Thursday, 15 May 2014

The unreadables

I saw an ace post on Postcard Daydreams recently about 'The Unreadables'.  I can't be alone in having shelves full (rather more than I'd like to admit, in fact) of books I've never finished: perhaps it's a book that you just never have the urge to pick up, perhaps it's one that you've started and abandoned partway through.  And of course, what counts as an 'unreadable' to one person (which is perhaps a harsh term, maybe 'can't-be-bothered-to-readables' would be fairer) can be someone else's favourite book.

 
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini
Synopsis: Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.
Years owned: Actually, this isn't even mine!  Lent to me by my friend Jen, with entreaties that I must read it, about three years ago.  Since when it has languished on my bookshelf.  Sorry Jen!
Attempted readings: None.  I am irrationally averse to reading anything that other people suggest (which can make book group a challenge!), and so it's very possible that I haven't read it purely because Jen told me I should.  I also tend to favour true escapism in novels: crime fiction, YA romances, anything light and funny.  The blurb referencing "starvation, brutality and fear" just doesn't leave me desperate to read it.
 

The Women's History Of The World by Rosalind Miles
Synopsis: Men dominate history because they write it. This book offers a reappraisal which aims to re-establish women's importance at the centre of the worldwide history of revolution, empire, war and peace. As well as looking at the influence of ordinary women, it looks at those who have shaped history.
Years owned: Five.  I think I bought this in a secondhand bookshop the first time I went to Hay-On-Wye.
Attempted readings: One.  And I have no idea why I abandoned it halfway through, because it's genuinely a fascinating read.  In fact, digging it out to write this post has convinced me to add it to my pile of books to take on holiday with me next week.  We're going, funnily enough, to Hay-On-Wye.
 

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Synopsis: 'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.' A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
Years owned: Three.  I bought it in an Oxfam bookshop and was determined to read it straight away...
Attempted readings: None, unless putting it in my bag every weekend for about a year counts as an attempt.  I just always seemed to find another book when I was out on my travels that I'd want to read more.  And lets face it, this is an iconic book, so the pressure of reading it and finding it somehow lacking is pretty big.


The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn
Synopsis: Frank Allcroft, a regional TV news presenter, has just had a ratings boost. His puns, a website declares, makes him 'the unfunniest man on God's Earth'. Mortified colleagues wonder how he stands being a public joke.  But Frank doesn't mind. As long as Andrea and Mo, his wife and eight-year-old daughter, are happy, who gives a stuff what others think? Besides, Frank has a couple of other matters on his mind.
Years owned: Four
Attempted readings: Two.  I LOVED O'Flynn's debut novel, What Was Lost, so I was incredibly excited to find her second in a chazza shop not long after it's publication.  But I just couldn't get into it the first time round, so I left it on the shelf and returned to it a year later.  Same story, I got about 50 pages in and found my attention wandering.  Now I have to wonder if it's time for this to go back to the charity shop from whence it came?
 
Do you have an unreadables?  Or can you convince me to give any of these another try?

16 comments:

  1. Of these, I've only read To Kill A Mockingbird and I really enjoyed it. That was only a couple of years ago, and I was a little hesitant for a while.

    I understand where you're coming from - when people recommend me a book, or if it's classic/iconic, I feel under too much pressure to like it. I have a bad habit of avoiding things that seem hyped.

    I find it difficult to give up on a book once I've started and there's only one that comes to mind I gave up on completely and have no intention of ever going back to it, and that was Jonathan Dimbleby's book about Russia. A couple of years ago I picked up War & Peace and stopped at around 33%. I had no idea what was going on and couldn't tell you what it was about. I keep thinking I'll finish it one day, but I probably won't.

    The books on my shelf I've not read yet are only because there are other books I'd rather read first, or I'm not in the mood for.

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    1. Yeah, I've this awful hipster-ish tendency of thinking, "well if everyone says it's great then obviously I won't like it". I've almost missed so many awesome things because of it, so I really need to accept that if someone suggests a book, I should give it a try.

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    2. I've had War and Peace on my shelf for about 15 years and just a bit daunted. Also, it is just too big to hoik around. I've read massive books before but just can't quite. My husband bought me The Finkler question 3 years ago and I just think it looks dull x

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  2. This is a really interesting post...I might apply it to my own bookshelf, there are some books I just can't get into, but do want to read them! I'd recommend you do read To Kill a Mockingbird, everyone I know who has read it has said it has more than lived up to expectations!

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    1. That's the thing, I genuinely want to read and like all of this... I just can't seem to motivate myself.

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  3. I'm terrible for giving up on books! I usually have quite a few half-read ones on the go.

    I have only read To Kill a Mockingbird from your list above as well and can confirm that it's pretty brilliant. But I know what you mean about ignoring recommendations, I'm also guilty of this at the Book Group I attend! I'm quite fussy with what I read, and struggle to get into a lot of books because I can't identify with the characters.

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  4. Yeah I'm with the others you have to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I avoided it for ages because my brain has a tendency to think "Oh well if this is a Classic then you're probably going to have to struggle to read it / not understand it etc etc"

    It's actually just a bloody good book. Regardless of whether it's a classic or not!

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    1. Right, back into the bag it goes then!

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  5. I don't have any unreadable books ... I've never not finished a book I've started, even ones I've really not enjoyed. I apply the 'I've started so I'll finish' rule to many things, including reading. I think it's that I don't like to give up on a book, just in case it changes, or I miss something good or interesting!

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    1. I used to do this, but in the past ten years I've felt like my time is too short to waste on a book I'm not into. I also want to give books a chance, because it's often very possible I'm just not in the mood for them, so if I'm not enjoying it I'll put it aside to go back to another time.

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  6. I love this. I have a ton of books I haven't read or gave up on. I might steal this idea.

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    1. Steal away, it was Hannah's idea in the first place and I nicked it from her!

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  7. I am really bad at starting books and not finishing them. The last one was Pure by Andrew Miller. I should have liked it - I did like it - but after a couple of days I stopped reading it and couldn't get into it again. It's the same with The Sisters Brothers at the moment. I think the problem for me is two fold - partly I have read quite a few books in the last year or so that "gripped" me and everything else is a bit meh in comparison. Partly though - it's knowing that to be honest I'm just too tired to read at the moment. I can't concentrate at bed time, and I only snatch a bit here and there at lunch breaks, so it's hard to get really absorbed in a book!

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  8. I have loads of books I've half read or not even bothered with!
    I must admit, I only read TKAM after seeing the film adaptation (old school, black and white, Gregory Peck - well worth seeing!) and it is a wonderful book! X

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  9. I finish most books but HATED 1000 Splendid Suns and it sits with about 75 pages read on my bookcase. My mum bought it for me for Christmas 2 years running. I cannot stand it. I was not that enamoured by The Kite Runner either. I'm have a pile of half read books at the moment as am in a reading slump but I will power through!

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  10. I couldn't get to the end of The Female Man alas. I love a bit of sci-fi/dystopia/feminist lit but this just seem to lose it's shape a bit half way though and I couldn't stick with it. I've also have a book by my bedside authored by a work friend which I've had for ages and still haven't read, entirely because it's a big hardback and I'd normally do my reading while commuting!

    p.s. read To Kill a Mockingbird. It's one of my favs that I'm currently trying to get Ben to read because it is so genuinely GOOD.

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