Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm gon' quit you, book

I don’t like to quit books once I’ve begun them. That’s the main reason I’m so hesitant to start anything longer than 300 pages.

I abide by the Lemon Law when it comes to books. If I hate or, more likely, am bored by a book’s first 50 pages, I’ll quit it without any sense of guilt.

But what about the case of Anna Karenina? The first 200 pages are fantastic and, then, momentum stalls. What do I do? I have 400 pages left. These remaining pages could contain soul-draining boredom or unexplainable brilliance. I could waste hours, days of my life slogging through barely tolerable prose in hopes of finding one or two passages that will justify my devotion. (Or, as my friend likes to call it, Bolaño-ing.) I could also cut my losses and move on.

The problem is, sometimes, it is worth it.

Karenina — worth it. The same is true of One Hundred Years of Solitude and even Moby Dick, though I’d advise people to skip the Cetology chapter.

But I’ve also read books that never recovered from a sudden loss in momentum. Soul Mountain seemed to be going somewhere until page 340. Then, the meandering began and didn’t stop until it reached the back cover.

So that’s the risk of quitting books. I might get stuck with The Deerslayer, but I could also miss Jane Eyre.

Sonya Chung of The Millions created seven categories for the books we quit and offered several personal examples. Here, I offer some of my own:

Books I Did Not Finish But Very Much Want to Try Again
1. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
2. The Profits of Religion by Upton Sinclair
3. Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Books That I’ve Already Tried More Than Once But Couldn’t Engage With, I Don’t Know Why
1. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (I do not know why, but Sinclair seems to be the author on who I have quit the most. You’d think it would be one of my established nemeses, Charles Dickens or James Joyce.)
2. Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Books That I Found Mostly Painful and Likely Will Not Revisit
1. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
2. The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen

Books Written By Friends/Acquaintances That I May Have Been Destined Not to Like in the First Place, But Gave Them a Try For Friendship’s Sake
I have never read a book that qualifies. Most of my friends do not write novels. The exceptions have the sense to not want my opinion.

Shlogged Through and Almost Abandoned, But Kept On; No Pay-off, I Felt, In the End
1. Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
2. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
3. Anything by James Fenimore Cooper that was not The Last of the Mohicans.

Struggled Through, Maybe Put Down For a While, But Finished and Am Very Glad I Did
1. Pretty much any other Márquez book that has not already been listed.
2. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

In unrelated and more important news, Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo has been transferred to prison camp after calling for more freedom and greater democratic rights.

-Jason Lea,



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