I usually don’t write up anything here about books that I start but don’t finish. Often if I didn’t finish it, I feel I can’t really give a good review of the book. But I’ve been trying to encourage myself to put a book down when it’s not working for me lately, for whatever reason. I used to have somewhat of a compulsion to finish books I started, but as my age has increased and I’ve come around to the reality that there is a very limited number of books I can read in my lifetime, I want to choose wisely. I don’t want to waste time on a book I’m not enjoying. Maybe if I can talk about why I didn’t finish them, I will be encouraged to engage in the book abandonment thing with less regret. So without further ado, here are some thoughts books I tried lately, but for various reasons did not finish…
Title: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Historical fiction
I got a little over 100 pages into this one before setting it aside. There were aspects that were enjoyable, but I think the problem for me was that I am not familiar at all with this history or this story. When I hear “Cromwell,” I think Oliver, not Thomas, and I could tell you everything I know about King Henry VIII in about 30 seconds. I had never heard of Thomas More before. And Hilary Mantel kind of just drops you in the middle of the story without explaining much. I think this probably allows her to do some interesting things with the story and writing that she probably couldn’t do if she had to hold readers’ hands, but it felt unnecessarily confusing to me. Plus, this won the Booker and I do not have the best track record with Booker winners, so when I was feeling uninspired to pick it up, I decided to throw in the towel. I would be open to reading it again down the line if I get more familiarity with the story. Wanting to understand more of the story surrounding this, I watched A Man for All Seasons and have watched the first four episodes of the Masterpiece series with Peter. The series is also a bit confusing, to be honest. It feels like there’s just a little something missing with the whole story, but then again maybe it’s just my ignorance with all the players and politics and timeline.
Title: The Second Sex
Author: Simone de Beauvoir
Genre: Nonfiction / feminist theory
One of my book clubs read selections from this book for a couple months. I read the introduction (really good), the first section “Destiny” (pretty good), and the section “Toward Liberation” (not as good but still decent). Other people read other sections and we reported back to each other. I was reading the new translation, the 2009 version (I think it was actually an update to the 2009 version), and I would recommend it because other people in the book club had the original translation, which was done by an entomologist who didn’t really have the basis in philosophy needed to understand what de Beauvoir was saying all the time and as a result would cut her off in mid-paragraph. We compared some sentences or passages across the books, and while many of them were comparable, other passages between the books had different meanings from each other. This book is dense and not many people in the book club were fans of de Beauvoir’s writing style. Personally I liked it quite a bit, but I had just been reading tons of social theory, a lot of which was much more dense and opaque than this book. I thought she made good arguments, and though I didn’t always agree with her, I was surprised both by how much has changed since she wrote and by how little has changed. In her details, she seems behind the times, but her theories still have such truth to them. Anyway, I do plan to finish this book at some point but with almost 800 pages it seems like a long slog. But I think doing a chapter a week or something would be a good pace for when I pick it up again.
Title: When We Fight, We Win
Author: Greg Jobin-Leeds
Genre: Nonfiction / politics
I got this from my university library. I read the first two chapters and a little of the third and then skipped around. Each chapter deals with a different social movement (for example, marriage equality, the DREAM Act). The highlight for me was definitely all the art! The main text could be a little dry at times, which is a shame because this is pretty exciting stuff. There was nothing really wrong with the book though; I only stopped reading it because I couldn’t renew it and had to turn it back in. I’m considering getting a copy for a friend’s birthday.
Title: The Importance of Being Civil
Author: John Hall
Genre: Nonfiction / sociology
When I went to get So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed from the library, this was on the shelf next to it and it sounded interesting. It seems like decent, standard scholarship from what I can tell. I read about the first three chapters. Hall was making a fair argument, and his writing was fine and easy enough to follow, but I think the subject matter was just too narrow compared against what I had been hoping for. I did feel like I was learning something and it was definitely interesting in parts; historical sociology is not something I have studied in any detail, and I felt like Hall had some good insights. But I also felt like there was a little too much quoting of Montaigne, Adam Smith, etc., and not a whole lot of weaving it into something bigger or making them relevant to today’s social world. I think Hall actually is supposed to get to that in the second half of the book but I didn’t feel like waiting around. I think I might try to skip around to some chapters in the later part of the book, but I doubt I will end up finishing the whole book.
Title: Furiously Happy
Author: Jenny Lawson
I forget how far into this one I got–50 pages? And I had to stop. Jenny Lawson might be funny in person, but I don’t really find this kind of humor written out in a book to be very funny. It just comes off like it’s trying way too hard. She also seems weirdly judgemental about inconsequential things. I disagree with parts of her approach to mental illness. But the worst thing was how she seemed to constantly be like “ohhhh my god I am SOOOO wacky you guys!!” and give an example, only the example is not “wacky” in the slightest. It’s like that podcast “My Favorite Murder,” where the hosts are constantly saying “OMG are we horrible? are we psychopaths? are we totally perverted because we have an interest in true crime??” It’s like, no, nobody thinks that, do you know how huge that market is, do you know how long Dateline has been running for and with what kind of ratings? You don’t have to bring it up how ~out there~ you are every few minutes. This writer is kind of like that, only it comes off as more obnoxious in written format than with voice or in person. Obviously there are a lot of people who love this book and this type of humor, so I’m glad Lawson has found success and her fans have a couple books to rave about, but it’s not my thing.