DNFs to Try Again

As I was choosing titles for my second Classics Club list, I noticed several books I had dnf’ed (did not finish) throughout the years I have been book blogging. A few I knew I would never try again, but there were several that still interested me as I tried to remember why I’d put them down.

I dnf mainly because after a certain number of pages I just know this book isn’t for me. Before the point of putting it down, there is some recognition that “this better improve” or “but I really liked her other book, what’s the matter here?” or “isn’t this one of the ‘should’ classics, so I can’t just chuck it, can I?”

If I can’t engage with the story or the characters I find it hard to continue, especially since there are so many other books to try. I don’t want to seem superficial or demanding in my reading and I have certainly had the experience of sitting with a book I am sure I’d dislike, but finding the opposite reaction. I’ve come to the conclusion it is a matter of balancing so-called “good books” with personal taste—sometimes they match and sometimes they don’t. 

I do hold out until I feel like I am wasting my time, but as I looked at the titles below, I realized I’d dnf’ed them for other reasons.

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
I started 2020 reading this as a group readalong and it seemed so manageable—one chapter a day. The chapters are fairly short for a book only a little less than 2000 pages long, so how could I fail? Until I got behind and then overwhelmed. Only a chapter a day, Laurie. You should try that again.

The Ladies Paradise,  Emile Zola
I picked this up when I realized the PBS series The Paradise, which I absolutely loved, was taken from Zola’s book. However, the book delves deeply into the French economy and methods of business practices, and is full of characters not in the series and I was just not prepared for something that deep. I fully admit I put this down for superficial reasons, however, I am going to take it up again for the 2021 #Zoladdiction.

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
Early in 2020, I read Wives and Daughters, which became one of my favorites of the year. I was keen to try another Gaskell and after posting my reaction on Instagram, so many readers said North and South was their favorite, so it was a natural next choice. But where Gaskell’s commentary on class and status was woven effortlessly into Wives and Daughters, in North and South I felt I was being lectured to; that the characters stopped in their tracks giving Shakespearean-like monologues on urban vs. industrial life, instead of showing it through the narrative and stories of the characters. I found it unrealistic. Still, I will revisit this book again, because I put it on my Classics Club list!

Britannia Mews, Margery Sharp
I read my first Margery Sharp novel for 2018s Margery Sharp Day, The Foolish Gentlewoman, and enjoyed it. The next year I tried Britannia Mews, one of her better known novels. I remember liking it, but not enough not to be distracted by other books I wanted to read. I picked up a hardcover in a used bookstore, so I know I will try this one again.

Green Dolphin Street, Elizabeth Goudge
This is a very interesting dnf. I really enjoyed this even though I thought it a bit odd. When I saw this on my bookshelf I couldn’t for the life of me remember WHY I stopped reading it. When I pick it up again for my Classics Club list, I wonder if I will remember why I stopped reading it?

The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
I have every intention of picking up this one again and probably soon, because I am about 2/3 finished. Why put it down, then? My very embarrassing answer? I was very angry at the course James was taking for the main character’s story line. Isabel Archer was being duped. Such a strong female character and she didn’t see what was coming? I do take literature too seriously!

Have you dnf’ed books and then taken them up again? Do you remember why you picked them back up?

The Bookman’s Tale, Charlie Lovett (2013)

My Edition:Bookmanstale.jpeg
Title: The Bookman’s Tale
Author: Charlie Lovett
Publisher: Penguin Books
Device: Paper book
Year: 2013
Pages: 369
For a plot summary

 

When I read a book I want to be affected in some way, to think differently, maybe to investigate a part of the story that captivated me. At the very least, I want something to have shifted.

Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale, satisfied all of the above, with intriguing subject matter and his ability to tell a grand, complicated story.

This is a book about books and those who care about and conserve old ones and the sometimes dirty and dangerous world of antiquarian book selling; it details the practice of historical document forgery; the provenance, over centuries, of one particular book that concerns whether Shakespeare did or didn’t (write his own plays); there is one murder and almost three; two love stories and the beginning of another; there is a centuries old family feud; and a main character with social anxiety disorder, who creates a fruitful life anyway. Throw in intrigue, blackmail and people dying before their time, this is a book I could not put down.

How did this book affect my world? Where do I start? With the pros and cons of the legitimacy of Shakespeare as the writer of his plays? Learning to forge historical documents? Or perhaps a trip to an antiquarian bookshop in hopes of finding a mysterious picture stuck inside a book? (Although, that did happen to me, sort of) And what about rare book conservation and restoration? Should I learn how to do it? What a noble vocation!

The idea of provenance strikes me as well: imagine coming across a centuries old book with a list of the owners marked inside the cover, who just happen to be well-known historical figures?

This is the kind of book I didn’t want to end and rationed pages to slow down the inevitable…What a way to spend the weekend!

 

Classics Club Spin #11

classicsclub

My first Classics Club Spin! This will help me as I organize my reading for the next few months, and I need that, because, oh my, I get distracted with all that’s out there and not on my 5 year list!

The deal: Choose twenty books from your aforementioned list, number them 1-20 and put them in categories of your (or their) own choosing (optional). On Monday, December 7th, they will choose a number and that is the one you must read by February 1, 2016.

If you are not familiar with the Classics Club and you want to be, go HERE!

Five I can’t wait to read:

1. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
2. Betty A. Smith, Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)
3. Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1847)
4. Willa Cather, O Pioneers! (1913)
5. Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)

Five whose authors I know, but don’t know this work:

6. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899)
7. Wilkie Collins, Woman in White (1859)
8. William Dean Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)
9. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
10. Benjamin Disraeli, Coninigsby (1844)

Five I am embarrassed to realize I never read:

11. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936)
12. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
13. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
14. Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca (1938)
15. Virginia Woolf, The Years (1937)

Five I am dreading or feel obligated to read:

16. Charles Kingsley, Hypatia or New Foes with an Old Face (1853)
17. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855)
18. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)
19. H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898)
20. Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (1820)

Old Books….

I’ll let you define “old book” for yourself. For me, it is anything before the 1950s.

I am not sure why I am drawn to old books, although I do have a historical sensibility about things in general. When I am interested in something I go back to the source, the foundation, the original. I am often surprised by its relevance. The New Age, the Modern Age is really the Old Age gussied up with contemporary lingo and sometimes we don’t even know the idea is not new.

I read classic literature almost like primary source documents. I am pulled into its time and sensibility, the social and political atmosphere, its cultural context, even its gastronomic display. I’ve been reading like this since I can remember. My surroundings fade and I fall through the rabbit hole of the past.

I am not an obsessive-compulsive reader. And while I often have more than one book going at a time, I don’t hurry the process. I think about what I am reading. Books affect me and I am often in a state of that affectedness. I love when that happens; when a writer, living or dead, has caused me to pause, to feel, to learn. I am grateful to have been so changed.