Aborted Books

Until last year I can't remember ever not finishing a book I started reading. I'm a sucker, I have to know what happens, even if the story stinks.

But last year I started Hawaii by James A. Michener and put it aside after 50 pages. It wasn't the writing, in fact the writing was quite good. It was the glacial pace of the story. Michener begins the book describing the creation of the Hawaiian Islands, and after 50 pages the first island had just poked up out of the water. I flipped to the last page, 960, and decided right there I didn't want to spend the time reading this book.

That was a breakthrough because now I've aborted several books. It might be I get into it a ways and decide I don't like it, or I'm not in the mood for a particular style/genre. Whatever the case it's been liberating, even though it's not easy to cut bait.

The latest book I'm dumping is Rabbit, Run by John Updike. It was on some best novels list I found somewhere. Updike is certainly a skilled writer. He's a master of picturesque prose. But where Tolkein needs to describe his fictional world so you can appreciate it, Updike describes the mundane - cars, streets, restaurants, apartments, clothing. True, he makes these everyday things soar, but in the end they are familiar and not very interesting. And while he's describing all this stuff the story drags. The characters are mildly interesting, as far as I can tell given the occasional glimpses Updike gives. So after 50 pages I decided I wanted to move on to something with a story that moves quicker.

I guess 50 pages is about what I'll invest to test out a book.

Now on to some books I did finish:

What Do You Care What Other People Think? - The 2nd biographical book about the noted and quirky physicist Richard P. Feynman. (The 1st biography is Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!) Some anecdotes were interesting, but it's kind of slow and very much a reflection of a logical, matter-of-fact person. You do get a sense of how he thinks and sees the world, which I enjoyed. The last third of the book is about his experience on the commission investigating the space shuttle Challenger explosion, which is pretty dry, but if that's a topic that interests you he gives a lot of detail. At the end is Feynman's lecture on The Value of Science, which had a lot of good thoughts (go read it, it's not long). I listened to this audiobook in the car during my commute and appreciated the work of the reader to make this somewhat dry book have more life. People who dig science or biographies may like this book, but most will find it boring.

Genesis - I liked this short novel (150 pages) by New Zealand author Bernard Beckett, but it's not a mass appeal book and even then you need to be in the mood for something meaty and science fiction. The setting of the book (an interview / examination) provides an interesting framework, but I'm not sure the detachment it created works. The philosophical debate I found thought-provoking, but others may find it esoteric. I liked it enough I'm considering reading Brave New World next.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - Yep, another Bryson book. What can I say, his books consistently entertain me. I listened to this audiobook driving to work and laughed many times. The book is a fun memoir about Bryson growing up in the 50s. Good insights, funny stories, interesting observations and facts. Bryson noted that productivity doubled in the 50's, but instead of taking it easy, most Americans worked as much or more so they could buy more stuff. This book got me thinking wistfully about the 50s and my own childhood (in the 60s). I think most people will enjoy this book, although for the sensitive there are a few f-words and his boyish desires may be a turn off.

So Brave, Young, and Handsome - I really liked Peace Like A River so I listened to this next book by Enger. The writing is good, but not enthralling as 'Peace Like A River'. The story and characters are interesting and well formed, but didn't pull me in completely. Worth reading, but not a great book.

A Brief History of Time - The first chapters are the best overview of modern physics I have read. The chapters on black holes, Hawking's specialty, are bogged down with a few too many tangents, but there is some interesting info there. The final chapters are pretty good. Read the updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition, if you can. Or the more concise A Briefer History Of Time may be a good choice (haven't read it, but will soon).

Some day I'll do a review of the physics books I've read, but since A Brief History of Time was so good I thought I'd mention it now.


Ski Bike Junkie said...

Hawaii is worth finishing. Once you get through the geology, the story is quite good. Alaska is another Michener worth reading, as is Journey (which is also much shorter than Michener's other works).

I liked A Brief History of Time better than A Briefer History....For whatever that's worth.

And of course Thunderbolt Kid is pure awesome. You'd probably also enjoy Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. It's available on audiobook through Salt Lake County library--not sure about Utah County. "You can't kill the rooster," one of the stories Sedaris tells in that book, is one of the funniest things I have ever listened to (though the language is pretty coarse).

Oh, and I'm with you on not finishing books. I'm about halfway through Crime and Punishment and had to take a "break." Hoping I can muster the ambition to start it back up.

Tim D said...

Not read Thunderbolt Kid, but my boys just bought me At Home, a Short history of private life. I love Bill Bryson. I think my favourites are Notes from a Small Island and Mother Tongue. I like his friendly digs at our British idiosyncrasies. I also like the fact that you Americans are speaking Elizabethan English.

ER Dog said...

Hey, you've peaked my interest with the Michener books. I am going both to Alaska and Hawaii this summer. Would it be interesting to read for these trips? Do you have Hawaii in paperback I can borrow?

KanyonKris said...

Junkie - I may try Hawaii again, but right now I feel there are so many good books I haven't read that I don't have much patience for a book that doesn't wow me. Also, I can read 3 books in the time it would take me to read Hawaii, so I'm not inclined to read long books, for now.

And thanks for the info about those other books.

Tim D - Good to hear I can look forward to more good Bryson books.

ER Dog - I do have Hawaii in paperback. I'll drop it by some day this week after work.