05 February 2014

Giving up on books

Thirty-six days into 2014 and I have only finished three books. I can't remember the last time I was doing this poorly with my reading plans at this time of the year. Normally January and February are very productive months. I do feel like I have a bit of an excuse. Getting ready for our house renovation has been a fairly time consuming series of tasks. (For those interested in such thing, you can keep up with house progress on Lucy's Forever Home.) But still, three books? It isn't like I don't have anything to choose from.

Low lighting conditions and a shaky arm make for a bad photo. This is the giant stack
of books I have for my TBR for the next year. With no book shelves they will remain stacked on
top of boxes of other books while we live in our temporary apartment.

Even packing most of my library into boxes and having taken up the TBR Triple Dog Dare is no excuse. I kept out at least 300 books out of storage and that is certainly enough to choose from for the next year or so. Part of my problem are the books that I am reading.

Books I just don't want to finish
Normally if I get past page 50 and still want to read something I see it to the end. But lately, eh. I have three books that I feel are just weighing me down and for no good reason.

Solar by Ian McEwan
I am hot and cold on McEwan. For a good hundred pages of this book I was hot. Then in the closing pages of Part One I just didn't like the turn it took and almost instantly lost interest in continuing. So great was my change of heart that I didn't even feel bad tossing it aside.

Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford
I am starting to think that I don't like Nancy Mitford as much as I thought I did. I thought The Pursuit of Love was pretty delightful. The follow up Love in a Cold Climate was just okay for me. Don't Tell Alfred started out really strong but then it started to dawn on me that the narrative was turning into a succession of madcap situations about which Fanny couldn't dare tell her husband Alfred. After 134 of 223 pages I decided that this one was taking me way too long to read and what was far worse is that I just didn't give a crap.

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
I read Michael Chabon's first novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh when it was first published (when I was in high school). I think the only reason I persevered then was the promise of a gay character at a time when they were few and far between in the literary world. Since then I have never been able to get into any of his other books. This 131-page novella seemed like it was a chance to break that streak. Wrong. Forty pages in not only don't I care about the plot, I just don't find his prose enjoyable to read. His is the kind of writing that isn't difficult but I still find myself constantly rereading paragraphs because nothing sinks in.

Books I am reading slowly but enjoying

Middlemarch by George Eliot
I have always meant to read this novel and I have a  lovely copy of it but what finally got me to pick it up was seeing Amanda's progress in reading it. Her Goodreads progress kept getting posted to Facebook and that made me think it was time. I am enjoying it, but I haven't picked it up in a few weeks.

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixon)
I've wanted to read this one since we visited Kenya in 2008. Quite enjoying it. But given my somewhat distracted state of reading these days: is the narrator a male or female?

Books that are helping me over the hump
On the last episode of The Readers Simon and I discussed at length his challenges finding time to read with a new full-time office job part of his life and no good commuting time for reading. One of things I suggested to him was to read nothing but books he knows he will love (in his case, Agatha Raisin mysteries). My theory is that if he can find time to read those than he really does have time to read he just doesn't want to read what is in front of him. Well, I have been relying on trusted authors to add some brilliance to my otherwise dull reading of late. D.E. Stevenson's Still Glides the Stream I gobbled up in no time and I am loving every word of Barbara Pym's Quartet in Autumn. If you ever wanted to read Anita Brookner with a sense of humor, Quartet in Autumn is for you. So bleak, but being Pym, still so delightful.


  1. I feel very similar. In the middle of a few which are taking forever, and wonder if I've lost my reading mojo. Also managed to finish a Pym (A Few Green Leaves). Listening to Nicholas Nickleby on Audible, and finished Patrick de Witt's first published book on Kindle app on the phone. But actually picking up a book with excitement, or wishing I could be reading one right now? No.

    When passing bookshops I feel the way one would feel passing a cafe after a blow-out meal. Not tempted at all. Should we be worried?

  2. I went through a similar revelation not long ago. I felt like I should be exposing my self to something new and could not get enthused. I went back to books by authors tried and true (for me, Anne Perry and Ruth Rendell) and have enjoyed every one.

  3. First of all, I'm amazed that you've even finished 3 books with all the upheaval of moving! But, I also hate that feeling of wanting to relax and enjoy reading and just not having the "right" book to get you going. Hopefully, Pym and Stevenson will bring your reading mojo back.
    As for Out of Africa, I believe it is narrated by Karen herself - told about herself, isn't it? Loved that book - it made me want to go to Africa (of course, I would want to time-travel as well so I could see it pre-war as she did).
    Happier reading days to you!

  4. I spy a copy of South Riding on your stack (same edition I won in your Virago reading week contest a couple of years ago!) Do I also see some NYRB classics?

    Sometimes I'm just not excited about anything I'm reading. I find that I might need a break to reread one of my favorites, or something lighter. I didn't like Don't Tell Alfred much either. I've heard The Blessing is better.

    And I found the first 100 pages of Middlemarch to be a trial, but then it really sped along and I could hardly put it down. Some books just take time to get going.

  5. Middleware was brilliant once it gets going. I can't read Ian Mckeown to save my life. Outside of Atonement I've given up on two. You'll find something when you aren't expecting to.

  6. I was so impressed by Quartet in Autumn - grimly Brooknerish with a stark overlay of hideous 70s Britain. Having written that I am not sure why I should find that attractive, but I most certainly did.

  7. Shocked that you aren't enjoying the mysteries of Pittsburgh as well as Don't tell Alfred as I've always LOVED those two books. Of course, it didn't hurt that I read mysteries while still in school at CMU and my apartment I was reading it in was 1 block away from the apartment the narrator/author lived in in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. It was so precisely written I could follow the paths of the action on my way to classes everyday! Checking out the cloud maker on campus was also a part of my daily routine.

  8. I hear you about McEwan. Atonement is on my top-5 of all time, loved On Chesil Beach, was ok with Amsterdam, Enduring Love and Saturday, gave up on Solar.

    I read them in this order, so now I'm afraid to pick up anything else by him...

  9. I had the same problem at the start of the year... The Curse of the Thirteenth Tale... (https://fennell-books.squarespace.com/journal/2014/1/4/the-curse-of-the-thirteenth-tale).

    I found that reading some really good quality children's literature helped. It is normally fun, uplifting, and easy to read. Perhaps some Roald Dahl, Terry Pratchett, Susan Copper, Clementine Beauvais?

  10. Serenknitity: I haven't read that Pym yet. I am not worried about my slump. I know I will bounce back at some point.

    Stancarm: I've decided not to fight it and just read all the stuff I love. I will want to move on at some point.

    Susan: You really should put Kenya on your bucket list and then delete everything else. You would not regret it for a second.

    You have good eyes given how out of focus the picture is. I think I won my copy of South Riding the same week. Those are several NYRBs.

    Pam: Which McEwan's have you given up on?

    Vicki: Oh my goodness I finished Quartet in Autumn a couple of days ago. What a brilliant (and sad) book. I loved it.

    Stefan: It's always fun to find personally known places in books. I don't remember much about it since it was about 25 years ago.

    Alex: Try Sweet Tooth. I quite liked that one.

    Nellie: I read some Dahl last year and it had the opposite effect on me.

  11. I find Chabon rather a struggle and daren't tell my son, who loves his books!


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