Wednesday 29 January 2020

Letting Go

Photo by Gena Okami on Unsplash

Sometimes a book or an author is just not meant to be.

We all make decisions about which books to read. When we browse through a book shop or a library, we make choices based on all sorts of personal reasons about whether we even pick up a book or not in the first place. Is it a book or an author we've heard of before or had recommended to us by a friend? Does the cover attract us? Even the section of the book shop or library that we gravitate towards dictates which books might find their way into our hands.

We pick up books, get a feel for them in our hands. We check out the quotes on the cover and read the back cover blurb. That is often enough to return a book to the shelf.

A few lucky books make it to the let's-read-the-first-page stage.

Not that many go any further though.

After 50 plus years of this reading life, I make all sorts of quick judgements and choices based on that first page. If the writing style isn't flowing for me, back on the shelf it goes. If the content isn't my cup of tea after all, back it goes.

Obviously, my mood on the day of browsing plays a huge roll in this process, which is why I highly recommend multiple browsing days! A book that doesn't appeal one week when I'm tired and grumpy, might be just the right thing a month later after I've had a restful weekend.

Then there are the books that after the first page, I'm still not completely sure about. I know from experience that some of my favourite books take a little while to get going. So a few more books, get the first chapter chance.

Working in an independent bookshop means that I can also give a wide variety of books the lunch time treatment, whereby a book has a whole half hour to hook me, or not, as I eat my sushi.

This is a little post about those books that got this far, but no further.

No matter how hard I try, Catch-22 is a book I simply cannot finish. I can usually get to about half way, laughing out loud and enjoying the odd-ball humour and irony, but then suddenly, I hit the wall and I've had enough.

Last night I tried to read The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasford. Given the awful summer we've had in NSW, I thought I would really connect to another year that was without summer thanks to the largest modern volcanic eruption. I gave it two whole chapters since she was writing a book from several perspectives, but I couldn't get going with it at all.

Isabel Allende and I do not go together. I've tried several times, mostly because her books fall under the historical fiction umbrella, my favourite genre. Most recently, I tried to start A Long Petal of the Sea, but I just couldn't. Her writing style keeps me at a distance and in this particular case, I could see the research showing in every single line.

Helen Garner's Yellow Notebook was another recent pass.

Like Garner, I wrote a journal for most of my twenties and thirties. It was a pretty angst filled journey as I worked out how to become an adult and live in the adult world. In amongst the emotional dross, were some interesting (most likely only to me) observations, commentary and personal milestones.
During a major upheaval in my life in my late thirties, I decided it was time to jettison the numerous journals clogging up my life office. They were not only clogging up my physical space, but they also felt like an emotional burden I didn't want to have with me any longer. But before I tossed them, I decided to read them one last time, looking out for any interesting, important, significant sections. I then typed these snippets up over a period of about a year. I'm in no way suggesting that I am a writer of Garner's calibre or experience, but my snippets look and sound just like hers in the Yellow Notebook.
I completely understand how it's an interesting exercise for the individual to go through this process, but I'm not so convinced that it's such an interesting exercise for the reader.
I ho-hummed my way to the 10% mark before passing it on.

One book that I did read all the way through, hoping to find some joy, was Graham Swift's upcoming book Here We Are. I adored his previous book Mothering Sunday so much that I would forgive him a multitude of sins, so I kept hoping that Here We Are would suddenly hit that mark. A couple of times when we went into the backstory of one of the main characters, I thought, ah-ha we're onto something here, but I never really got the purpose of the story or really engaged with any of the three protagonists. Sad, but true.

I'm currently trying out Blueberries by Ellena Savage as my lunch time read. It's not really grabbing me so far, but I'm prepared to give it one or two more lunch times before I decide for sure.

That feels better!

I can now let all these stories go.

I'm not saying you should join me in letting go these books. You might LOVE these books and authors or connect to these stories in a way completely different to me. And that's okay.
And that's why I love books and stories so much. 
There is something for everyone, to suit every mood or occasion. 

Have you had to let go a book recently?
How do you decide which books to continue with and which ones to leave on the shelf?


  1. I love Catch 22 and have read it a number of times. I like Allende and have enjoyed everything of Garner's that I've read. I know you've struggled with Catch 22 and in fact you have almost inspired me to review it.

    1. Some of my closest friends love Catch-22 which is why I’ve tried so many times. But I have a history of not responding well to satire. I’d love to hear why you it so much Bill. I look forward to reading your thoughts ­čśŐ

  2. I love reading about people's DNFs! I don't usually get past looking at the book again or reading a page and then don't record it, it's only a DNF if I get some of the way through. I do remember reading about 450 pages of a 550 page novel about a German bed salesman and giving up.

    I didn't cope well with Catch-22 either. I think I did read it all the way through but kind of just by rote, hacking through. I don't do well with satire and mid-century very 'masculine' books. I like books by male authors like Larry McMurtry but not the really war and shagging and huntingy type ones.

    1. Ahhh that's a good description/reason for not getting into Catch-22. Most of those very masculine books don't even get picked up by me in the first place, but ones like this and Lord of the Flies (which was foisted on me at school) sneak under that particular radar. I'm enjoying Jonathan Coe and Andrew Miller's books at the moment probably for the same reason you like McMurtry.

  3. Ah....letting books go. I admit, I'm not very good at it. Even books I've abandoned, some still sit on my shelf just in case I decide I want to pick them up again and give them another go. In the last few years, I think I've gotten rid of only a handful of my own books. Like maybe 5 or so. Those were ones that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I was not going to finish; or if I did finish them, I wouldn't be reading them again.

    You said: "A book that doesn't appeal one week when I'm tired and grumpy, might be just the right thing a month later after I've had a restful weekend."

    Yes! This is what I call timing. I totally believe that sometimes it's just about timing with books. And hence, not wanting to get rid of some books that I don't finish just in case in might be a timing thing and I find later on that I want to try to finish them. ;)

    1. I used to be like that Karen, but when I moved to Sydney a decade ago, I had to make some tough decisions about what could fit into a smaller city home. I didn't have a TBR pile back then either; I read everything as soon as it came in through the front door! The books I let go back then, where the books I felt confident I would never reread again. 12 yrs later and there have only been 2 books that I regretted getting rid of back then.

      Thanks to my work I read a lot more contemporary lit than I ever used to. Most of these books are not keepers and once their moment has passed my interest in them declines rapidly.

      I would struggle to let go of a classic title though.

  4. I don't know about those other titles...but Catch-22 was an impossible read. I didn't even find any of it funny. I must have read about 1/3 of it, and had to stop, admitting I loathed it and would never try it again. I just "let it go," and found a new home for it.

    1. As Liz reminded me above, it's a pretty bloke-y book, full of men doing men-stuff. I guess that's why I felt so alienated from it in the end.

  5. I too love Catch 22, but it gets darker towards the second half, so I understand that hitting a wall. It's strange. I clicked with it, I don't know why.

    I love how you describe your readability test, etc.

    1. You're just like my good friends, who studied it at school and fell in love with it too :-)

      My readability test has been finely honed over 50 yrs of reading! With so many choices, I have to adopt a fairly strict sorting system or go crazy with unread book syndrome!

  6. I read A Long Petal of the Sea a few weeks ago and I definitely understand why you didn't want to finish it. It was my second Allende book and both times I have found it very difficult to connect emotionally with the story or the characters because of that distance you describe. I don't think I'll be reading any more of her books.

    The Guinevere Glasfurd book is on my TBR, so I hope I get on with it better than you did!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on Allende, it's nice to know one is not on their own with these things.
      I hope you still try the Glasfurd. I think I was in a particularly picky mood the night I tried it. I ended up falling into a contemporary Brexit story by Jonathan Coe, Middle England, which has given me lots of laugh out loud moments and light-hearted silliness wrapped up in a good story. Just what I needed this week :-)

  7. I've always felt I should read Isabel Allende but never have. Never even tried Catch-22. Simply doesn't appeal to me.

    Acknowledging authors we just cannot connect with comes after a lifetime of reading...

  8. Our library's Book Club read "Seven Days of Us" by Francesca Hornak. I got 100 pages in and hated it, so I gave up. Tiny chapters jump around from 1 character's point of view to another's in a dizzying array. It was hard to get involved with the story, plus I disliked nearly everyone! DNF for sure!

  9. I love your concept of a "lunchtime read" as a way of testing whether a book will keep your interest. Allende leaves me cold too despite numerous attempts by a colleague in Brazil to get me to love her....


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