On unfinished books

I read an interesting article today by Gabrielle, on her blog The Contextual Life (find link below). She spoke of the secret lives of unfinished books and what becomes of them. She briefly contemplates on why we stop reading them, and why, sometimes, even though we know we don’t feel like pressing on with a book, we force ourselves to do so anyway.

My good friend Eliza and I have often had lengthy and interesting discussions on which books are patiently waiting for us to get back to them and what the reason was for abandoning them in the first place. Needless to say the list of leftover books is long, and the one of excuses even longer!

The funny thing is that from some point on you start feeling guilty when buying new books. You think of all those unread pages, unpronounced words, unimagined scenes. The funnier thing is that you always think you will get around to reading them one day. ‘Maybe I didn’t pick it up at the right time,’ you say to yourself. ‘Time will heal all preconceptions and I can start over.’

For me personally, this has been the case a couple times. The most memorable example being Trudy Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy. Took 3 attempts and 2 years, but you know what they say, third time’s a charm. And it was. I read all three books in less than a week, only stopping for food and some sleep! Other titles, however, have not been so fortunate. I will admit to having given up on Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist 50 pages before its end and haven’t looked back since! Yeah, I said it…SUE ME! Am I the only one who thought it was sligtly tedious and oozing with over-the-top fate-ridden cheesiness? Eleven Minutes was much more interesting, and I read it in one day.

What I have always tried to discover is a pattern; I long to find the common thread that has made these books unreadable for me. It is definitely not the genre. Nor style, per se. I’ve given up on very well-written books. So what is it? Why do some books have the power to speak directly to us, and others fail to even make us turn the page? And how can one book enthrall one and bore another?

The most interesting aspect of this question is the fact that it applies to all art forms.

Another exception that comes to mind and which I feel I must mention is Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco, a collection of nightmarishly horrific short stories. I generally enjoy the genre but have not read too much of it. I don’t know what exactly drew me to this specific work (I’m not even sure of how I came to buy it), but it is possibly one of the most eloquent pieces of writing I have ever read. The fact that I kept my dictionary close at all times did not take anything away from the sheer pleasure and absolute dread of discovering what nightmare hid behind every page.

I will close with only a fraction of the list of my unfinished books and ask you to offer me your own 🙂

Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse (I just…can’t)
Edwin A. Abbot – Flatland
Katie Ward – Girl Reading
Adrian Tchaikovsky – Empire in Black and Gold
Patrick Ness – The Knife of Never Letting Go

…and many many more…


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