Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Books I Have Loved (But Never Finished)

I'm not going to lie: I haven't read Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. I have read enough, and am happy enough about my inclinations and biases, that I rarely find myself simply inventing a familiarity with an author or a book. I'm not embarrassed by my complete ignorance of Austen, Eliot, or Hardy--though perhaps I should be--so it never pains me to admit it even to extremely literary friends.

What does sometimes hurt is recommending a book to a friend when I haven't finished it. I don't mean a book that I haven't finished yet; I mean a book that, after repeated serious attempts, I have never finished and may never finish. Perhaps this discomfort is telling me something, but I find that I simply can't help it; I'm an inveterate recommender. Plus, I have read far enough into these books, and enjoyed them enough to that point, that I have no real qualms about suggesting them to other people.

Here are a few:

Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin
The Colossus of Maroussi, Henry Miller (yes, that Henry Miller)
Dalva, Jim Harrison
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

If I've recommended these books to you with an evangelist's zeal, well, keep in mind that most evangelists haven't finished the Bible, either. It's pretty tough going in the middle.


Huss said...

I fully sympathize with you, John. If only I could finally finish reading Conrad's Nostromo after repeated attempts. Same goes for all things Amis (Kingsley and Martin) and Wodehouse.

John Rogers said...

Nostromo! That's a great pick. In my freshman year English class at Oberlin we were assigned it; 40 pages in, a student uprising--literary, not political--gave the prof second thoughts. I was the only one in the class to argue that we should continue reading it. We moved on, but I still could have plowed through. Did I? Of course not. I now have two copies, each dog-eared around page 50. What a great book! Highest recommendation for everone!