Many are the books that I have read and many are the books that I have joyfully completed during my life. But then there are always those that I couldn’t quite get through and that’s fine. No-one can like everything and life isn’t long enough so, next please.
Having a week’s holiday recently I took a copy of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red. This is a considerable and beautifully crafted tome coming in at 666 pages just perfect for hours spent in a hotel room when I should have been enjoying the aprés ski if only (a) I drank alcohol and (b)I wasn’t so shattered from falling over on the slopes.
I spent my week and two plane journeys happily engrossed in it. But lo and behold at page 425 (the number is significant) with less than a quarter of the book to go I couldn’t read it any more. For some reason the magic had gone. When I got home I replaced the semi-finished copy on my bookshelf, but found to my amazement a second copy of – guess what – Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red that I had forgotten I owned bookmarked at the last read page 415!
What led me to read over 400 pages of this excellent book and then give up on it in almost exactly the same place, twice? This required in literary terms a surgical examination. It almost felt like there was a point in the writing when the whole style of the book changed. Did I entirely understand the arguments about erroneous religious teachings or the disquisition on the philosophy of art? Probably not. Up until that point I had been enjoying them – but they were not what caused me to stop reading.
I think the reasons I stopped reading were far more pragmatic and plot related.
I decided I couldn’t take Shekure’s two whining children another minute, thought Black somewhat feeble for giving in to her conditions regarding their marriage (he had to find her father’s murderer before she would sleep with him but the poor guy is an artist not a detective) nor regrettably did I any longer care who pushed Elegant Effendi down the well .
Ding dong bell.
Two other books I am struggling with: the Booker shortlisted Everything Under by Daisy Johnson an examination of a relationship between mother and daughter which can only be described as savage it’s words seeming to jump off the page and scrape at the bones; and the Booker prize winning The Milkman. Although I love what Anna Burns has done with the narrative voice, even a Booker judge admitted it was a bit of an uphill struggle to keep reading.
I‘m nervous about books from the Booker shortlist but every year I forget my nervousness and pile in. I’ve had failures before including Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. Although I adored (and definitely finished) The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – the book that didn’t win the year it was nominated but should have.
But then no reading is every wasted. And reading is like life. A work in progress. I certainly don’t intend to spend precious time feeling guilty. Next please.