This week on Entropy, we lament our Top 3 unfinished books. What makes it a Top 3? We all have our reasons…either the book is so great that you can’t figure out why you didn’t finish it ages ago, or it’s a thorn in your side that you don’t think you’ll ever get through. In either case, these are the literary hurdles that we want to read…but can’t seem to conquer. Massive tomes and world literature dominate the list, but there’s also room for picture books, works so tragic that you need an iron resolve to see them through, and books that are too good not to savor.
3) Genji Monogatari by Murasaki Shikibu. Set in the Japanese Heian era. I should really like this one because of its setting, but the countless names and family lines and the exaggeration of the protagonist’s character makes this a repeated no-go for me. Oddly enough, I really like the the other classical Japanese work set 200 years later, the Heike Monogatari, which has even more names and lists of family lines.
2) The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I really like the beginning of this novel. The problem is I can’t seem to get past the beginning. I think part of it is that the book is 700 pages long and even as a paperback, it’s heavy to hold for someone with frequent sore neck (from reading and writing too much). Magic or not, this book may remain the unclimbable K2 for me.
1) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevski. Another world classic I have failed to finish. Again, part of the problem is weight and size. The fact that I only have this book as a hardcover, does not make it better. You could kill a person hitting them with this tome. I obviously need to start lifting weights before I can read these works. Or just get them on Kindle.
1. Threats by Amelia Gray – I started this book last October and I’m still not even halfway through. I think the book is genius and I love every sentence I’ve read so far, but I’m still not finished with it. Maybe a big reason why I haven’t gotten farther along is because I’m reading it on the Kindle app on my phone and I’m less likely to read a book while waiting for my classes to start than I am to check Facebook.
2. Lantern Jaws by Cameron Pierce – This is another eBook that I’m stuck on. Again, it’s really well-written, but I’m still under the halfway mark and I haven’t even touched it since February. I keep telling myself that I’m completely through with it–that it’s just too bizarre–but then I pull it up and see that the next story has a sloth or a pterodactyl in it and I know I can’t give up just yet.
3. The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman, et al. – I’m a really big fan of the television show and I’ve read a bit of the comics, but nowhere close to the 100+ issues yet. I think the true reason why I haven’t gotten past the first few issues in this collection is because of its sheer size. It hurts my arms to hold this book up and I’m scared of reading it in bed and dropping it on my face.
2) The Possessed – What I intended to be a brief reprieve from Dostoevsky has turned into a well of shame. I bought all of his major works when I graduated from high school and they continue to stare me down from a prominent place on my shelf.
3) Pride and Prejudice – I used to slag on Jane Austen fans, and I’ve been trying to give myself a chance to come around. My problem with these books, and this is a prime example, is that I find them difficult to leave–even for an average length of time, like a day–and reenter.
Paradiso by José Lezama Lima
The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition by Michael Tomasello
2). Ulysses by James Joyce
3). War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
1) A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold: I was told this was the Bible of ecological writing by a guy I was living with in an eco-community in India, so it has to be true. I’ve only read the first fifteen pages, and they were so patient I could hardly stand it. I am, apparently, not yet a naturalist. But I plan to be. Some day.
2) Apprehend by Elizabeth Robinson: I found this book of poetry in one of those little house-shaped book exchange boxes about a year ago, and it has been sitting on my toilet tank ever since. I tried to read it from the beginning at first and didn’t understand a word. Now I flip to a random page every couple weeks. Sometimes I forget, and stumble upon the same poems. I am slowly coming to understand, by some kind of weird osmosis. But really: slowly.
3) The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor: Read the first three stories in a flurry of ambition this Christmas, 32 of 550 pages. Haven’t read a word since. Guilt, I have found, is endless.
Michael J. Seidlinger
Goodnight Moon (this shit really puts you to sleep)
The Anarchist’s Cookbook (not enough recipes)
Anything assigned to me in English class (because fuck you I read what I want)
2) Sherman Alexie’s Blasphemy (I found that I liked his older stories, earlier in the collection, more than his newer, which are as I read on…)
3) Steal Me For Your Stories by Robb Todd (I loved the first story so much that I want to savor these, read them at the precise moment).
#1 – Literary Magazines … They are always so pleasing to receive in the mail, like winning a prize of sorts. But then I’d rather read a book, instead of a magazine, and the longer I go without reading them the less and less inclined I am to do so, until eventually I–shameful, I know!–deposit them in the trash or abandon them on the table of some university library where I hope they will be found by hip undergraduates.
#2 – The Arcades Project … It’s a book that is right up my alley and I’ve made my way through the first half (who am I kidding, that’s a lie, I’m not even on page 200), but there’s so little momentum since it’s a collection of notes that I always get distracted by more immediate reads. What I truly, philistine-ly need is a “Best Of” The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin’s Greatest Hits.
#3 – The Freud Reader … I try to read it but at every third sentence I’m like Freud, you have got to be shitting me! I even attempt to appreciate Freud from a strictly literary point-of-view, which is I guess the only way to read Freud now since like neuroscience and stuff, and still I’m like, Freud, you need to cool your creep jets.
Neil Shubin, Your Inner Fish…
David Berman, Actual Air.
The ideas in and argument of YOUR INNER FISH are fascinating, and expertly presented, but the prose is a just a little too functional. By way of contrast… Stephen Jay Gould can be a gasbag, sure, but I do admire his ability to characterize himself and his thinking in books like WONDERFUL LIFE (still the best popular treatment of the Burgess Shale fauna, IMO). Sadly, not every science writer can be a John McPhee or a Henry S. F. Cooper… Finally… it’s not the world of the characters that have caused me to stall out in the Bolaño; it’s Bolaño himself and his bad-boy “presiding” that’s making me turn aside…
Joseph Michael Owens
1) Against the Day Thomas Pynchon: I’m still 530 pages into this beast, but I started it in May of 2011. However, graduating from my MFA program was right around the corner and I was putting the finishing touches on Shenanigans! to get it ready for publication in early 2012. Byron made a really interesting point I agree with completely: “This was the Pynchon I had the easiest time getting through.” I think this is a better book than Gravity’s Rainbow. If life hadn’t gotten in the way, I’d have probably read this thing twice by now! (And indeed, it’s likely got a whole lot to do with the airships!)
2) 2666 by Roberto Bolaño: It’s hard to describe how much I love Roberto Bolaño. The first work of his I read was The Savage Detectives. The book blew me away; I’d never read a voice as distinct as Bolaño’s. The feeling was like the first time I’d ever read Murakami. I cracked this book open in November of 2010. However, grad school and life got in the way of this one, too. Like Against the Day, I also made it to somewhere near the halfway point in 2666. Something else it shares in common withAgainst the Day is that I like it more than the author’s previous “big book:” 2666 >The Savage Detectives just as AtD > GR.
3) Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany: Entropy Editor Kyle Muntz introduced me to Delany. Dhalgren was supposed to be my first foray into SRD’s universe, but I was swamped at the time (a running theme here) and intimidated by the book’s length. I made it about 85 pages in before I realized this book needed so much more attention than I was able to give it at the time. I really can’t wait to dive back in. It’s just so surreal, so incredibly well written! Fun Fact: I got to meet- and chat- with Delany at AWP Boston in 2013!
1. Dhalgren by Samuel Delany — Really enjoyed the hell out what I read (about 200-300 pgs), but I’m still kind of intimidated by it. How do you write a world that literally moves, and nothing is the same when you go back? It’s a labyrinth of a city and a labyrinth of a character.
2. 2666 by Robert Bolaño — I don’t know why I never got around to finishing it. It’s on my to-do list for 2014.
3. Serpent Box by Vincent Louis Carrella — It’s so different from anything I’ve read. For some reason never got past the 40-50 pg mark. Another on my to-do list for 2014.
Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon
What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire?, António Lobo Antunes
Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Infinite Jest is the only one I can think of. I really enjoyed it too, but I just sort of lost track of it about 400 pages in and never picked it back up. Maybe some day.
1) Underground, by MURAKAMI Haruki: an intense survey of the Aum Shinrikyô sect and their terror war in Tokyo: vivid, horrible, non-Murakamish. I don’t know, why I stopped to read it. Too painful in its fascination?
2) Infinite Jest (I begun to read this monument, and I was really impressed, even because I know this milieu, university etc. way too good, because of my work place). Then I lent it to my best friend, who also was working here, and she is reading it till now. (I hope, this reason of unfinished book does count: for charity’s sake)
3) 雷轟 rolling thunder PAX JAPONICA by OSHII Mamoru: an alternate reality with military coup d’etats, and horrible schizophreny of paramilitarian society. The only problem why I haven’t still finished it: I have to look up every 10th word, since it’s in Japanese. But nevertheless awesome.
The Order of Things–Michel Foucault
I still think about this book a lot (as well as Madness and Civilization), but for some reason I stopped about 100 pages from the end, and I don’t read a lot of philosophy anymore so I doubt I could go back.
Being and Time–Martin Heidegger
I was very interested in phenomenology for a few years, but I only got about halfway through this. Heidegger does a great job evolving Husserl, but I think his attitude is maybe more interesting than his ideas. There’s a lot of the poetry of existence here, though it’s not very poetic to get through.
Lots of interesting ideas, but yeah. Like 900 pages. Which is just way to much for anything this elliptical and French, haha.
Infinite Jest–David Foster Wallace
I was about 200 pages into this when Wallace committed suicide, and ever since, it’s just felt weird to go back. I was impressed by what I read of the book, though I think I might also have picked it up too late to get as much out of it as other people.
Cormac McCarthy–Blood Meridian
This is a beautifully written book, but something about McCarthy has never sat right with me. His characters for me are too much like husks with the humanity scraped out of them. (There’s an article somewhere looking at his drafts and how he does it, since interestingly there’s some feeling there to start.)
James Joyce–Finnegan’s Wake
Ulysses changes my life (and I actually had no problem reading it twice, since I think there’s a lot to love in that book, especially the early sections) but I don’t like Finnegan’s Wake at all. At least for me, it wasn’t very beautiful; and without that it felt like it was kind of missing the point.
1. Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1 (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis. Still stuck on, and struck by, the sheer poignancy and beauty and truthfulness of Proust’s first paragraph.
2. Twelfth Night (Folger Shakespeare Library) by William Shakespeare, edited by Paul Werstine & Barbara Mowat. Promised a six-year-old student of mine, who happens to be acting in an abridged version of Twelfth Night, that I’d read the play. I’m getting around to it.
3. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. No excuses really. By no means is it a difficult read. And I love Orwell’s nonfiction. I loved Homage to Catalonia. I loved the first few pages that I have read of Down and Out. So why am I delaying the inevitable? Not entirely sure. Maybe it’s the knowing that I am going to love it that is preventing me from finishing it . . .
2- Samuel R. Delany, Hogg (need to restart when not eating)
3- François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (I’d like to be able to say that I’ve read this in full, but do I really need to read this in full? Haven’t decided)
Byron Alexander Campbell
1) Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec – I love the first 50 or so pages of this book, which is all I’ve ever been able to read (repeatedly). I inevitably put it down for something lighter because of other stresses in my life, then when I pick it up again, I feel the urge to start again, since the construction is so intricate. If I ever did finish it, I’m sure it would be in my top 10.
2) A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari – I don’t tend to read a lot of theory, or nonfiction in general, but I enjoy it when I do. These guys have influenced some of my favorite authors, so I feel obligated to read them, but it’s another one I’m saving for a rainy day when I can devote my full attention to it.
3) Blue Lacuna by Aaron A. Reed – Is it cheating to include this interactive novel? Maybe, but there’s a huge list of games and interactive fiction that I haven’t finished and I’d be remiss not to mention it. As with the others, I think the problem is that I like what I’ve experienced so much that I want to save it for a time when I can really savor it…which, of course, never actually happens. Also, there’s something about interactive fiction, the added pressures of having to keep track of geography and puzzles, that make it almost impossible to come back to after putting it away for even a day. In the meantime, I read/play dozens of lighter and lesser works.
2) The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky (I’m supposed to like it but I can’t get into it)
3) La Medusa by Vanessa Place (It makes me miss LA too much).
Mainly: long books I wade into and then get distracted and let sit. ETA if we’re talking nonfiction then the two Gilles + Deleuze books plus the collected Didion (though I’ll make it eventually).
Afterword from JS Breukelaar
Yup, missed this one, but will get my timing right next time. And just for the record, I never finished Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which is still glowering me from my desk as I speak, like a great white whale. Shit, I don’t think I ever finished Moby Dick either.