Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Struggled to Complete

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is all about the books we had a hard time getting into. 

Thinking back, I’m sure I’ve made a similar list to this one before – something along the lines of ‘Ten Books I Didn’t Finish’ – but I now can’t find it (admittedly, I didn’t look that hard). This time I’m listing ten of the books I found a real chore to read, at least at first. In some cases they improved on further reading, in others I just gave up.

1. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I am in awe of this book but there’s no escaping the fact that, for me, it required insane powers of concentration, patience and perseverance. [review here]

2. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. I had to give a presentation on this book for a university course I was taking on depression-era America. I kind of loved it in the end but spent a lot of time cross referencing the book with the Spark Notes to make sure I was on the right track. It did my head in a bit.

3. Moby Dick by Hermann Melville. Don’t. Even. Get. Me. Started.

4. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I eventually got through this on the third attempt and it was absolutely well worth the effort. I think I just got a bit bogged down in all that stuff about semiotics, the Inquisition and monastic poverty. I tried too hard.

5. The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. I gave up. I just couldn’t.

6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I’m not knocking this book, it’s ruddy brilliant but it’s definitely a slow burner. It was one of the first Russian novels I read and I found the names – all those Raskolnikovs and Razumikhins – particularly confusing.

7. The Magus by John Fowles. I have no intention of going back to finish this. It was infuriating.

8. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I think I was probably just intimidated by the size of this one. Once I got over that minor obstacle I fell in love with this book.

9. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I think this book is wonderful but it took me a long time to get used to the way Heller writes. He darts around from one story to the next, never telling anything in the right order. It can catch you out if you’re not careful.

10. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I can’t even tell you why I have given up on this book so many times. I just have. And I’m embarrassed by it.

 

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The Tapestried Chamber (1828) by Sir Walter Scott

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Courtesy of WikiMedia

After my last post I didn’t read The Sot Weed Factor at all for the best part of two weeks. I thought about it it several times but just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm, so when I finally picked it up again on Tuesday night I couldn’t find my place, or even remember where I’d reached (a stable in Plymouth I think?). What’s more, I couldn’t say that I cared much. Reading isn’t supposed to be a chore so I took P’s advice and decided to call it a day.

It’s the first book I’ve given up on all year. I’m disappointed but so relieved to be moving on to books I might enjoy more. I celebrated by going to bed early with a cup of tea and my copy of Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories, which I’ve been intending to start for a while now. The Tapestried Chamber is the first story in the book and it’s only twelve pages long so not too challenging after my two weeks of book fasting. I thought a ghost story would be perfect for a cold, autumn night in bed but in truth it was a pretty inauspicious start to the anthology.

General Browne, newly returned from the revolutionary wars in America, is travelling home when quite by accident he comes across the ancient home of an old school friend. He’s invited to stay and is given a bed in a beautiful chamber decorated with tapestries in the oldest part of the house. The next morning Browne appears from the chamber visibly stricken. He describes to his host an apparition that appeared in the night, the ghostly figure of a haggard crone in old fashioned dress.

“Upon a face which wore the fixed features of a corpse were imprinted the traces of the vilest and most hideous passions which had animated her while she lived.  The body of some atrocious criminal seemed to have been given up from the grave and the soul restored from the penal fire in order to form, for a space, a union with the ancient accomplice of its guilt…”

Understandably he’s a bit pissed to hear that his host was fully aware of the chamber’s past all along. Quite rightly. I would be too.

As I said, it’s not the most promising start. The plot is flimsy and there isn’t a great deal of time given to explanations of who the apparition represents or why she’s there. It’s all very brief and unsatisfying.

After reading The Tapestried Chamber I finally began Lady Audley’s Secret which has been lurking at the top of my book pile for months. I’m wondering if I should have gone with this book instead of The Sot Weed Factor three weeks ago, it’d have saved me a lot of time and disappointment. Oh hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I’m enjoying Lady Audley so far anyway.

The sot-weed madness

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I’m still struggling through The Sot Weed Factor at an embarrassingly slow pace. All my usual reading habits have gone out the window and I’ve taken to browsing the internet on my phone at all my usual reading times. Obviously this has to stop or I’ll never finish it. It occurred to me today that maybe if I blog as I go along it might help me stay motivated. It’s worth a try I reckon.

I didn’t know a great deal about this book before I began and I’m not sure I’m much the wiser yet. It’s a fictionalised account of the life of Ebenezer Cooke, who wrote a satirical poem of the same name about the colonisation of America in 1708. Since starting we’ve heard all about Ebenezer’s education (under his beloved tutor Henry Burlingame III), his unsuccessful years at Cambridge and his time as an unhappy clerk in London. Most recently his father has become enraged by reports of Ebenezer’s behaviour in the taverns and brothels of the capital so Eben has been ordered to depart for Maryland at once so he can prove his worth by taking charge of the family tobacco plantations. Since then he’s blagged a commission to write an epic poem on his travels (the Marylandiad!), attempted unsuccessfully to purchase a notebook in which to write said poem, and been happily reunited with his long lost tutor (who’s been having some adventures of his own in the meantime).  I’m currently on Chapter 6 of Part 2 and at last reading the two men were on their way to Plymouth to begin their long voyage to the New World.

Of course this all takes place in the seventeenth century so along the way we’ve been treated to quite a bit of bawdy drunkenness and whoring, made all the funnier by Ebenezer’s fierce defence of his virginity in the face of some trying temptation.

“…What am I? Virgin, sir! Poet, sir! I am a virgin and a poet; less than mortal and more; not a man but Mankind! I shall regard my innocence as badge of my strength and proof of my calling. Let her who’s worthy of’t take it from me!” 

This has more than made up for an unbelievably looooong treatise by Ebenezer’s patron on the province’s complicated history. It’s only nineteen pages long but in all truth it took me 4 days to read. FOUR. DAYS. And I’m not convinced I’ve remembered any of it.

Although published in 1960 The Sot Weed Factor is written entirely in a sort of mock eighteenth century style which I quite like, although it took some getting used to. I’ve understood most of it and the bits I haven’t understood have started to make sense the more I’ve read. There have been some wryly funny moments so I’m not too sure why I’m dragging my heels with it so much. Perhaps I just need to keep persevering until eventually something (hopefully) clicks.

September round-up

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Evenin’ all.

The big news of the month is that we officially ran out of book space. In fact, I think we probably ran out some time ago but it was only as I running the hoover round one afternoon that I noticed the full extent of the problem: books on the floor, books on the sofa, books on the kitchen table, books in the washing basket…. I’ve consolidated the mess onto the sofa for now while I come up with a plan (probably one that involves a clear out and a trip to the charity shop) but in the meantime I had to put a halt to the shopping. This month’s purchases have been pretty sparse as a result:

84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff (already blogged here)

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

All in all I had a pretty productive month. I finished The Count of Monte Cristo on the 10th and since then I’ve read 84 Charing Cross Road, The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie, The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah and Emma by Jane Austen. Not bad I reckon. We also saw Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston when it was broadcast live to our local cinema from the National Theatre. It was intense and bloody and pretty grim in places but awesome too.

The Sot Weed Factor continues slowly and I’m finding it a bit of a chore at the mo. I’m liking the writing but nothing much has happened to grab my interest yet. While I wait for that to happen I seem subconsciously to be avoiding reading. I will force myself to read more this weekend. I’m sure that’ll work.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to read this autumn

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the folks at the Broke and Bookish. This week the theme is all about the top books we’d like to read this coming autumn.

Before writing this post I looked back at my TBR list from the start of the summer and realised, with dismay, that I have only read three of the books that I listed. Three! Well, three plus one short story. Good grief.

I said at the time that I don’t really plan my reading ahead because I’m too fickle, too easily distracted. I believe I have just proved my point. So here’s the latest attempt but with the usual disclaimer: this list will have very little bearing on what I will actually end up reading in the coming months.

1). The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. I’m looking forward to reading something a little more grown up from Rowling. I know absolutely nothing about it – I didn’t even read the blurb before buying it – so whatever happens hopefully it’ll be a nice surprise!

2). The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. This was on the TBR list I made in June and I’m still desperate to read it. I think I have to be in the right mood for Hardy and lately I just haven’t been.  Sometimes I just want to read a book where I know all the main characters will survive to the end, is that too much to ask?

3). The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I loved this book when I read it back in 2005 but until last week I hadn’t even thought about it in ages. It wasn’t until I saw the advert for the latest BBC adaptation that it all came flooding back to me. I’ve recorded the show but I think this needs a reread first.

4). The Warden by Anthony Trollope. After months of searching I finally found a second hand copy of this amongst some new donations at the charity shop. About bloody time. Who knew that the residents of this little town were so keen to hold onto their Trollopes?

5). The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I’m so ashamed of not having read this yet. It’s been sitting unread on my shelf for at least ten years. Possibly more.

6). War and peace by Leo Tolstoy. Another example of the BBC shaping my reading habits. I was only saying a few weeks ago that I want to have another go at this and then I heard that there’s a big adaptation planned for next year…. but maybe I’ll leave it a little longer. I’ve had enough big books recently.

7). The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. P’s dad lent me this nearly a year ago and has been far too polite to ask for it back. I need to get on this soon.

8). Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories by Rex Collings (ed). I don’t plan on reading these all in one go but I think I might try to do one a month or so. Now the nights are closing in they’re pretty perfect for some ghost stories by the fire I think.

9). Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. This has been lurking at the top of my TBR pile for ages and there have been several times when I’ve reached for it…. and then changed my mind. Soon, Lady Audley, soon.

10). Something, anything at all, written by Sophie Hannah. I’m going to an author talk in October and it occurs to me that besides some poetry and The Monogram Murders, I haven’t actually read much by Sophie Hannah. I know I’ll get more from the talk if I’m reasonably well prepared before hand.

Voila! Do other people stick to their TBR lists? Or is it just that I’m a bit of a flake?