Sunday Salon: Did not finish

The Sunday Salon I finish most of the books I start reading, but every couple of months something comes along that I realise I’m just not enjoying or I’m finding too slow/hardgoing to get into. So I stop.

I’m happy with that choice, but then I’m faced with the decision of what to do with the book. Do I just get rid of it, strike it off the to read list forever? (I’m pretty sure Tim is nodding furiously at this one, as we’ve already had to add another bookcase to the library!) Or do I keep hold of it for another time? Sometimes the answer is clear, but sometimes there really can be a right time and a wrong time for a particular book, and I’d hate to miss out on something wonderful because I made a snap decision when I was in the wrong mood.

With that in mind, here are the last three books I gave up on part-way through. These aren’t exactly reviews, because I read less than 100 pages of each. Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Do any of them deserve another chance?

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
translated from French by Alison Anderson

This had been recommended in several places so I thought it was a great find when I spotted it in a charity shop. The synopsis – Parisian concierge strikes up an unusual friendship with a 12 year old in the building who has secretly decided to kill herself on her 13th birthday – sounded interesting, and I usually love stories set in Paris. Not so this one. More than anything I am reminded of Sophie’s World – it seems to be a series of short essays on philosophy and the arts (and not particularly good ones) with a thin veneer of story. The two alternating narrators are both intensely annoying. The concierge is obsessed with hiding the fact that she is cultured and loves to read, because apparently no-one would expect that of the working class. (I mean, really? Wasn’t that the origin of Penguin Books back in the 1930s? Perhaps it’s a French thing.) The 12-year-old rambles on about how clever she is and really has raised not one iota of sympathy in me. An unfortunate event has just happened (on p80 or so) so maybe it changes from here on in, but it would have to be a radical change to keep me reading.

Published 2008 by Europa Editions.

Ghana Must Go
by Taiye Selasi

Almost the opposite of the Barbery book, this is beautifully written and there’s plenty of story happening. I loved the language and was marking favourite passages constantly, but I kept losing track of the story. The book opens with the death of Kwaku Sai, a Ghanian doctor who moved back to Ghana after many years in America and has married a younger woman his children (now grown and still living in the US) don’t approve of. His death is slowly drawn out, filled with the memories of his life that he lingers on as his heart fails. There’s a whole life to tell, so it doesn’t feel dragged out, but I did sometimes get confused about past versus present. While I loved the language, I found it hard work and wasn’t drawn into the story. But I think I’d like to give this another try.

Published 2013 by Viking.

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionised the Cosmos
by Dava Sobel

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I loved Sobel’s breakout hit Longitude, which doesn’t deal with an obviously interesting to me subject, but Sobel made it fascinating. In this case there’s again a historical setting – the 16th century – plus the added interest of how Copernicus balanced his life as a priest with his growing interest in astronomy. I didn’t get as far as his controversial observation that the Earth is not in fact the centre of the universe. I didn’t even get as far as the fictional play script in the middle of the straight biography (which to be honest I was wary of). I’m afraid I was bored. Perhaps it’s an artefact of there being few primary sources of Copernicus’s life to draw on, but I didn’t feel that Sobel brought the period or Copernicus alive for me.

Published 2011 by Bloomsbury.

7 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Did not finish

  1. Martin November 2, 2014 at 9:36 am

    I loved Elegance of the Hedgehog. The unfortunate event is certainly a turning point for both the characters – but the thin veneer of a story remains thin. It’s definitely not a story to read if you’re in the mood for a good plot. I think it’s worth re-visiting.
    Incidentally, I was recommended it by a French friend who lives in the UK. She’d read it in French, of course. Some time later she read the English translation and she thought it was really disappointing, but maybe that’s always going to be the case if you read a book written in your first language then read a translation into your second language.

    Longitude was an unexpectedly wonderful read. So I kept going for longer that I otherwise would have done with her Galileo’s Daughter, but I found that really dull. Which is maybe why I borrowed A More Perfect Heaven from the library rather than buying it, so I didn’t feel so bad when I fairly quickly gave up on it.

  2. Kate Gardner November 2, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Martin Thanks for the reassurance re Dava Sobel! I must admit that I’m really not tempted back to the Elegance of the Hedgehog. I like plot. I also like essays about culture, but not essays dressed up as something else.

  3. nordie November 2, 2014 at 11:33 am

    I havent read any of those books so cant advise either way.

    I can usually tell from my reaction to a book whether I would go back to it or not. I knew within a page or so that Absolam! Absolam! and I would never get on – the stream of consciousness would never get better no matter how many times I tried, so that was given away. “Beloved” was a maybe, but was ultimately a give away. There are other books on my shelves that have been started and put back for another day as they are often a *just not right now* kinda book

  4. Kate Gardner November 2, 2014 at 11:43 am

    nordie I’ve not read Absolam! Absolam! but the experience I have had of Faulkner was…challenging, so I can understand not getting on well with it. Beloved I really liked, but I read it in my early 20s or possibly even before that, when I would throw myself at any book of any level of challenge and always finish it. I’m pretty sure I’d give up on a lot of those books these days.

  5. Carina (Reading Through Life) November 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    I’m really bad at giving up on books. I might kind of drift away from them, but I always have the intention of going back to try again. (Whether that ends up happening or not is a completely different story.) Sometimes it’s just a bad fit, but often I feel like it’s just the right book at the wrong time. It’s not what I’m in the mood for, or it’s too much of a contrast with whatever else I’ve been reading recently. Or too much the same. Either way. It’s hard for me to decide to give up on something for good rather than just “for now”.

  6. Bryan G. Robinson November 4, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I take out books several times from the library, and then finally get to them…sometimes. It all depends on whether the book finally clicks. Sometimes it doesn’t. As for books I have had on my shelves and haven’t read, thanks for the reminder. I need to do some weeding.

  7. Amy Brandon November 4, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a lot better about abandoning books. Maybe because I’ve realized how short life is and how constrained my reading time is!

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