The Sunday Times published an article last month asking critics and writers to list the books they couldn’t stand to re-read or even finish. It was refreshing to hear that even book critics struggle through reads they find unbearable and that they even—gasp—give up on a book now and then. Even classics. Especially classics.
I used to feel such guilt over abandoning a book, like it was my fault I couldn’t appreciate it. Then, a few years ago, I revised my thinking; my free time is precious. Why would I feel the need to endure a mediocre novel when another book would satisfy, enlighten, or if I were really lucky, transform me? So, if after a chapter or two I found myself already losing track of characters or skimming over bland descriptions and cliches, I was outta there. It wasn’t my fault, I realized; it was the writer’s.
Of course, there are plenty of books I’ve quit that are well written. My fault, of course. Salman Rushdie and Michael Chabon are two authors whose obscure references make Dennis Miller sound like a toddler and make me feel inadequate. Sure, I could read them by marking up the text with marginalia and sleeping with a dictionary, but that’s more critical reading skills than I want to bring to my pleasure reading. Don’t get me wrong, I like learning new words, especially when reading British texts that offer an assortment of charming words, and I keep a little notebook of words to look up by my bed. Yeah, I’m nerdy like that. So, I like a challenge. I just prefer stories where I don’t have to look up say, every third word.
I quit Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, but I was clearly in the minority. J. M Coetzee’s Disgrace was brilliant but after suffering through a couple of his other books that also depress the soul, I’ve had to abandon him for my mental health. The Inheritance of Loss didn’t hook me, and please don’t ever, ever mention The DaVinci Code in my presence.
What book made you want to hurl it down a canyon?