Failing the long read

I have a need to confess something. I don’t always finish reading books. Some readers once they have begun will read on, whatever the quality or interest in the book. But pretty quickly I learned that with non-fiction books you do not need to read it all, and do not need to start at page 1. It may be that the habits of study led me to read several books at the same time and to setting aside a very few.

Here are four books that I have been unable to finish and they have one thing in common.

The Glorious Heresies

This novel has many very attractive aspects including its glorious anarchies: lively characters, surprising and even shocking events, a world that is far from mine (Cork to a village in Devon) and a complex story involving cover-ups and revenge and mothers who reappear and people who go off the grid …

It won The Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize in 2016. But I haven’t finish it.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInnery published in 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton. 371pp

The Luminaries

Another prizewinner, this novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2013. The Luminaries is set in New Zealand, and self-consciously offers a very complex and intricate story about – I’ve forgotten. The zodiac is a framing device. And the city of Hokitika is featured, which I noticed because I once bought a pair of socks there. I was reminded of Dickens and Wilkie Collins when I began to read it. But soon the vast array of characters, the intricacies of the plot, and perhaps the weight of the book made me put it down one evening and not open it up again. The socks, by the way, developed holes and were thrown away.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton published in 2013 by Granta Books. 828pp

A Brief History of Seven Killings

The title of this book is doubly deceptive. It is neither brief nor about only seven killings. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James is set in the dark underworld of Jamaica, violent and vibrant. A great combination on which I started off with much enthusiasm. But gradually the cast and the plot got the better of me despite it having won the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James published by Riverhead Books in 2014. 688pp

If you have read this far you might be thinking that what these novels have in common is that they are prizewinners, winners of big prizes. But actually that’s not it. Here’s my last example.

Don Quixote

I bought this years ago, deciding I should read the first novel ever written and one with European influence. And I did soldier through quite a few episodes, and taverns and adventures and stupidities. And then I put it aside. It’s been around for 412 years, so I can pick it up again any time. As far as I am aware it has never won any prizes, although Edith Grossman was widely praised for her translation.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, first published in 1605, translated by Edith Grossman, published by Vintage in 2005. 940pp

So there you have it. My dirty little secret is that I get defeated by weight and complexity. It’s not that I never finish long books, only that the book has to be the right ones at the right time and for the right reason and not too long.

Do you think I should adopt the stance of Senator Elizabeth Warren: … nevertheless she persisted? If you think I should finish any of these four novels please let me know which and why.

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Filed under Books, Reading

14 Responses to Failing the long read

  1. Teri

    Nope, don’t finish! There are too many really great books out there to get held up by boring books. I have no problem dumping a book if I don’t like it, even if I’m half way through.

    And have you thought about listening to those long books? I find a get a lot more out of long books and I really love listening to non-fiction books, which I would probably never read.

    • Caroline

      I do agree Teri, so thanks for the comment. And for the suggestion of audio books. Good one. I haven’t ever got into those, but not for any strong reason.
      Hope you will visit again soon.


      • Teri

        Oh, do try audio books! I was one of those “I don’t have a long enough attention span! My listening skills aren’t that good!” people. But so many of my books friends sang their praises so I had to try. And I’m so glad that I did. All of those times when I wish I could be reading but really had to do something else….wash dishes, drive, shop, exercise…those are the perfect times for audio books. The best way to do it is to pick out an old favorite and find it on audio. Read the audio reviews on Audible and if someone says “the narrator was terrible” choose a different book. You’ll already know the story so if you miss a bit, you won’t be lost. And you’ll find that as you listen more and more, you’ll realize that even if you miss a bit, it’s not the end of the world. The longest book I listened to was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It’s 57 hours long and yep, I zoned out and missed some…but that’s ok. 🙂

        • Caroline

          And this adds to the argument that we need all kinds of access to books. You make it clear that you have lots of uses for audio books. I love hearing things read aloud, but haven’t quite got into the habit of listening to books yet. It has clearly given you lots of pleasure. And it may be my answer to those long books.
          Thanks for this comment as well Teri.


  2. Interesting post- thankyou. I think one should give a book a fair try and give it up if not enjoying it. As An aging reader (and writer of shortish novels!) I feel there isn’t time to waste. I have a TBR list that may well see me out.

    • Caroline

      Thanks Barbara for not ticking me off. I agree that there isn’t time to waste, but hope you keep reading and writing for a very long time. Build that TBR pile!
      I don’t feel bad about this, but I know some people do feel they have to finish a book once they start. They need liberating!

  3. I haven’t read any of these, and I must confess to avoiding long novels! I’m a lover of economical story telling and I love novellas. But, I have read a few epic tomes, among them Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, which I could not put down. It’s a cracker. But usually short and sweet grabs me.

    • Caroline

      Thanks you, Louise, for this revision of my confession: I also admire economy story telling. I have rather shied away from Joyce Carol Oates, partly because she is so prolific but also rather violent I think. I’m a wuss!
      Welcome to Bookword and thanks for your comment.

  4. Dear Caroline,

    Interesting list! I totally agree with you about A Brief History of Seven Killings. I bought the book just after it had won the Booker Prize and never managed to finish it. I quite enjoyed Glorious Heresies and The Luminaries, although I think the latter is too long. Glorious Heresies and The Luminaries look though as if they were compromise choices. I never tried to read Don Quixote, I like the ballet too much.


    • Caroline

      I almost always prefer the book to the film but I think you are the first person I have heard of who prefers the ballet to the book. I don’t know the ballet of Don Quixote.
      And have you seen Woolf Works. I reviewed it on Bookword.

      Thanks for your comments Bernadette.
      Please visit again soon.

  5. I stop reading books I don’t like after as few as ten pages..poor style,been led astray by the blurb,already too much violence or swearing…so don’t beat yourself up about abandoning boring megaliths..

    • Caroline

      Fear not! Not beating up going on here! I’m with you about stopping reading.
      Actually it’s usually that I just don’t pick it up again after a session of reading. Often not so much a decision as a lack of action action.

      Thanks for the comment.
      Please come again soon!

  6. The Luminaries is a great book, well worth sticking with. I think, sometimes, the danger with book blogging and the interactive bookish world is that you’re always striving for the next book and the next book, and the TBR grows and there’s a lot of pressure to get a book ‘done’ and move on. So big books really don’t cater for that, they’re immersive, require slow and more intentioned reading and it’s too easy, then, to put them down before the real pay off has delivered. I have felt much better about reading longer books since I resolved to read fewer books in general, but spend more time on them.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for these thoughtful comments. I don’t think I give up on these books just because they are so long and I have more to read. If I couldn’t keep up I would reduce the frequency with which I post blogs and review books I think. And I have just re-read Flight Behaviour which is long. But I will have another look at all of them, perhaps The Luminaries to start with. None of them have been given away yet.
      I must watch out for the possibility that the height of my tbr pile and the pressure of blogging aren’t making me move on too quickly.
      Thanks for this.

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