Snow.
Oh how sad. I think The Leopard is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read. But that doesn’t mean you should force yourself.
While I don’t know many who didn’t like The Leopard and now a lot of people who didn’t appreciate Snow.
I wish I could abandon books.
the first step is the hardest Caroline. But once you’ve decided to stop reading one book, it becomes easier to stop reading others
Thanks. I really need to do it.
The plot to “Snow” sounds like something Kafka wrote/ would have written. I felt the same way the first time I tried to read J.M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace”.
Now I loved Disgrace!
I tried it again last year (and liked it very much- the writing itself, not so much the plot), but the first time around sent me plodding through. I don’t know why. It felt like my eyes were trudging in quicksand. The second attempt was a much better experience.
I have a copy of The Leopard on the shelf and hope to make myself get to it this summer. I’m unfamiliar with the other two authors.
I say if you’re not interested the time is bettee spent elsewhere.
My feeling too Rachel. Its not as if i don’t have anything else to read 🙂
I’ve had more success with Pamuk’s non-fiction (Istanbul and Other Colours). I think I tried My Name is Red some years ago but never finished it. I will have to try some of his fiction again sometime!
And yes, Delirium was confusing and it wasn’t really my cup of tea.
I didn’t know he’d written non fiction. My Name is Red is meant to be his best isn’t it?
I felt the same way about Snow when I read it several years ago. I’m glad you’ve written about it, because since starting my blog I’ve seen enough praise for it to make me think I should try it again. But now I feel okay letting it go… 🙂
I hadn’t seen much commentary about the book but then when I looked recently it seemed that mostly it was positive. which always gets me thinking what did I miss
The Leopard is an amazing piece of writing – the plot is a bit slow and meandering, but it’s a short book anyway, and the prose is just…lush. And genuinely quite sexy in places (on not-obviously-sexy topics, like cabbages.) Worth reading for that if you can bear starting again/find the time!
well i didnt get to the bit about cabbages – I’m sure I would have remembered that. There was a fabulous section where one of the characters ( a very large man) is taking a bath. Not sure if it was meant to be funny but it was
I’ll have to go back and find that bit! It sounds hilair.
I admire your stance here – consciously walking away from unfinished books rather than kidding yourself you are going to get round to them one day. But I am not sure I am ready to give up on my half-finished pile yet!
I can’t claim total victory yet – maybe its cured me of waiting so long before i make a decision though
I tried a different Pamuk, got part way in and just lost interest. So, count me as another not urging you to restart Snow.
To be honest, the Nobel Prize is absolutely no marker of quality in fiction. It’s a prize I have no regard for at all, if anything slightly negative regard in that unlike many other prizes it tends to rather put me off an author. I don’t think they select well on literary criteria.
I’ve not yet read The Leopard, but I suspect you were just unlucky on that one and it might be worth another try, perhaps after Jacqui reviews it.
I toyed with the idea a few years ago of reading something from all the Nobel winners.but then I looked at the list and didnt get very excited by the names I saw.
Spot on about Snow. It went on for far too long – I felt bludgeoned with the message – although I know many people thought it was wonderful.
it did feel as if i’d been reading it for a long time without actually getting anywhere
Also I believe a relationship with a book is a subjective experience… it’s a classic or a bestseller or everybody (even the most exacting critic) loves it has had very little bearing on my relationship with the books I’ve loved over the years. We like what we like.
Excellent point – I’ve seen loads of blog posts from people expressing concern that they didnt like a classic and yet they felt they were supposed to… that feels like punishment to me
I’m not familiar with any of these books but I am familiar with the feeling of “the habit of forcing myself to finish a book even though I wasn’t enjoying the experience” trickily transforming itself in to the habit of putting “a book on pause half way, fulling intending to return to it when maybe I was more in the mood for the style/ theme/ genre etc.”… and I have the books to prove it lol
The Leopard in one of the books on my list for the Classics Club, so I’ll need to read it with the next year or two. How did the other members of your book group get on with it?
The guy who chose it thought it was wonderful 🙂 To be fair two other people did (one read it in Italian) but one of them was an editor for a highbrow publishing house so was rather more learned in her approach. Most of the rest of us found parts we enjoyed but not the whole
I haven’t read the other two but I have read The Leopard and it is very wonderful and worth going back to! 😁
I knew someone would say that!!!
‘The Leopard’ has been near the top of my TBR pile for ages now. I’m determined to read it this year. I sometimes persevere with a book but I usually regret doing so.
I suspect you are younger than I am so have more years left in which to read…..
One benefit of reading The Leopard is that one can say that they’ve read the complete works of Lampedusa….well, I know there are a few more bits and pieces available…so it’s almost true.
I like hearing about the books that people give up or hate just as much as those they love. I occasionally post on a similar theme. I plan to post about several reading plans I have as well….even though I know I’ll probably never complete them.
I’ve had The Leopard on my TBR for maybe a year or two (not all that long, lol). Got it because it was highly praised, but when I read what it was about, never got around to starting it.
i think you have to be in the right mood for it and I never was clearly
Thanks for the tip.
I have felt like the odd one out with Snow. I’ve read it twice, the second time with the hope that I’d understand what others loved about it. I didn’t. However, I will say that the book generated a lot of good discussion in the group I belonged to so at least I appreciated that element