Thursday, August 08, 2013

Better Dead Than Read

Here's an interesting infographic on books people don't finish.  I have nothing to say about the modern bestsellers since I haven't read them, and probably won't.  But the list of the five top "abandoned classics" was intriguing: Catch-22, Lord Of The Rings, Ulysses, Moby-Dick, Atlas Shrugged.

The first one is the hardest to understand, since I've read Catch-22 several times and think it's one of the funniest novels ever written, as well as one of the most powerful.  But I guess its almost unending absurdist humor, huge number of characters and plot that twists back upon itself makes it tough going for some. All I can say is don't worry about it--if you're laughing, keep going. (But if you're not laughing after about ten or twenty pages, then maybe you should jump ship).

Lord Of The Rings I can understand better, since I don't like it either.  It's fantasy, a genre I have little patience for, and the trilogy goes on forever.  I'd suggest avoiding it altogether unless you find Hobbits irresistible.

Ulysses is a great book, but it's not hard to see why people give up. It's not only lengthy, it's also experimental, almost impenetrable. But the rewards are great for those who work at it.  (Though even for those Finnegans Wake is often a bridge too far--perhaps that didn't make the list because few even attempt it.)

Moby-Dick is actually a lot of fun, but it's not what people think.  Even back in its day it was not a success. Melville, who had written popular adventure novels, created an audacious work that's bursting in so many directions it often forgets to keep the action going.  In fact, it's fairly meditative, stopping regularly to consider various aspects of the world.  If you're looking for the excitement of chasing a whale, and suddenly get lengthy essays on how whaling works, not to mention a lot of general philosophy, I can see how you'd toss it aside.

Then there's Atlas Shrugged. Very long, and in small print, too.  And full of one-dimensional characters who love to speechify. Also all about a philosophy that a lot of people find repugnant.  It's got all the flaws of The Fountainhead magnified.

I guess, in general, people like plots that carry them along, not to mention protagonists they can root for.  There are readers who like to be challenged, but for most people if they're struggling with a novel--or it seems to be struggling against them--hey, life is short, and if they need to read a classic there's always another Dickens.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Denver Guy said...

There are only a few books (or series) that I have abandoned, probably because I'm anal that way. There are several I wish I could have abandoned, butthey were assigned for school ("Under the Volcano" by Malcom Lowery comes to mind).

I actually like Fantasy, but I have to admit I gave up about half way through Tolkein's "Return of the King" - I just didn't care anymore. The film version is a better experience than the book, though "Fellowship of the Ring" is a great book.

I also read the first Martin novel in the Game of Thrones series and had no desire to continue. I hear the televised version is different, so I'll probably watch it someday.

I wasn't surprised to see "Wicked" on the list of abandoned modern novels - it's not dense but it's a lot more serious than the musical, so probably many people are misled to start reading it.

I have on my list to read Moby Dick - I read the unexpurgated "Les Miserables" and loved it, even though every other chapter was an essay expounding on history or culture or something tangental to the plot. Sounds like Moby Dick does the same thing.

7:43 AM, August 08, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually thought Lord of The Rings was a rollicking good read and I came to it (at age 14 or 15) expecting not to like it-I devoured the appendices- of course at that age I also routinely read history textbooks end to end. An empty head looking to be filled, no doubt.

I "read" Moby Dick in AP English in high school (Maybe actually 25% of it and skimmed another quarter- still probably 10X the average amount read in the class). I may try that one again because all I really recall is the stinginess of Captain Bildad and doing proto-Beavis chortle about having whale balls for dinner.

I too am insistent like DG on finishing any book I read though I have put things aside until later. Earlier this year I finally finished volume 2 of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy after having started it in 2008 or so (I know because my bookmark was a store coupon which expired 1/31/08) and still waiting to get back TC Boyle's Collected Stories after starting that in 2003 (good stories but the paperback is really fat and unwieldy) and I just checked - I'm still on page 10 of Michael Grant's The Twelve Caesars which I bought as part of a 3 book set in 2000 or so. (The publishing industry needs to shut down for a few years so I can catch up on my back log).

10:27 AM, August 08, 2013  
Blogger New England Guy said...

sorry that's me above

10:28 AM, August 08, 2013  

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