All the Books I’ve Abandoned So Far This Year

Last year’s abandoned books posts were popular ones – strangely so considering that, instead of giving recommendations like usual, I was instead listing books I’d probably steer you away from. This is such a subjective thing, though; I know that at least a few of the books I discuss below (especially the Mervyn Peake and Rachel Cusk) have admirers among my trusted fellow bloggers. So consider this a record of some books that didn’t work for me: take my caution with a grain of salt, and don’t let me put you off if you think there’s something here that you’d really like to try. (For some unfinished books I give ratings, while for others where I haven’t read far enough to get a good sense of the contents I refrain from rating. This list is in chronological order of my reading rather than alphabetical by title or author.)

 

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake: Vivid scene setting and amusingly exaggerated characters, but I couldn’t seem to get anywhere. It takes over 50 pages for one servant to tell another that the master has had a son?! Hearing that the book only lasts until Titus’s second birthday made me fear the next 400+ pages would just be more of the same. I bought the whole trilogy secondhand, so I hope I’ll be successful on a future attempt. (Set aside at page 62.)

 

Seven Seasons in Siena: My Quixotic Quest for Acceptance among Tuscany’s Proudest People, by Robert Rodi: I read the first 49 pages but found the information about the city’s different districts and horse races tedious. Favorite passage: “it’s what’s drawn me to Italians in general—their theatricality, their love of tradition, their spirit. Ever since my first trip to Rome, some ten years ago, I’ve found the robustness of the Italians’ appetites (for food, for music, for fashion) to be a welcome antidote to the dismaying anemia of modern American culture.”

 

A Book about Love by Jonah Lehrer: Read the first 31% of the Kindle book. Featured in my Valentine’s Day post about “Love” titles. 

 

Pondlife: A Swimmer’s Journal by Al Alvarez: I read the first 57 pages but found the entries fairly repetitive. The book spans nine years, but up to that point it was all set in 2002, when Alvarez was 73, and he reported so frequently that the conditions (weather, etc.) at the Hampstead Heath ponds didn’t differ enough to keep this interesting. Unless he’s traveling, you can count on each entry remarking on the traffic getting there, the relative scarcity or overabundance of fellow swimmers at the pond, the chilly start and the ultimately invigorating, calming effect of the water. Impressive that he’d been taking early-morning swims there since age 11, though. Favorite line (from a warm, late June day): “the water is like tepid soup – duck soup with swan-turd croutons.” 

 

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion: I read the first 36 pages of a library copy and gave up in grave disappointment. Compared to the two Rosie books, this felt like it had no spark. It’s just lots of name-dropping of 1960s and ’70s songs. I felt no connection to either Adam’s current life in England or his memories of his nascent relationship with soap actress Angelina back in Australia.

 

The Wild Other: A Memoir by Clover Stroud: Normally I love memoirs that center on bereavement or major illness, but there’s so much going on in this book that drowns out the story of her mother falling off her horse and suffering a TBI when Stroud was 16. For instance, there’s a lot about the blended family she grew up in, embarrassing detail about her early sexual experiences, and an account of postnatal depression that plunges her back into memories of her mother’s accident. “Horses are the source of powerful magic that’s changed my life,” Stroud asserts, so she talks a lot about both real horses and chalk figures of them, but that’s not the same as affirming the healing power of nature, which is how this book has been marketed. Well written, yet I couldn’t warm to the story of a posh Home Counties upbringing, which means I never got as far as the more tantalizing contents set in Ireland and Texas. (Read the first 78 pages.) 

 

The Evening Road by Laird Hunt: I read about the first 50 pages, skimmed the rest of the first part, and barely glanced at the remainder. Hunt’s previous novel, Neverhome, was a pretty unforgettable take on the Civil War narrative. This latest book is trying to do something new with Jim Crow violence. In the 1920s–30s history Hunt draws on, lynchings were entertainment in the same way other forms of execution were in previous centuries; buses have even been put on to take people to “the show” up at Marvel, Indiana. Hateful Ottie Lee narrates the first half of the novel as she rides with her handsy boss Bud Lancer and her unappealing husband Dale to see the lynching. Their road trip includes a catfish supper, plenty of drinking, and a stop at a dance hall. It ends up feeling like a less entertaining The Help. A feel-good picaresque about a lynching? It might work if there were a contrasting tone, a hint that somewhere in this fictional universe there is an appropriate sense of horror about what is happening. I think Hunt’s mistake is to stick with Ottie Lee the whole time rather than switching between her and Calla Destry (the black narrator of the second half) or an omniscient narrator. I’d long given up on the novel by the time Calla came into play. 

 

Outline by Rachel Cusk: I read the first 66 pages before setting this aside. I didn’t dislike the writing; I even found it quite profound in places, but there’s not enough story to peg such philosophical depth on. This makes it the very opposite of unputdownable. Last year I read the first few pages of Aftermath, about her divorce, and found it similarly detached. In general I just think her style doesn’t connect with me. I’m unlikely to pick up another of her books, although I have had her memoir of motherhood recommended. Lines I appreciated: “your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of”; “it’s a bit like marriage, he said. You build a whole structure on a period of intensity that’s never repeated. It’s the basis of your faith and sometimes you doubt it, but you never renounce it because too much of your life stands on that ground.” 

 

Last but not least, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, in which I barely made it a few chapters.

 

Only nine in five months – not too shabby? There’s also a handful of other books that I decided to skim instead of read in their entirety, though.

I’ll be interested to hear if you’ve read any of these books – or plan to read them – and believe that they are worth persisting with.

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30 thoughts on “All the Books I’ve Abandoned So Far This Year

  1. I have had numerous opportunities to read Gormenghast, we have TWO paper copies in the house. Matthew read this on audiobook and loved it but never appealed. We both loathed a Rachel Cusk I got through the LibraryThing early reviewers programme and yes, found it detached and too clinical and cold, even though I like other “cold” writers like Elizabeth Taylor. And pretentious.

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    1. Well, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one to have had this reaction to Cusk. Some people have been blown away by the style of Outline and Transit, but I could take it or leave it. (And, clearly, I left it!)

      I had dearly hoped to be sucked into the Gormenghast universe during the quiet days around New Year, but it just didn’t happen. I still have the whole trilogy, so I may try again someday — or just make my husband read them for me instead 😉

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  2. Nope, I haven’t read any of these, though I have abandoned Titus Groan. Currently I’m on the point of abandoning ‘Swimming Lessons’ by Claire Fuller. Well written, but really, I couldn’t care less about the characters. I’m out of step. It’s favourably reviewed.

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  3. We’re in complete agreement about Titus Groan which made me do exactly that but will have to agree to differ on The Evening Road. Calla’s voice is properly angry and the two women have much more in common that it first appears.

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    1. I’ve come across a fair few people now who couldn’t get into the Gormenghast books. But then there are those like Kaggsy who sing their praises!

      Yes, I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree. I think my reaction could have been much different if Hunt had alternated chapters from the two narrators.

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  4. I’ve never managed to get anywhere with Peake, or frequently Dickens, either. I quite like boring memoirs though – just nosey about people’s lives – so I might try some of the others.

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  5. If they (the books) didn’t work for you, I suppose you didn’t withhold FICA, Federal, and State Tax. Wait, I forgot you live in England now. (By the way, you’re starting to sound pretty UK with your “No worries!” I think ‘mericans [and I’m half of one or one of two of one] say, “No probem, guy!”)

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  6. It’s always fun to see what other people give up on or don’t care for. I’ve not read any of those and don’t plan to. I did enjoy the first Rosie book by Simsion. I didn’t feel compelled to read the sequel though – I felt satisfied with just the one! 🙂 Nine in five months – for as much as you read, that’s pretty good.

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  7. I LOVED Gormenghast and read the whole trilogy (third one not as good as the first two). However this was a long time ago and I’ve not had a lot of luck in re-reading books I once loved. The Magus by John Fowles being one I raved about to anyone who would listen 35 years ago. A recent re-read made me feel very differently about it!!

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  8. The only one I’ve read is Outline, and I felt the same as you about it.
    I like seeing which books other bloggers didn’t particularly like – and I’m almost guaranteed not to have to add any to the tbr while reading these posts!

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    1. Ha ha, that’s a good point! Sure I can’t tempt you with any of these? 🙂

      I shared this post to a Facebook group for authors and book bloggers, and it’s been interesting to see the responses. Some people thought it was a neat idea, and were reassured that they’re not the only ones to give up on books. Others say they never write about books they abandon or didn’t like because it’s not fair to criticize authors. (Setting aside the fact that two of these authors are dead and another is in his eighties and almost certainly not on social media!) I don’t consider it my place to worry about whether authors’ feelings are hurt, and my reviews are never nasty even if they’re negative.

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      1. I agree with you – I think it’s fine to talk about the books we don’t like, as long as we’re respectful about it, and keep in mind that just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t.

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  9. I just finished a backlisted novel-in-stories by Rachel Cusk and I loved it. But it’s also the kind of book which wouldn’t appeal to everyone (being a set up, in terms of whether the connections between the characters are “enough” to pull things together, either “too neat” or “not fully explained”). Outline, I did read, and enjoyed it enough to want to read it again, but I am content to wait for the third so that I can read them all together (so I didn’t love it as much as some others did either).

    For me, I don’t mind reading about a negative reading experience if someone is offering enough context (either about the book or about themselves as a reader) to allow me to situate myself in that scene and consider whether I might have a similar or different experience; otherwise it verges on whining or oh-I’m-so-much-smarter-than-this-author stuff to my mind. You’ve said enough here for me to make a good guess as to my own responses, so it’s helpful overall.

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