Unfinished books

I just finished reading Author Author, a fictionalised biographical sketch of Henry James by David Lodge. While I immensely enjoyed it, this post is not about it. The book, probably because it alluded to Henry James’ difficult writing style that made him inaccessible to the common man of his time, reminded me of books I couldn’t finish reading. I am usually careful about which books I choose to read, but occasionally I make an error of judgement and pick up something that I regret. When this happens, I tend to continue ploughing through the book in a hope that it would get better. If it doesn’t, I increase the time I devote to reading it, so that I can get through it faster. I feel a strange sense of guilt at leaving books unfinished. But over the years, I’ve come across a few books that have thwarted my best attempts to get through them. Here is the list:

  1. A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth) - I am not daunted by long novels, but the story in this one moves at such a glacial pace that I began to wonder if I should be doing something better with my time. Besides, the characters and their stories seemed all too close to the people and stories I grew up among. I read fiction to escape reality, not to immerse myself into it. I put the book down after about 200 pages.

  2. The Piano Teacher (Elfriede Jelinek) - This one was completely lost on me. It was too depressing and too graphic for me to persist with it. The original was in German, so may be I had stumbled upon a particularly bad translation. After reading a bit about the book on Wikipedia, I have my doubts:

    The novel follows protagonist Erika Kohut, a sexually and emotionally repressed piano teacher, as she enters into a sadomasochistic relationship with her student, Walter Klemmer, the results of which are disastrous.

  3. A Handbook for Visitors from Outer Space (Kathryn Kramer) - I came across this book lying on top of a stack of random books at Blossom, my favourite second-hand bookshop in Bangalore, where this sight is all too common. I was looking for a good science fiction novel and made the mistake of judging the book, not by its cover, but by its title. This must be the briefest time I’ve spent with a book before abandoning it - two chapters and I had no idea what the author was trying to say.

  4. Valis (Philip K. Dick) - This is the last novel by Philip K. Dick - an author I usually enjoy reading. Valis proved a little too tedious. Like Orwell’s 1984, the story here is a mere pretence for talking about other things. The other things in this case happened to be Dick’s notes on philosophy and theology. I kept telling myself that I was enjoying the book for a long time but couldn’t get myself to go through the last 70 or so pages.

I hope there won’t be very many new additions to this list. There are two non-fiction works that have been lingering unfinished on my shelf for months now - Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahaneman) and The Tell-Tale Brain (V. S. Ramachandran) - but there’s hope for them still!

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