Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Books I Couldn't Finish

I have been away from blogland for a while, and I briefly explained why on my blog. With the quality of writing produced by my fellow bloggers I know you have been well entertained. So I'm back!

Would you believe I started this post originally back in February, then picked it up and worked on it a few months ago, then re-revisited it AGAIN just now? How's that for procrastination? So here it is, third time lucky. If it seems a bit disjointed you know why. I was afraid that if I took the time to polish it up I would procrastinate yet again!

From a month or so ago...

With all the recent talk (ed. Note; August) about books Mrs BG's dear readers and authors couldn't finish, I thought I would dust off this post I couldn't finish back in February about books I couldn't finish. I'm looking forward to finishing it!

When Sam said she'd abandoned books and felt guilty about it, I completely understand. And I am dying to know why we give up on books. Could you all please respond to the first official Mrs Baja survey?

Original post I didn't finish follows....

So, there have been a couple of books recently (ed. Note; February) that have just not worked for me. I have never thought myself very critical, fickle or discriminating, but maybe I am.

My first non-finisher is a book my beautiful mother bought me back in June. I picked it up and was so intrigued and excited by it. The author is the apparently well-known Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate. The cover of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature says it's 'curious, inventive, fearless, naughty', which is hard to resist.

Some of the ideas are fascinating. I liked reading about how language shapes our attitudes. For example, doctors are more likely to be in favor of a program that might save 200 out of 600 vulnerable patients rather than one that will kill 400 out of 600. Same numbers, different spin.

And Pinker quotes a study that shows when we estimate number problems roughly, we don't really use language in our heads, but when we calculate exactly, we do. So, we have an image-based estimating process, but use words to calculate.

Parts of the book made me think about my French and Italian students. For example, the idea of language not translating exactly is hard for some. I regularly have to explain that the English gerund (ex. I am running) really doesn't have an exact translation into romance languages. That concept is not expressed simply in some languages, and so, conversely, many English learners with Romance language backgrounds have a hard time choosing between 'I run.' 'I do run.', and 'I am running.'

These are all interesting ideas, and the book is very well-written, but I just haven't made much progress in the months I've had it. It's a lot of thinking for my poor brain, and I usually want to read something lighter, funnier and easier.
Well, that's where I stopped finishing my post about six months ago. Since then I have gotten side tracked reading a few more books.

Michael Robotham's Bombproof was just a bit brutal for my delicate sensibilities.

Le Testament Français by Andreї Makine is beautiful. I got it from the Heron Island swapsies library. His first language is Russian and he wrote in French. This edition is in English and it is musical, lyrical, just poetry in prose and the images he paints stay with me. I love it. And I haven't finished it… Don't know what's going on there...

Image from the National Gallery of Australia.

And to finish off this post about not finishing books I will tell you about Ned Kelly: A Short Life by Ian Jones. The Kelly family is infamous and very important to the Australian psyche. Ned was the bushranger (bandit?) who made his own armour. Does anyone remember seeing 'him' in the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony? Kind of a naughty Robin Hood.

Jones' book is an incredibly, minutely detailed account of Ned's life. No event, however small, is left out of this account. I'm not making any progress here. It may have been a short life but this is a loooong book.

If you want to learn more about Ned without having to read Ian Jones, check here. It looks like a great blog. And they seem fond of Ian's work, too.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there is my confession. Now your turn. How many books do you have languishing in your to-be-finished pile? Please don't tell me none! I might start to worry about myself.


  1. I love Stephen Pinker. My degree was in psychology and I covered a lot of the cognitive stuff in his books. Even so, I do find them to be dense and often have to read a chapter and then put it down for a few days before tackling the next. I always read them alongside lighter stuff.

    If you ever did want to try another Pinker, How the Mind Works is my favourite.

  2. +JMJ+

    LOL! I'm sure you've noticed how ironic it was that the post you had trouble completing was about books you're having trouble finishing. ;-)

    But since you got the writing done, who is to say that you won't finally get closure on the reading? This is a hopeful sign! =)

    I did have a problem with unfinished books for a while. Topping the list was At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, which I had to keep starting over several years because I'd start, stop and forget everything that had happened. =(

    Lately, however, I've been pretty strict with myself about finishing books. My dark, guilty secret is my pile of unstarted books. =P I have far too many and should stop buying books! I try to mask the fact even from myself by keeping them in separate places: on the bottom of my bookshelf, in a clothes closet, in a drawer, and even in a box on the floor! My family just might call an intervention soon and send me to Bookaholics Anonymous. =P

  3. If you're interested in Ned Kelly, I'd recommend highly True History of The Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. And if you're looking for confirmation of my suggestion, it won the Man Booker, and a bunch of other awards. Brilliant book. Violent though.

  4. Sam, I am glad I am not the only one who likes Pikner but struggles to finish his books. Thanks for the hint, I might look for that other one.
    En, the irony did not escape me! Don't hide those unread books, though. Get them out there, loud and proud. Anyone who gives you are hard time is just jealous.
    Carin I might try that other Ned book, but I did mention my delicate sensibilities...Man Booker prize might overcome squeamishness...

  5. +JMJ+

    Here's something funny . . . =P

    I was looking through the unread books in the clothes closet and found one I had actually started but decided to set aside! It was King Solomon's Mines by Rider Haggard, and it's been there for almost three years! How bad is that??? =(

  6. I have put a book down because it was just really dumb - I am waaay not into the unrealistic romance stuff (I hate that Titanic movie) and I have put a book down because of that. It gets sooo annoying, kwim?

    And I've put a book down because by chapter 3 the characters are still making the same pot of tea. Let's mooove on, shall we???

    Also, if it's too obscure. Like they talk about their feelings sooooo long in the beginning before you know what happened...that tries my patience too. Or you don't quite understand what happened, but it's major to the plot.

    But probably the fastest way to get me to put down a book is if it is too bloody/violent, etc. Murder/war/executions/graphic rape, etc.
    Maybe it's having kids, but in the last few years I cannot deal with that type of thing, and reading is particularly bad because I get very caught up in a book and those images/ideas get stuck in my head.

    It doesn't happen too often, but occasionally it does.

  7. I voted! Four choices for me: boring, stupid, gruesome, and distracted

    It is very unusual for me to not finish a book. After years of reading historical and regency romances, I stopped reading 3 or 4 in a row from boredom so I quit that genre.

    I love science thrillers and have a high tolerence for gruesome but several years ago one beginning scene was to eeyew for me.

    I stopped a book last winter that was just too stupid.

    Last spring, I stopped one non-fiction book about the eiffel tower and world's fair that was really interesting but got distracted by fiction-- maybe I will get back to that one-- hopefully sooner than three years. haha, E!

    Leslie, I have that same problem with violent images since becoming a parent but more with real news than fiction.

  8. DeLynne: I remember you telling me about Ned Kelly last winter-- that is funny: such a long book about a short life!


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