Category Archives: Abandoned books

Books I couldn’t finish, part 2

In my last post about unfinished novels, I discussed books that I just couldn’t quite get in to. Last time, I wrote about books that I started but just didn’t enjoy. This time, it’s a little different: these are books that I enjoyed, but for some reason or another have never managed to actually finish.

The wind-up bird chronicle / Haruki Murakami

I really enjoyed this book – I just can’t seem to finish it. Every time I start it I end up getting distracted partway through. It’s the story of a man who aimlessly wanders around looking for his lost cat. He also makes pasta and listens to jazz music. Part of the issue is I own it, and I prioritize library books over books I own. This book is my go-to “I don’t have anything to read right now” book because I do really want to finish it. The problem is once I start I realize I need to plan a book to read after it, end up going to the library, and read those books instead of this one. I’ve made it about 3/4 of the way through all told. It’s a great book and one I’ll definitely write a standalone post for once I manage to finish this one.

 

A confederacy of dunces / John Kennedy Toole

This is another classic novel that people keep telling me to read that I just can’t seem to finish. A confederacy of dunces is about a variety of obnoxious characters, centering around a stand-in for the author and his mother, engaging in an increasingly absurd series of misadventures. Like The wind-up bird chronicle above it’s one that I own and so break out when I’m running out of other stuff to read. I have a weird little pocket-sized hardback edition of this one, so it’s more portable than the full-size trade Murakami and thus I tend to use it as a “commuting” book. It’s clever and more than a little self-deprecating, but it doesn’t hold my attention long enough for me to finish it. I’ll probably come back to it some day, but it just wasn’t grabbing me. Something about the utter lack of characters that weren’t, well, dunces, prevented me from really getting engrossed. It’s up there with Crime and punishment in terms of how effectively it portrays a specific place, but something about it just doesn’t grab me. I don’t think I’ve made it even halfway through this one, and while I’d like to finish it at some point it’s not very high on my priority list.

 

Dhalgren / Samuel R. Delany

Urgh… Dhalgren is a difficult book to read partially because it hits a little too close to home for me. It’s about an unnamed wanderer known only as “the kid”  who finds himself in the pseudo-post-apocalyptic city of Bellonna, traveling its (possibly shifting, possibly fictional) streets and having a series of run-ins with its inhabitants. It reminds me of Blood meridian, in that it’s a highly acclaimed novel written in a style that makes it torturous to actually read the whole thing. I read the first two or three hundred pages of Dhalgren and I don’t feel motivated to finish it. I understand more or less where Delany is going with this book, but I feel like he’s already said it well enough that the next few hundred pages are just going to become variations on the same thing. It’s possible I’m wrong, but learning that both Dick and Heinlein were unable to finish it makes me feel a little better. It’s a book I feel obligated to come back to at some point, and I really would like to finish it, I just have to be in the right headspace. Like A scanner darkly, it’s massively emotionally taxing for me to read, for personal reasons that probably speak to the strength of the book but do serve as an impediment to actually finishing it.

 

Blood meridian / Cormac McCarthy

Blood meridian is the only Cormac McCarthy book I’ve attempted. It’s the story of an unnamed wanderer known only as “the kid” who finds himself on the border between Texas and Mexico, traveling back and forth between the two countries and having an increasingly violent series of run-ins with their inhabitants. It reminds me of Dhalgren, in that it’s a highly acclaimed novel written in a style that makes it torturous to actually read the whole thing. Everything is lowercase (which I can actually handle, ask my spouse about my rants about the pointlessness of capitalization) and there is a definite lack of punctuation, which makes discerning between dialogue and narration somewhat tricky. It’s a take on the Western more in line with Unforgiven or Preacher, but I didn’t feel like it was worth the effort to finish it.

 

The hero of ages / Brandon Sanderson

The third book of the original Mistborn trilogy, it’s taken me over a year and I still haven’t managed to finish it. I’ve probably beaten my issues with Sanderson into the ground, and the trilogy itself will deifnitely be the subject of a future post, so I’ll summarize my issues here:

Each book in the trilogy comes a little bit closer to the Orson Scott Card school of writing-as-missionary work where the author, perhaps unintentionally, starts to write the books as a paean to the virtues of the author’s religious and social views. It’s nowhere close to the extremes seen in the Sword of truth books, and I’d probably enjoy it if I shared the author’s views, but I don’t so I don’t. It’s too bad because the story is great otherwise.

 

The curse of Chalion / Lois McMaster Bujold

A fantasy novel by the author of the Vorkosigan saga, I started reading it but ended up leaving it in the back seat of my car for quite a while and so ended up totally forgetting where I was. Definitely going to come back and finish this one eventually.

 

Le cercueil vide [The empty coffin] / Pierre Souvestre & Marcel Allain

Like the above, this one ended up in the drawer underneath one of the seats in my car and thus it’s been so long since I started it I’m going to have to start again from the beginning. It’s currently in my stack of “to be read” books.

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Books I gave up on: part 1

While I normally try to finish novels once I’ve started them, there are occasional books that, for one reason or another, I just can’t get through. I don’t like to give up on books, but if I’m really not feeling a book I’ll occasionally decide that it’s not worth finishing.

Pavane / Keith Roberts. Originally published 1968.

Pavane had two strikes against it, really. First, it’s a fix-up, which is not a format that I typically enjoy. I prefer my short stories to be short stories and my novels to be novels. With a few exceptions (see my review of The right mistake) it’s not something that appeals to me. Secondly, it’s an alternative history novel which, despite my love of both historical fiction and sf/fantasy, is not a genre I typically enjoy.

I gave up on Pavane fairly early on, partway through the first section. I just didn’t find the story compelling, and it wasn’t sufficiently character-focused for me. I’d certainly recommend it to fans of the alternative history or steampunk genres, but it just wasn’t for me.

The difference engine / William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Originally published 1990.

Can you sense a theme here? The difference engine is another alternate history novel  that didn’t really appeal to me. I made it about 2/3 of the way through before giving up on this one. I lasted longer than I did in Pavane because it did have more of a character-driven plot. I gave up after the first major conflict was resolved, the revolt by Captain Swing. The prototypical steampunk novel, the setting is a world where Babbage successfully built his analytical engine, resulting in a society controlled by steam-driven “difference engines
. It follows a set of mysterious punch-cards from owner to owner as various factions compete over them. Most of my criticisms of Pavane apply here. It just wasn’t my thing, but I’d recommend it to cyberpunk fans looking for something a bit different, alternate history aficionados, and steampunk-types.

The conqueror’s shadow / Ari Marmell. Originally published 2010.

I was given this book by a friend who read it and enjoyed it. It certainly wasn’t terrible, but it was incredibly stupid. The conqueror’s shadow is a dark fantasy novel that takes more than a little inspiration from both the Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven and the Warhammer Fantasy universe. The hero is essentially a fantasy warlord version of Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, who comes out of retirement after his daughter is attacked. I actually nearly finished this book before being distracted by more interesting fare. I was reading it at night before bed and it was certainly effective at putting me to sleep.

I have no opposition to “dark” stories, but this was so obnoxiously dark it came out the other side and ended up being silly instead. The reviews on Amazon are fairly positive, so it’s possible I’m missing something, but it really wasn’t for me. It is a book I’m likely to recommend to others though. Fans of Brent Weeks and Joe Abercrombie will probably find plenty to like here, although Marmell’s writing lacks the style of Weeks and the philosophical depth of Abercrombie. It’s a good book for fans of dark fantasy in general who are looking for something unchallenging and “fun”. It might be worth checking out for horror fans who are looking for something different as well.