Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Books I Never Finished

I've heard of people who finish every book they start, and I admire those people. My own record is pretty bad, though -- lately I finish maybe half of what I start, and not always through any fault of the book itself. There are actually some very good books on the bottom shelf of my bedside table, where those poor abandoned volumes end up. Here are the latest, both good and not so good:

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I love this book -- what I've read of it, anyway. I've been reading it for years, each time getting a bit further, but I might have gotten as far as I'm going to get: I skipped the final third and read the end. Somewhere about halfway through the book Hans Castorp falls in love with a woman, and it's about the least convincing depiction of loving a woman I've ever read. It's all about her arms, and the medical stuff gets mixed in, and it all became hard to stomach. (The ending is incredible, though.)

Apathy by Paul Neilan. I got this book because I liked the title and cover (image of a mens-room icon guy shooting himself in the head) and because page 69 starts like this:
on the too-high seat it felt like I was riding a slinky down a flight of uneven stairs. Only the front brakes worked so whenever I stopped short I was almost thrown over the handlebars, and the front brakes didn't work in the rain so I had to stop by dragging my feet on the ground like fucking Fred Flintstone.
Pretty fun, but I kind of forgot to read it. Maybe I had a tiny intimation that it *probably* isn't my thing, but I never got far enough to find out. Soon I will give it another chance.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. I hoped this would be another big, juicy, trashy book like Valley of the Dolls, but it isn't. It's sordid and depressing. Oh, well.

Lay of the Land by Richard Ford.
I got maybe a quarter or a third of the way through this before feeling awfully bogged down. I loved Independence Day, but the beginning of this novel is all driving around, and around, and around. JRL tells me it picks up shortly after I left off and becomes excellent, so I should definitely try again.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. I enjoyed it for a while, but then it began to feel claustrophobic. I would certainly have finished it if I were on a plane or a bus, but since there were other books begging to be read...

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. I bought this book to read to my kids, thinking that since it won the Newbery it couldn't be that bad. It is. It's dreadful. I stuck it out for four nights, and then I said, Kids, I can't take it anymore. It's a "romantic fairytale" about a mouse who falls in love with a princess, told in a smirky, winky, pleased-with-itself voice. I just didn't think you could write about princesses without acknowledging the essential lameness of the princess thing, but apparently you can.

Gosh. That's more than I thought...


ed said...

But Rhian, Miss Brodie isn't even two hundred pages long! You miss the whole student-burning-in-a-hotel-fire "running to and fro" bit. And some wicked revenge! And a lyrical conclusion! Even as a dedicated not-finisher of books, I have to shake my head at this one, my dear friend. On the other hand, it's the only Muriel Spark novel I finished reading.

We're off to Portland for the week, to sign away a few paychecks to Powell's.

How are the chickens? What are they reading?

Anonymous said...

I was actually reading "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" in the chicken run last week, and one of them tried to eat it.

Rhian, have you considered eating these books instead of reading them?

rmellis said...

Well, I'm a sucker for revenge, so I'll pick up Miss Brodie again as soon as I finish the incredibly awesome book I'm reading now... more on that later...

Max said...

Spark is remembered for Miss Brodie, but why? She did much better things. Momento Mori, The Bachelors, The Driver's Seat. If I had picked up Waugh's Brideshead Revisited first, I would probably never had read any of his other books. And what treasures I would have missed! Kind of frightening, that our first reading of an author can give the wrong impression.
Spark sometimes wrote about being a writer. Her last novel, The Finishing School, is a humorous look at the Games Writers Play. And in A Far Cry from Kensington she tells about her time working at a major London publishing firm. They were only interested in "Names." Manuscripts submitted by "Nobodies" were, in her words, "sent to sea in a sieve."