3 Books I’m Ashamed to Admit I Abandoned*

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I love books, I really do, and I believe in giving all books I start a fair chance. But…

… sometimes the books just don’t manage to hold my attention, or don’t get through to me. Maybe the writing is bad or the
characters are not interesting. But sometimes there really isn’t anything really wrong with the book, it just… doesn’t click. And very rarely, I end up abandoning the book.

Three books recently abandoned come to mind because so many people favor them, and make a point of telling people how much they like them. One is a classic of literature, and one is certainly destined to become that. I fear that the books I am about to admit to abandoning will label me an illiterate dimwit, or something along those lines. So it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I give you, dear reader, three great books I didn’t finish.

1. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

FrankensteinOh how I wanted this book to be good, and oh how I tried to like it. I ordered a fancy Everyman’s Library hardcover edition (yes, I’m a book snob), put a few logs on the fire in the castle, gave the staff the night off and cracked the book’s spine, with a goblet of wine in hand. And I thought “Ok, so it starts a little slow, that’s fine.” But the slowness continued, and in the end I put the book away, not meaning to abandon it, but it soon found it’s way onto the bookshelf and has been there since. But I think I should like it. After all, it hits all the right notes with me; it is dark, it has a
monster, it is a true classic of fantastic and weird literature. But I just didn’t “get” it. It is supposedly
full of morals, of clever points made about the responsibility of a creator towards his creation. In the
end I fear it all just sort of went “whoosh”.

2. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

Again, this is a book that I really wanted to like, and was prepared to be blown away. And man does the book begin on the right foot: “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it’s all theater.” And then it somehow manages to be wildly exciting and confusing and bombs and London and Oh no, what is that and bananas and erections and… I just gave up. There was a point where I just had no idea what was going on any more and didn’t feel any desire to keep reading. What is it about? Who is the main character? I just… I don’t know. I feel embarrassed to admit that I abandoned the book because I have a sneaky suspicion that liking Gravity’s Rainbow is “cool” and that I will no be excluded from certain clubs and secret establishments.
I hope not.

3. William Faulkner’s Absolom, Absolom!

This is the one book on here I that I have no reservations about admitting that I abandoned. It is confusing, dense and not an easy read, by a mile. But it is good, I could sense that as I read. And someone (I forget who) remarked that we know we have encountered art when we realize that it is difficult, that it challenges us. And Absolom, Absolom! certainly does that. In the very beginning there is a sentence that, upon reading, I started thinking was long, and then I forgot what it was about and just started looking for a period, which came many, many words later. And I read the sentence again and realized that it was brilliant. But this book is not the proper place to start with Faulkner, I know that know, and I will come back to it once I’ve read some of his other work. Starting with As I Lay Dying.

Now, blog readers… What books have you abandoned but are ashamed to admit?

*This post originally appeared on BookRiot, where I am now a regular contributor.

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14 thoughts on “3 Books I’m Ashamed to Admit I Abandoned*

  1. Tom

    “The Sportswriter,” by Richard Ford. Time magazine cited it as one of the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923 (the first year time was published) and it starts off really, really well. But after 50 pages I was concerned, after 100 I was growing bored, and by 200 I…couldn’t…take…another…page. Ford is a very perceptive writer, but his scenes just wound on and on and rarely seemed to reach any interesting dramatic place. They simply ended.

  2. Tom

    And I’ll add “Underworld” by Don DeLillo. It’s long, dense, and complicated, cutting back and forth in time and between characters, but I thought I was getting it…until I reached a point around midway where I realized I simply had no idea what on Earth he was talking about. Instead of soldiering on, I bailed out, but I still have my copy and maybe I’ll get back to it someday.

  3. I abandoned one of Faulkner’s books, “Intruder in the Dust.” While it is beautifully written, it presents the reader with a major problem — overuse of the pronoun ‘he.’ There will be 4 to 6 characters in a scene, and they’re all “he.” It doesn’t take too long before you wonder who is doing what, and to whom — never mind WHY.

    “As I Lay Dying” is a beautiful, brutal book, much easier to follow than Intruder.

    Another stumbling block of mine is Cormac McCarthy. I love “Blood Meridian” but have started “No Country for Old Men” and “The Outer Dark” and I just end up putting them down. Sometimes I think maybe I’m not mature enough for those books, or it just isn’t the right moment in my life. Because that has happened before with other books.

    It must be the utter misery Cormac puts his characters through. Those are bleak lives they lead and he sure knows how to turn the screws. So I’m the one who’s not yet strong enough to stomach those books. I recognize their brilliance.

    While I have yet to read “Gravity’s Rainbow,” I’ll share a trick that helped me finish “The Crying of Lot 49″ — the first chapter is shit — seriously, it is — so I skipped it. Chapter 2 is where the book really begins.

    I almost abandoned Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral.” The first 30 pages or so are hard to get into, especially if you don’t give a fig for football (=armored rugby, not soccer). It gets a lot more interesting once the narrative does away with pigskins. I did abandon “Portnoy’s Complaint,” which lacks a plot and features a dull, oversexed protagonist for whom I couldn’t feel a Higg’s boson of empathy.

  4. Nina Penalosa

    I remember enjoying Frankenstein in high school, but I had to read it again a year and a half ago for an Age of Romanticism class and could not for-the-life-of-me get into it! I downloaded an audiobook and found that having it read to me was more enjoyable because I got to read along, and not get sidetracked by my own thoughts. I have a feeling if I ever want to enjoy a Jane Austen novel I’m going to have to take the audiobook route. There are just some classics that aren’t easy to get into. It took a graphic novel adaptation of Sense & Sensibility for me to enjoy Jane Austen. :/

    • Nina Penalosa

      I just noticed the bit in my comment where I start talking about Jane Austen looks awkward. Sorry! It’s just that reading the graphic novel of S&S was a lot more enjoyable because it didn’t have any of Austen’s run-on sentences and whatnot. I remember trying to read her work for school, and thinking, “What the hell is happening?” and then I’d go to Cliffnotes and read it in simple terms and it would all make sense and I’d be really intrigued. Her style just throws me off. I tried reading Pride & Prejudice again last month but it’s still a no go. <– sorry, I just wanted to clarify myself. I try my best to not look like an imbecile on the internet!

      • Haha :)

        It took a horror novel to get me to like Dickens. The books is Drood, by Dan Simmons (I highly recommend it) and it fills in the gaps of Dickens’ last five years. Spooky and dark and tunnels beneath London full of monsters and…. why are you still reading this? Go buy Drood now!

  5. I think it helps to remember you’re not reading a modern pulp thriller when reading these classics. Writing styles have changed dramatically since ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Pride & Prejudice’ were written. Life in general was slower when Shelley and Austen were writing, and publishers were looking for different things for their readers. Their styles are different, and of course the language itself is different. Austen’s books are full of very pointed insights into human nature. I always cringe when I see people describe her as a romance writer, she was so much more. Her wit is subtle but so sharp. Of all Austen’s books, I think ‘Mansfield Park’ is my favorite, but is probably the least liked among those who read her for the romantic angle.

    Nina, if you want to warm up to Austen, start with ‘Persuasion’. It’s a rich book, but shorter than the others and may suit you better to get acquainted with her.

    Don’t approach these books like a throwaway beach read, like a John Grisham or Tom Clancy. It’s best not to try to rip through these books; read slowly and savor the language.

    A modern example of this is ‘Tinkers’ by Paul Harding which took the Pulitzer in 2010. The language is amazing, but I know people who couldn’t get through it because of the sort of stream-of-consciousness style. You have to alter your expectations when dipping into these books.

  6. You’re a brave man. I think publicly admitting that certain popular or classic books were boring, etc. could bring scorn by book snobs. Luckily, it looks like you have several fans who aren’t filled with scorn.

    I recently read Frankenstein for the first time. I did the audio version, which made it far easier to get past the slow parts where the characters are going on about the lush countryside and their inner happiness and atunement with the universe. With that said, the tense, suspense-filled parts and the character development of Frankenstein’s monster were worth the effort.

  7. i’m MMMMbare-assed (nekkid pause tear error) to have wasted time reading ALL ayn rand. iffi had the life to live over, just fountainhead, thassitt.

    gravity’s rainbow was, uh, “easier” seemed shorter, more followable than Against The. but i’ll stick with Against, as it is the best thing i haven’t quite finished to have read.

    okeh, some abandonments: i started (the original?) Tibetan Book of The Dead a few (um, 4?) times and never made it past all the forewards and prefaces.

    i started Finnegan’s Wake and tried and tried and … i’m tempted to think it’s a case of “the emperor has no clothes.” even if he/she IS clothed, i’m not gonna bother, again.

    yeah, darn it, given time (maybe i’ll hafta become a quadri- or maybe even a tri-plegic) i’d like to try 100 years of solitood. and love in the time of (read “blue in this light” s roasting of this book, though!)

    there must be a more recent/complete translation of the DEAD SEA SCROLLS. i had a copy, but lost it. i was just starting to think i was understanding it.

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