Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Having to read a book to the end...

Nicola Marlow, from Antonia Forest's series of books, has a strict rule with herself that, once started, a book has to be finished to the bitter end. At one point late in the series, she's reading Jane Austen's Persuasion, prompted by a conversation between her siblings to think that she'd like it - only she doesn't. Her elder sister Karen attempts to get her to lay it aside until she's older, but she announces that she can't, because of her rule...

I have a vague memory of imposing something similar on myself at around the same age - partly due, I suspect, from having to read certain books at school whether I liked them or not. I was completely defeated, at around 14, by Lord of the Rings. I got jammed about a third of the way into the first book, and just couldn't get past it. I tried again some years later and got stuck at the same spot. I think that was, in large part, because I'd assumed it would be like a big fat continuation of The Hobbit, which I first read at 8, and then re-read over and over again for the pleasure of it. Of course, they're very different animals, so that was a massive disappointment for me. I eventually managed to get past the block, and have read and re-read LOTR many times since with considerable enjoyment. But at the time, I remember feeling both guilty and inadequate for not finishing it - even though no one had set that up for me except myself!

Most of my collection are books that I've read many many times. However, there are also a number of books - more than I'd realised actually - that are there because I feel I ought to read them. A significant number of them have fallen victim to the tried-but-couldn't-finish syndrome. At some stage, I got over the rule of 'having' to finish, and these days, if I'm really battling, I put it down for another time. Occasionally, that's due to the fact that the book is just awful - when I've picked up something on a cheap table in desperation, and it's too dreadful to waste my time on... Other times, particularly with those classics we're SUPPOSED to read, I know I'll get to a time and place in myself that I will read them, and it's just better not to push it until then. Interestingly, last year when I started to re-read Anna Karenina, which I'd devoured as a teenager, I got SO fed up with Tolstoy's wandering off topic and into wordy self indulgence that I just plain couldn't be bothered continuing, so I put it back on the shelf. Maybe I need to have a winter someplace holed up by snow and it's the only book available!

And, what prompted this post? An article from Mama Mia posted on Facebook, which amused me and set off a train of memories, which you can read here for your enjoyment. So, dear readers, do you have a similar rule for yourselves, or are you able to ditch the books that don't engage you with the first few chapters?


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    Cover IMG:
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    1. Hi Agostino - thanks for your comments - I've emailed you direct.

  2. I felt exactly the same about Lord of the Rings. I tried to read it at 12 partly because a girl in my dormitory at boarding school read it twice a term at least, and partly because my cousins all read and loved it. Got stuck about ⅓ through the book. The bridge of Khazam Doom or whatever gave me nightmares. Then I tried again 12 years ago when I met the Chef. He's a HUGE fan and I thought since I was now grown up I would manage better.
    Nope. Got about ½ way though and ground to a halt.
    I guess some books are just not for some of us.

    So. Some books I am in the middle of get to sit on the stool by the loo until I feel strong enough to pick them up again (currently A Distant Mirror: the calamitous 14th century by Barbara W Tuchman and The Byzantine Achievement by Robert Byron) and some go back on the shelf unfinished. And some go into the box for the jumble sale finished or not.
    Life is too short to force feed yourself something you don't enjoy.

    1. Hi Georgina!
      I'm really pleased I managed to get past whatever my block was with LOTR. Mind you, I've never manage the Silmarillon...
      I'm coming to a point now where I tend to give myself a few shots at a book that I'm struggling with, and then pass it on if I keep getting stuck. I figure that occasionally, it's just the wrong book for that particular time, and perhaps I need to wait for the 'right' time...doesn't always work though!

  3. A friend gave me the Adventures of Tom Bombadill because she thought
    I was a LOTR fan. Oh dear. What a bad book.
    I've just read my way through all of Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn books again. But even here there was one I couldn't finish - the characters were just too unpleasant to read about. Shame. I like most of these books very much.