Monday, February 14, 2011

Unfinished books

It happens once in a while - I'll start a book but then decide not to finish it. Usually, I'll give it a minimum of 20 pages, and more often 50 or more, and if it hasn't sucked me in, I toss the book aside (unless, of course, I'm supposed to review or discuss the darn thing).

Do you suffer pangs of guilt when you don't finish a book? Usually I don't. There are plenty of fine books in the world and not nearly enough time. Why plod through a book when you could be soaring?

I am, however, feeling slightly guilty about abandoning Great House by Nicole Krauss. It's gotten kudos and great reviews galore since its publication in fall 2010, and I got my hands on it a couple weeks ago, fortuitously just after learning that in fact I'd have time to read adult novels this year.

But I can't get into it, after multiple tries and in several different moods. The book is obviously well-written and carefully crafted. But - Great House has failed to offer me that deep, immersive reading experience that I crave. Maybe it's not what I need right now, maybe it's a matter of taste, maybe it's too lofty for me (yes, that last thought is worrisome - am I just too darn middle-brow? Not that this book is intellectually demanding...).

But man - how can I not enjoy a book on which so many folks are heaping praise?

This does make me think of that old Newbery issue concerning readability and appeal for kids. It's clear that no matter how praised and fabulous a book may be, not every kid in going to be swept away by a Newbery book, simply because it's a Newbery book. In fact, some folks argue that Newbery winners are sometimes less likely to appeal to your average kid. I'm not going to get into that whole discussion here, because to me it's a moot point. Appealing to the greatest number of kids is NOT what the Newbery is about.

But my inexplicable inability to like Great House (and I'm particularly predisposed to derive enjoyment from books!) gives me plenty of sympathy and understanding for kids who can't get cozy with a book that it seems practically everyone else in the universe has adored. My own 16-year-old, a voracious reader of fantasy, tried several times to read Hunger Games (at my disbelieving insistence) before it finally "caught" enough to entice her to read the whole trilogy. But her reading experience was much more detached than usual - she found it hard to dive in and forget the world around her. Why? It just didn't do it for her.

Reading a truly fine book - the kind you turn to again and again throughout your life - can be a transformative and enriching experience, and it's something librarians hope to impart to kids. But reading books that make you laugh out loud or stay up too late is also magical experience, even if those books aren't generally considered particularly great literature. If we can get a kid addicted to a paperback series, that is a job well done - especially if that kid comes back to us for more recommendations.

So maybe I'll give Great House another try in a year or so. In the meantime, I'm faced with the delicious quandary of what to read next!


  1. I have tried and tried (and tried!) to read Going Bovine, and put it down every time. Ultimately, I must admit defeat, and confess that book is just Not For Me.

    I spent about a year picking up and then putting down Louis Sachar's The Cardturner, and I FINALLY finished it. Maybe I should have kept that one as a DNF.

    I almost put down Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves, but I slogged through. It was a difficult book - lengthy and heavy on the horror gore.

    And I'm not going to finish The City of Glass, the third book in The Mortal Instruments, even though I have a chorus of people bugging me to keep on going. I just don't like Jace!

  2. I got halfway through City of Bones and put it down for the same reason as Madigan. I wanted to like Jace, but found it difficult to do so. Someday I hope to finish it.

  3. Doesn't Nancy Pearl have a formula for how many pages to read before giving up? Something to do with your age?

  4. I couldn't get through the first Mortal Instruments book either!
    Re-reading Archer's Goon for the first time in over 20 years and loving it. Maybe this will be the year of re-reading old favorites.

  5. I usually give a book 50 pages (been doing that long before 50 year mark!) and then put it down with no guilt. I loved Sachar's Cardturner, but then I am a huge card player. To each his own. Good thing there are so many great books to chose from!

  6. Been trying to get into Moon Over Manifest but to no avail. Well, I'll put my name back on the holds list and try it again when the buzz dies down.

  7. You know what, sometimes when a book receives too many accolades, I'll either stubbornly refused to read it, or expect to be disappointed once I do (because my expectations are so high). Maybe that's why some books with tons of awards stamped on the cover still don't appeal to me. I like to feel like I've discovered the book, rather than have someone else gush to me about how great it is (haha, that is so hypocritical!! I do that myself, and I must've ruined some of my friend's reading experiences by hovering over them)

  8. Haven't gotten a copy of Moon over Manifest yet, but am eagerly awaiting it. I did read Heart of a Samurai over the weekend and liked it very much (though didn't love it in that "clasp the book to your chest" way).
    Yep, high expectations can do me in, too!