Sunday, March 13, 2011

Giving Up

I have a confession for you, my dear reader: I sometimes give up on books.  This is usually due to difficulty with the style, though sometimes a really off-putting plot or a character who demands no empathy whatsoever will do it.  I try to avoid it, I really do, but sometimes I just can't take another word.  I try to slog through, but if I'm having a really bad time with a book, I generally will put off reading it until later, only read a page at a time, and generally just stop reading altogether because I tell myself that I can't start anything new until I've finished this, but I'm not actually reading whatever "this" is.  At some point I just need to make that decision to give up.  Life's too short to not enjoy what you read, especially when you read it for pleasure.

That's not to say that I give up forever.  I shelved Peace Like a River back in early 2007 because I found the narrator dull and the religious rhetoric overdone and obnoxious, but recently gave it a second chance and made my way to the end (though my initial opinion didn't really change).  Anna Karenina, which I just devoted six weeks to, has been on my try-again shelf since 2004ish, thanks to two failed attempts to formulate any interest in the story and a slight difficulty with the writing.  With AK this time around, I did have some slow periods where I avoided reading it (hence it taking me six weeks) but I got through them and even  had times where I read voraciously long past my normal bedtime.

It's been a while since I last did it, but I'm sad to say that I just gave up on another one.  The Sound and the Fury, which I've failed at once before, is just too much for me right now.  Surprisingly, this time around I had no problem with part one (which is narrated by a character with severe mental handicaps) and actually enjoyed it once I got used to the time jumps (and took a glance at the wikipedia page), but part two proved too much for me.  Time jumps in the middle of sentences and the sheer lack of "he said / she saids" was just too painful.  Add into that the early arrival of my now-current read (thank you Amazon), The Cider House Rules, and you have yet another literary failure on my part.  I do plan to go back to it, maybe even as soon as I finish the Irving novel.

I think part of my problem is that I haven't been reading much if anything that was written since I was born and it's overloading my brain.  Not that the American English of 90-200 years ago is so different from what I'm used to, but maybe too much of the slight extra effort it demands is overwhelming.  I don't know.  But The Sound and the Fury is, at least temporarily, is reassuming it's spot on my shelf, right between Lolita (another double failure) and July's People.  All three are on my TBR challenge, meaning that I must succeed with at least one if I am to have any hope of winning the challenge.  Of course, reading is about challenges as much as it's about suffering through books you're not enjoying just for the sake of being able to say that you've read it, but what can I say?  I like winning and I like reading, and giving up on books demonstrates neither.

What about you?  Do you have to read everything to the very end or do you sometimes allow yourself to give up in favor of something you might really enjoy?  Do you ever get back to those books that you gave up on?

Paula at The Broke and the Bookish recently blogged on this very topic, so hop over there if you want to talk about this some more.

1 comment:

  1. i spent a couple months recently trying to read m.g. lewis's "the monk" before admitting that i wasn't going to finish. i thought the book was dull, slow, pretty poorly written, almost from the start, but for some reason kept slogging along through about 60% of the book. but like you say, life's too short to read books we're not enjoying.

    i tried reading "infinite jest" three or four times before i finally read it all the way through. i gave up on "jonathan strange & mr norell" about 100 pages from the end once, then read and loved it a couple years later. gave up on "ada" once, then started over and fell in love with the book and have read it i think three times now. i think there are different types of giving up; sometimes you know that you're going to return to a book, other times (like with "the monk") you know you're giving up because you think the book is just irremediably awful.

    -- ellen

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