The best book I never read…

A friend’s son is doing the NSW HSC this year and she tells me that one of the books they study is The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx. I remember that — wryly funny, slightly melancholy, fascinating details about Newfoundland and…

Well, that was the first part. I started reading it on a beach holiday several years ago. We came home when I was almost halfway through and it languished on my bedside table for another few months before I quietly slipped it back on the bookshelf.

Although I would have said I was enjoying The Shipping News, clearly something was lacking.

A couple of weeks back, just as I was about to start reading Crime and Punishment, I heard that it was tenth on the list of books the Brits start but don’t finish. So far I’m up to page 395 (of 656). I’m quite enjoying it and determined to finish.

What’s top of your list of never-finished books?

Tagged with:
Posted in Books, Writers & Writing
131 comments on “The best book I never read…
  1. Ron says:

    You didn’t finish, and I assume like, The Shipping News? Sacrilege!!

    I actually didn’t read it until I had seen the movie (which I have now watched at least ten times) and that probably helped me enjoy the book as I liked the actors in the film and pictured them as I read the book.

    Vernon God Little by DB Pierre tops my list of never-finished books. Many books that I didn’t finish, I went back to later, sometimes years later, and found that I enjoyed them. I cannot see that as a possibility with VGL.

    Interestingly, I read a lot of the classics such as Crime and Punishment in my teens and twenties and enjoyed the majority of them. I’m not sure I have the patience or the ability to concentrate to the same extent these days. And life’s too short now and there are still too many interesting books to read.

  2. zoot says:

    I loved The Shipping News, once I got used to Proulx’s cadences (if that’s what it was). But then again, in my younger days I was a lot like Quoyle (who looks nothing like Kevin Spacey) and my first wife could have been the inspiration for Petal. Quite enjoyed the film, but I believe the book was a much richer experience (“So what’s new?”, I hear you cry.)
    As for unfinished books, on my bookshelf there’s a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow which I have started umpteen times over the last twenty something years. I doubt that I’ll ever get through it, but I can’t imagine chucking it away.

  3. Pavlov's Cat says:

    I’ve read (all of) The Shipping News and Crime and Punishment, and I even finished American Psycho, but I didn’t get past about page 20 of The English Patient. Shocking, but there it is.

  4. Lord of the Rings.

    I thought I should read it at Uni, got to the Ents (I think), and realised how bored I was.

  5. Anna Winter says:

    I hear you, David. I got half way through.

  6. Oz says:

    I attempted to read The Corrections. I couldn’t handle it anymore after reading one chapter. I couldn’t handle the purple prose anymore.

    The other books I haven’t finished reading but I plan to finish eventually are Les Miserables and To Kill A Mockingbird.

  7. professor rat says:

    The latter part of ‘Crime and punishment’ tends to rehash and repeat stuff – it gets a bit soapy so peeps are not silly. Dozzie got paid by the weight like all those old guys did. The first half of ‘Crime’ is brilliant and I don’t know why they say he is a religious writer. Surely the great message from D is that the idea of ‘God’ is not worth the life of just one little girl?

    Ever since William of Occam the idea of ‘God’ has been excess to requirements and great writers remind us brilliantly and entertainingly of that obscene redundancy bargearseing its brutal way around the world. If ‘God’ existed it would obviously be necessary to destroy it – for the sake of the children.

    Shipping news? Haven’t dipped my toe in yet but ‘ passage to Jauneu’ by J.Raban was pretty good. Maggie Atwoods the top Canuck scribbler isn’t she?

    ‘The Handmaids tale’?
    Nova Scotia gets a mention is Simon Scharmas hirstory of slavery. That is an interesting part of the middle passage back to Africa for some freed slaves.

    Check that out – who needs fiction these days? If I want fiction There is plenty in the Australians editorial page.

  8. Jamie says:

    The Tale of Genji

    The Silmarillion

  9. Kieran says:


    I’ve started it many a time. For some reason or another I always end up putting it down, and not picking it up again.

  10. woulfe says:

    For me, a Booker Prize is a pretty reliable sign of unfinishable-ness. Vernon God Little’s amazing first chapter only just sustained me to the end, and I was forced to do a Dorothy Parker with The Line of Beauty.

    Since then I’ve resolved to let them sit for a decade or so before attempting to read them.

    The book I most regret finishing is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I should have put it down when Carlo died, because after that it got very silly.

  11. Brett says:

    I’m pretty stubborn, I’ll usually finish a book even if I’m not enjoying it. Ringworld was at the top of my list, but I finally finished reading that a couple of years ago, only took me about 17 years! So now The Conquest of Mexico by Hugh Thomas is at the top of the list. I got about 200 pages in, I was actually quite enjoying it, but it was heavy going and I just put it down one day. That was about 14 years ago … I’ll finish it one day!

    The Silmarillion: that took me a few tries to get through, too.

  12. Kafka’s The Trial. Got to about page 50 and just couldn’t take any more.

    At least I got something out of that, unlike Crime and Punishment. I must admit that that book was completely lost on me.

    One that I’m peeved I didn’t finish was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; that was inadvertent because I was, well, on the road at the time and lost it in the YHA in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

  13. glen says:

    London Orbital

  14. jape says:

    Robert Hughes taught me a lesson I needed. I bought The Fatal Shore following its launch at an Age lunch, started reading it, hated it and don’t think I got past past Chapter 3.

    A bunch of years later, and I can’t remember why, I picked it up again and remained glued to the end. Wouldn’t put it down.

    What changed? Not the book. There are times, I think, when you’re just not in tune. Put the thing aside. Come back later.

  15. lauredhel says:

    I’ve recently started a desultory campaign to fill the holes in my SF Classics reading. I wouldn’t rate it a “best book”, but the most recent book I’ve put down and don’t plan to pick up again is Stranger In A Strange Land. Blecccch.

    On my side table, unfinished, but well and truly on the cards to finish: David Crystal’s “Stories of English” and Mandy Aftel’s “Essence & Alchemy: A Book Of Perfume”. I tend not to read non-fiction all at once; I savour each chapter as its own reward, and come back for visits bit by bit.

  16. tim g says:

    Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

    I realise that The Name of the Rose is meant to the great un-read Eco novel, but I actually did finish that out of sheer bloody-mindedness; I worked out who the murderer was around Chapter 3, but ploughed on thinking that no – it can’t be that obvious…

  17. Brett says:

    Completely agree on Stranger in a Strange Land. I was a huge RAH fan at the time but thought it was utter bilge. I think I did finish it though.

    tim g: if you read The Name of the Rose just as a whodunnit, I’m afraid you’ve very much missed the point of the book (don’t ask me what the point actually is, but I know it isn’t that!) Foucault’s Pendulum was a brilliant piss-take of the conspiratorial view of history. It’s also a good book to wave in the faces of Da Vinci Code lovers …

  18. j_p_z says:

    “There are times, I think, when you’re just not in tune. Put the thing aside. Come back later.”

    There’s wisdom in that, I think. Some books you’re just not ready for at a certain time in your life, but later on, you appreciate them. I threw “Molloy” against the wall in frustration about ten times before I finally “got” it, and then I was glad that I hadn’t given up for good.

    Some critic once said (and he wasn’t being insulting) that Dostoyevski is the perfect author for when you’re 19; after that age, he still stays good, but he’ll never be the same way again. I think that’s kind of true, and I don’t blame anybody for losing patience with Tolkien if they’re past the age of 15 or so. You got to get it young. But I re-read some of the Tolkien when the movies came out, and what I liked the most that time around was how wholesome and sane his prose is. It’s really great English prose, and ironically, the parts I liked best as a grown-up were all the “boring” parts, like Tom Bombadil and the Ents and so forth. Someone told me that all the hard-core nerds were outraged that Tom Bombadil got cut out of the movie, and I sympathize. It’s the weird gratuitousness of stuff like that, that sets Tolkien apart from all the other wizard-y kind of crap.

    Never could finish anything by Italo Calvino; and I never got through all of “The Makioka Sisters.” I like Tanizaki best when he’s short and weird and mean. “A Portrait of Shunkin” and stuff of that ilk is I think as good as it gets with him.

    Greatest book I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t even started yet: Middlemarch.

  19. j_p_z says:

    Oh yeah, one more. Though I’m a big fan of Bernard Shaw, I’ve never been able to get through “Man and Superman.” Has anybody here ever finished it, or sat through it?

    Robert Merkel — don’t know what your reasons were for ditching Kafka, but a common misperception with him is that people don’t realize how frigging funny he is. I think a lot of people approach Kafka as a sort of grim assignment in studying grimness and futility; but he’s actually hilarious, in a beautifully surreal sort of way. Sometimes it’s better with him, to start with the very short stories and aphorisms. And the first few chapters of “The Castle” are priceless.

  20. Megami says:

    Unfortunately, I had to finish Vernon God Little as I was on a judging panel where it was a shortlisted book. It didn’t win, thankfully.

    Loved The Shipping News, though I am yet to see the movie.

    I never finished The Hobbit. Actually, I don’t think I got past page 10. I used to be stubborn and finish books, but one day realised life is too short, and if something doesn’t grab me by page 50 it goes back on the shelf.

  21. suz says:

    I was forced to do a Dorothy Parker with The Line of Beauty.

    Wonderful quote from Parker (as always) but I couldn’t disagree more about The Line of Beauty – I thought it was brilliant (and beautiful).

    We now appear to have two more categories under consideration:

    The book I most regret finishing


    Greatest book I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t even started yet

    And why not toss in a third: book everyone else has read but I never even bothered with

    Starting with number 3, that would be Lord of the Rings for me.
    Greatest book I haven’t started? Too many to mention, but Middlemarch is on my list to read later this year.
    Book I wish I hadn’t finished: I can recall feeling ripped off by the endings of various detective novels, especially Agatha Christies, but can’t think of any book which falls emphatically into this category.

    I have remembered, however, another good ‘never finished’ book – The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. I was really enjoying it but somehow my attention dwindled to nothing about a quarter of the way through.

  22. Adam Gall says:

    Definitely the Satanic Verses. I didn’t have trouble with anything else by Rushdie, but that one ground to a halt at about 1/3rd of the way through and I just couldn’t get into it again.

  23. It’s not something I’m proud of, but the last story I didn’t finish was Heart of Darkness. Banal as it sounds, it was the lack of effective paragraphing that stopped me dead. About half way through, most of the paragraphs blow up to about 40 lines a piece.

  24. patrickg says:

    Never finished but actually want to read: Moby Dick

    Book I most regret finishing: Don Quixote. What a hunk of shit.

    Greatest book I’m embarrassed to admit not even starting: Pride and Prejudice

    Book everyone else has read but I can’t be bothered with:The last two Harry Potters.

  25. patrickg says:

    PS Down at Out,
    If you had trouble with Heart of Darkness, stay away from The Secret Agent at all costs!

  26. It’s not that The Trial is a bad book. It is excellent, and I definitely got something out of it. It’s just that after a while you start seeking brick walls to thump your head against when reading it.

    That said, it’s one I should definitely have another go at.

  27. Mr Denmore says:

    I’ve found the put-down-ability of novels runs in inverse proportion to the level of hype about them.

    The Shipping News was a duff, meandering and misshapen novel and a worse film, yet millions bought it (the book at least).

    Booker Prize nominations are almost a guarantee that you won’t finish reading the book. Did anyone here actually finish the turgid God of Small Things?

    The only hyped authors I’ve enjoyed in recent years have been Ian McEwan (Atonement, Saturday) and Jonathon Franzen (The Corrections).

  28. Guise says:

    My started-but-never-finished list is made up almost entirely of shit-hot, next-big-thing, much-hyped Australian novels. And I’m not talking yer Bryce Courtneys here (have never even picked up one of his books).

  29. suz says:

    Oh, The Corrections! Another one for the never-finished-even-though-it-was-enjoyable pile. (A pile I hadn’t realised was so high.)

  30. suz says:

    the last story I didn’t finish was Heart of Darkness. Banal as it sounds, it was the lack of effective paragraphing that stopped me dead. About half way through, most of the paragraphs blow up to about 40 lines a piece.

    I did that book at school, so paragraph length wasn’t an issue (I had to read it, so I did). Funnily enough, I was talking to someone about it recently, saying that I could hardly remember anything about it – so it didn’t leave a great impression.

  31. Andrew says:

    Every few years I seem to pick up Dune, only to run out of enthusiasm shortly after the protagonist actually arrives on the planet. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it; it’s just that I’ve already started and stopped a few times before, and so I get bored of reading the bits I’ve already read (I always start from the beginning because it’s so long between attempts that I couldn’t make sense of it otherwise).

    Oh, and I’ve started and never finished reading the Silmarillion a few times too, but unlike Dune I no longer delude myself that I will someday have the stamina to finish it. It’s just too impersonal to be able to hold my interest, I think.

  32. Enemy Combatant says:

    Very much admired what Arundhati Roy said about America’s attitude to the rest of the world in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and AR’s courage in taking on India’s establishment and the World Bank and Co. over the dispossession and oppression perpetuated against India’s poor and frail. But much as I support La Cause, I just couldn’t get her math in The Algebra Of Infinite Justice to solve my notion of the style equation.

  33. philip travers says:

    This web address when it comes to film and fiction writing isnt for me.I gave up on fiction,because I find when I read it,often as was, that it was just tricks of word associations,and my sense of reality just wants to throw the book away if a b double truck can go through those failings.However,other forms may have problems too.I have skipped through many books..The Constants of Nature by John D. Barrow is one I have found hard work,Vintage Books.Now this author knows his name and response to the book,although some of these constants have undergone reviews.Vintage it is,because it sits around like a wine or whine,and when I read a bit of it,I cork it again rapidly.One day I will make a whole meal of it,that I will digest and note .

  34. Laurie says:

    Never finished but actually want to read:
    ‘Midnight’s Children’ – Rushdie. For some reason, I read about a third, loved it, and then put it down and havn’t picked it up again. Weird.

    Started but gave up in disgust:
    ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a young man’ – Joyce. Frickin’ painful. Got about half way through on recommendation from a friend, but ended up thowing it down in frustration.

    Book that started painful and became brilliant:
    ‘The English Patient’ – Ondaatje. Had to read it for school and HATED it the first time through, couldn’t figure out the constantly shifting time/space/narrator… but then re-reading it over and over, something happened – the sheer poetry of the language – it was so lyrical – made me fall in love with it, and it would now be in my all-time top ten.

  35. Shaun says:

    Life of Pi is one that I remember thus continuing the theme that a Booker Prize is an indication of how far one will get with a book.

    I did read the first paragraph of Vernon God Little once (an extract in a magazine) and thought the writing was spectacularly awful and overrated and hence killed any desire to read the book. According to the Wikipedia entry, 35% of people who start reading this book do not finish it. But we know what they say about statistics.

  36. suz says:

    Laurie, I had to read ‘Portrait of the Artist’ for a course, which is the only reason I finished it. The first four chapters are good (great, even), but the final chapter is very tedious.

  37. Andrew E says:

    Anna Karenina
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
    Over the river and up my arse (a particularly dire Hemingway)
    Robbery under arms

  38. Aidan says:

    Never finished but actually want to read: Was The Island of the Day Before

    Book I most regret finishing: The Island of the Day Before
    Greatest book I’m embarrassed to admit not even starting: Name `em (Dickens, Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy … pretty much all the classics)

    Book everyone else has read but I can’t be bothered with: All the Harry Potters.

    In contrast to tim_g, I loved Foucault’s Pendulum, and have read it twice.

    I also liked The Name of the Rose, but not as much as Foucault’s Pendulum.
    The Island of the Day Before was good in parts, but the little digressions which were interesting in The Name of the Rose were just tedious in The Island of the Day Before. I do not need to read 6 pages about the significance of the symbolism of the dove in historical literature. Don’t care.

    I read The Lord of the Rings when I was a youngster. My take on getting through it was to skip all the silly elvish songs and just read for the story. You can always re-read the book and pay more attention to the other stuff the next time round.

  39. Ken Lovell says:

    Les Miserables. I started strong but began to struggle around the half-way mark. God it goes on and on. And I made the mistake of buying the paperback verson which is thicker than it is wide, so after half an hour it’s a physical struggle even to hold the damn thing comfortably.

    I know how it all comes out anyway … saw the musical.

  40. Ron says:

    PatrickG wrote, “Never finished but actually want to read: Moby Dick”

    I have a friend and it is her favourite book; I think she did her thesis on it.

    I bought Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund some time ago and think I should read Moby Dick first but I have tried and tried … so it appears l may never get to read Naslund’s book.

  41. Mick Strummer says:

    Thomas Pynchon’s V was the great unreadable book for me. I never really got Lord of the Rings either.

  42. Ron says:

    I guess for supreme effort of trying I should mention the 1990 Miles Franklin winner Oceania Fine by Tom Flood. I have started it 17 times and never got past page 57. The only two people I’ve met who admitted to reading the book all the way through were his mother, Dorothy Hewett, and Tom’s then partner. A friend did string me along for years saying it was one of the best books she’d ever read until finally admitting a year or two ago that she couldn’t finish it either.

    The reason I did try so many times was that I knew Tom at the time and he had written some nice things on the fly-leaf.

  43. patrickg says:

    Rob, yeah I’ve heard that from a a few people, but whenever I’ve given it a red hot aussie go, life has always stepped in and I slowly drift away.

    I’ve actually read Ahab’s Wife. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read the original, but I really didn’t think it was much chop, purple prose and I thought a fairly self-indulgent story. From what I’ve read of Moby Dick (around two hundred pages, give or take), they had nothing in common (aside from the obvious).

  44. patrickg says:

    Oops! I meant Ron. Sorry!

  45. Guy says:

    James Joyce’s Ulysses. Perhaps I will return to it one day with a bit more patience.

  46. Greg says:

    Yeah, Ulysses and, yeah, Middlemarch, but also there was that Richard Patterson somebody foisted on me once when I said I liked mysteries. I didn’t get past page 5 on that (and the numbering started at 3).

  47. Ron says:

    Oh patrickg, I was about to forgive you for getting my name wrong until I clicked on your blog link and saw all that meat!! 😉

    Back to my vegan lunch of rice paper rolls. Yum …

  48. FDB says:

    The book I most regret finishing:
    Lord of the Rings – I fucking love it all except the very end (post-Mordor), where it’s redolent of wookies beating up stormtroopers in Return of the Jedi.

    Greatest book I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t even started yet:
    Where do I start? See here.

    Book everyone else has read but I never even bothered with:
    Da Vinci Code.

    Foucault’s Pendulum is utterly fantastic, and anyone who says otherwise should be cyberbullied to within an inch of their lives.

    Just sayin’

  49. Guise says:

    The Name of the Rose should be on everyone’s must read list (but only if some soul has the compassion to bring out a fully annotated version). Foucault’s Pendulum is optional, but The Island of the Day Before should be avoided, along with any subsequent Eco novel.
    And don’t bother buying John Dos Passos’ USA, no matter how cheap. You’ll never finish it.

  50. Ron says:

    Middlemarch brings back horrible memories of my 1965 NSW Leaving Certificate novel – Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

    I did get an A in English but thanks must go to York Notes or whatever the equivalent was in those days.

  51. FDB says:

    Ron – did you see the (2005?) film of Vanity Fair?

    I got freebies on a preview night, and by about 30 mins in half the audience were laughing themselves stupid.

    At not with.

  52. Andrew E says:

    I finished Dos Passos’ USA, so there. It was my greatest testament to gritty determination since ploughing through Watership Down at age 11. Mind you, I was going through a JDP phase at the time (I read USA, not at 11) and have read Manhattan Transfer three times, as well as Three Soldiers before tackling the Trilogy. That said, I haven’t picked up another Dos Passos since.

  53. John Greenfield says:

    I finished “The Line of Beauty.” The scene where Nick Guest, coked-to-the-eyeballs, takes The Lady (Maggie Thatcher) for a turn about the dance floor was worth it.

    Still, I have never read a book before where every single character was beyond redemption.

  54. patrickg says:

    Sorry Ron! It was free range, if that’s any consolation…

  55. Enemy Combatant says:

    Ron, share your pain over Oceana Fine. It was the literary equivalent of being buried up to your armpits inside a slowly emptying wheat silo.

  56. suz says:

    Nearly all the books on the survey list have been mentioned here. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was the number one choice for book groups a few years ago, as I recall, so I would have expected it to turn up on such a list. I haven’t read any of these books, except the 10th (450 pages so far).

    To refresh your memories, the British list of never-finished books is:
    1.Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
    2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
    3. Ulysses, James Joyce
    4. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis De Bernieres
    5. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
    6. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
    7. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
    8. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
    9. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
    10. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

  57. suz says:

    I do own a copy of God of Small Things and have taken it away on holidays with me but each time I’ve read the fly leaf and the first page, I decided to read something different.

  58. Laurie says:

    Oh I loooooooved ‘The God of Small Things’ – although I could have done without the creepy euphamistic incest…

    I read ‘War and Peace’ a few years back when Mr Laurie and I were doing long-distance for the first time, and I was worried we’d have nothing to talk about – so we both bought it and suffered through for weeks.

    I maintain I finished it, although I did refuse to read the SECOND EPILOGUE. If you need even ONE epilogue after a book that sodding long, then you need a more forceful editor .

  59. Shaun says:

    You mean ewoks FDB. They are the small furry ones. The Wookies are the large furry ones (though Chewbacca did play a role in the Battle of Endor).

  60. Jonathan says:

    ‘My Life’ by Bill Clinton. I made it two thirds of the way through…that was about two years ago. Every couple of months I think about finishing it, but never actually do anything about it.

  61. Ron says:

    I know one book on my shelves I’ll never read: John Howard: Prime Minister by David Barnett. I bought it from a remainder bin to stir some very left-leaning friends and it worked.

    Interestingly, I am the only LibraryThinger who admits to having a copy of the book.

  62. Lang Mack says:

    Ron, wash your mouth out!
    David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, I like his work and have enjoyed all his other, however Infinite Jest at 1079 pages, but I’ll do it, thing is, although I feel its a marathon , I keep thinking of the bloody thing, this is over some years, spare me.

  63. Adam Gall says:

    The Booker rule isn’t definitive, but there is some truth there. Prize Winners I’ve read to the end:

    Kiran Desai – The Inheritance of Loss
    John Banville – The Sea
    JM Coetzee – The Life & Times of Michael K
    Thomas Keneally – Schindler’s Ark
    Salman Rushdie – Midnight’s Children

    Those I’ve started and never finished (two are on the list, and all have been mentioned here):

    DBC Pierre – Vernon God Little
    Michael Ondaatje – The English Patient
    Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things

    So that’s a 5:2 ratio of finished to not finished for Bookers, which gives me some consolation. All the rest I haven’t read, or don’t care to.

  64. Adam Gall says:

    Sorry, 5:3…

  65. Tony says:

    The Brothers Karamazov.

    Relieved to hear I’m not alone on The Corrections – I gave it a big go (more than half way), but couldn’t take it anymore, as it descended further and further… and Stranger in a Strange Land, too – like Brett, I was a big Heinlein fan (unsurprisingly, facist utopia Starship Troopers remains a favorite), and I finished it, but it was such crap.

    Hopeless populist that I am, I enjoyed both The Shipping News and The Name of The Rose (even though it was a posey wank, mainly). And, slim as it is, I struggled with Heart of Darkness (but kept trying under the urging of my sister), until I heard it read aloud on Radio National. Made all the difference, somehow.

    My wife should be writing this – she’s read just about everything listed here as unreadable – Roy, Staggering Genius, C&P, Joyce (including Finnegans Wake, furfucksake), Correli, W&P, Rings. She’s an unstoppable machine, I tell you. And, to top it all, Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, twice.

  66. Tony says:

    Hey, Adam, what did you make of Iron Council?

  67. j_p_z says:

    “Kiran Desai – The Inheritance of Loss
    John Banville – The Sea
    JM Coetzee – The Life & Times of Michael K
    Thomas Keneally – Schindler’s Ark
    Salman Rushdie – Midnight’s Children”

    Contained in this list are two good examples of the two absolutely most annoying tropes for generating titles of books:
    1. “The X of Y,” esp. when x equals unlikely abstract noun, and y equals word or phrase not generally associated with x (The God of Small Things, The History of Luminous Motion, somebody please shoot me.)
    2. “X’s Y,” esp. when x equals famous person, and y equals strange object (Flaubert’s Parrot, Faulkner’s Bicycle, somebody please throw me from a blimp.)

    I propose that from now on, the titles of all new novels be generated by Peter Handke, who at least knows what he’s doing. Insulting the Audience, Repetition, The Goalie’s Anxiety At the Penalty Kick, Short Letter/Long Farewell, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams… now *those* are some kick-ass titles.

  68. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Oy, JPZ, you forgot about one-word titles that are abstract nouns: Restoration, Possession, Theft, Atonement, Disgrace, Regeneration, etc etc.

    I regard this as a 20th/21st century development from the 19thC’s habit of three-word titles involving two abstract nouns in an ‘X and Y’ formation, often (but not always) alliterative: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Watch and Ward, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and so on and so forth.

    (Persuasion was obviously way ahead of its time.)

  69. Laura says:

    (Or a throwback to an earlier cycle of the one-word abstract noun title: Patronage, Self-Control, um, etc.)

  70. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Good point, and Emma likewise a throwback to an earlier wave of eponymity: Evelina, Tom Jones, Clarissa, Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe

  71. Angharad says:

    See I liked the Shipping News and the Corrections (especially the bit about the country that sold itself to a corporation although I acknowledge that isn’t the take-out of anyone else I know who has read it).

    But I couldn’t get very far into Bob Brown’s autobiography or whatever it was, however worthy.

  72. Pavlov's Cat says:

    If you can have a throwback to a wave. Which I doubt.

    Tony, your wife is a heroine. I’ve read The Bone People (once) (just), but Finnegans Wake was a crushing defeat.

  73. Nabakov says:

    Moby Motherfucking Dick – I used to pack it as inflight reading but even during those long bum numbing flights across the Pacific to LAX, I could never get past the first 50 pages. Herman was dire need of a good editor who could tactfully explain they didn’t pay by the word.

    The Charterhouse of Parma – yes, The Red and Black is brillant and I can tell this is too, but somehow the gears never quite engaged. It’s sitting there on the shelf taunting me right now. Perhaps I shouldn’t have bought the Anthony Powell translation (No there isn’t one. It’s a set up).

    Which brings me to “A Dance To The Music Of Time”. More like “The Embalmer’s Waltz” if you ask me. Widmerpool is a decent portrait of a certain archtype true, but once I realised there weren’t going to be any waspish Waugh or gamey Raven payoffs, I sat that one out.

    A Glastonbury Romance – Hands up who made it through that dense and soggy piece of nature cake. No? I thought not.

    Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle – what a load of…just kidding. Read it or face me at dawn with pistols for two, brandy-spiked coffee for one or pale arboreal souls for three. Makes Eugene Onegin look like it was written by Alexander Pushkin.

    Following up some earlier comments here, yes Don Quixote can be heavy going but I’ve found it’s a book like Tristam Shandy that needs you to get into a certain addled cultural and social mindset to get what was intended out of it. A decent maderia and/or some sensimilla helps.

    And yeah, Infinite Jest. The title was 50% accurate at least. Bore the same relation to Gravity’s Rainbow that the Seeds did to the Stones.

    Another historical classical arty-farty book you can’t read all the way through is “120 Days Of Sodom”. Not because of the action which pales in comparison to what you can find online now but because like all monomanics, ole Donatien Alphonse was only interested in using words to make a point and not in playing with words to tell a story. Also perversion number the 28th in the fourth chapter just doesn’t work in this day and age of strigent fire safety regulations and pastuerised goat’s cheese.

    And oh yes, never read ‘In Search of Lost Time” or “Ulysses” all the way through in chronological or narrative order. Both great books that I’ve found best enjoyed by dipping in and out over decades.

    Unlike Musil’s “Man Without Qualities” which can be read like a normal novel, and like “The Trial” is best read as an eeriely prescient black comedy. Pretty damn certain Guilliam wallowed in both before his own masterwork “Brazil”.

    Still enjoy a good Harold Robbins brabuster while holidaying by the beach though. Especially now they’ve acquired a certian period charm.

  74. j_p_z says:

    Dr. Cat — yeah, good point. But at least Jane Austen’s titles held out the intriguing promise of the words standing in relation to each other in interesting ways: “Pride and Prejudice” — hmm, yeah, those two are related; how is she going to anatomize it? Same thing with “Sense and Sensibility.” Cool.

    Somewhere there’s a hilarious list of the early winners of the Nobel for Literature: a lot of obscure, ponderous Scandinavians in the early years of the prize. One of them wrote an endless tome called “The Young and the Old.” Yeah, that about covers it.

    Caryl Churchill came up with some damn good titles in her time: Vinegar Tom, Cloud Nine, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. Shakespeare’s titles are mostly descriptive and obvious, but one or two are just the coolest: “Measure for Measure” (I am soooo there!) and “As You Like It.” Oooh, Will, you naughty thing. Give it to me as I like it, puh-leeeze!

    Best title for anything, anywhere: Ice Station Zebra.

  75. Laura says:

    If you skip or skim huge chunks of something but do read the last few pages, does that count as not finishing? If so then I have recently not finished Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Cloud Atlas, The Crimson Petal & the White, Charlotte Gray, and The Secret History, all of which sucked. I also read about three pages of Infinite Jest before mercifully coming to my senses.

    The book I found hardest to finish (but did) is called Pierre, or the Ambiguities by Herman Melville. It took at least three attempts, each one incomplete, but overlapping, and I had to resort to extreme and bizarre measures like taking the train to a suburban library with nothing in it that I wanted to read and sitting there for hours just trying to get through this bloody book. Even then I kept falling asleep.

  76. j_p_z says:

    Nabakov — the legendary underground comedy magazine “Army Man” used to have a feature called “Classics of World Literature, Rated on a Scale of 1 to 2.” Example:

    The Red and the Black : 1.
    The Charterhouse of Parma: 2.

    Moby-Dick: 1.
    Pierre, or the Ambiguities: 2.

    And all this talk about the endless Infinite Jest just made me realize for the first time that the title is a Hamlet joke. By the size of the book, I thought it was just truth in advertising.

  77. tigtog says:

    I have failed to read either Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, despite really wanting to get past Buck Whosits, stately and plump.

    I did a Dorothy Parker on the last couple about Hannibal Lecter, and only finished the Da Vinci code from a sense of disbelief about just how afar he could continue to spread the crap.

    I haven’t managed to get past the first chapter of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or Cold Mountain.

  78. Kim says:

    And, slim as it is, I struggled with Heart of Darkness (but kept trying under the urging of my sister), until I heard it read aloud on Radio National. Made all the difference, somehow.

    Perhaps because almost all of it is framed as a tale told aloud by Marlowe as narrator on a boat on the Thames?

  79. Leinad says:

    Catch-22. Should like it. Do like bits. But I’ve picked it up three times, and each time gotten about 80 pages further than before but just haven’t been able to stick in the whole way.

    Anyone who fails to finish Cloud Atlas should be flogged to death by a pack deranged, malcontent, drink-sotted Dutch ne’er-do-wells and post-Apocalyptic Hawaiians.

    Just sayin’.

  80. Stephen Hill says:

    Book I slogged through and wished I hadn’t finished – Mysteries of the Udolpho – Anne Radcliffe. I’m a stubborn prat, or just very forgiving and willing to drift around in confusing oceans until a story gets its bearings (all the signs of a prog-rock tragic who in his teenages loves the ten-minutes guitar solos)

    I also agree with the comment about the second epilogue of War of Peace, it took me more time to read Tolstoy’s summation at the end than it did the rest of the book, an excrutiating 200 pages.

    The David Lodge “Changing Places” Most Embarrassing Book I Should of Read – Probably one of Dickens major novels.

    Lang, “Infinite Jest” is a fantastic work, it is a long slog (with footnotes), and the writing is tiny. I have heard reviewers complain that it lacks editing (from what I hear it was reduced from about 1900 pages to 1400), but I believe it is the rambling quality of the work that really draws out the surreality of the modern world. I liked it so much I’ve been trying to find an opening in which to include parts of it in my thesis. It is worth the investment in time.

    BTW, Lang after reading a previous thread, I hope you land on your feet. I remember when a company I worked for went belly-up, the only consolation was the increased reading time, but it was a tough few years. Hope things look up for you.

  81. Nabakov says:

    the legendary underground comedy magazine “Army Manâ€?

    who formed the core writing team of The Simpsons for the first six or seven seasons.

    Cloud Atlas is great Leinad but…David Mitchell is a protean wordsmith, capable of perfectly capturing a whole skyscape of different voices but once you read more of his stuff, you realise he has a plot formula and not one that lives up to the tone and style of his writing. Still, he is a good read.

    Another unfinishable book – Ellroy’s “The Cold Six Thousand.” No adjectives. Verbing. Nouns. Conjunctions rare as virgins in Vegas.

  82. suz says:

    If you skip or skim huge chunks of something but do read the last few pages, does that count as not finishing?

    I think so.

    There seem to be two reasons for not-finishing books:
    a. Can’t stand it
    b. Not in the mood though prepared to concede it has some good points

    Personally, most of mine fall into the second group. I’m pretty good at deciding in advance whether I’ll hate a book and thence not even attempting it.

  83. Leinad says:

    You’ve got a point there, Nabsy. I finished CA thinking: “farrk, D-Mo, why didn’t you just write a whole sci-fi novel/thriller/ghastly ordeal/19th c. travelogue/interwar sex romp instead of just giving us tantalising bits of each?” thankfully he’s taken some of that to heart with Black Swan Green, which is Banks’ Crow Road would be like if he could write rich believable characters.

  84. wbb says:

    Infinite Jest is the only book I loved but couldn’t finish. Which should be impossible.

  85. Nabakov says:

    which is Banks’ Crow Road would be like if he could write rich believable characters.

    Aye, wheel watcha gonna do? Iain Banks’ novels would make great short stories. Whereas Iain M. Banks doesn’t have give a shit about character ‘cos that’s not what and why we’re enjoying his work.

  86. AJ says:

    I got about a third of the way though Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and realised I had no idea what was going on, and didn’t really care. I managed to get to the third chapter of Midnight’s Children, but it about half way though chapter 1 during the verbose, several page description, of the protagonist’s nose, that I started thinking that maybe the fatwa on Rusdie wasn’t entirely undeserved.

  87. Nabakov says:

    about half way though chapter 1 during the verbose, several page description, of the protagonist’s nose, that I started thinking that maybe the fatwa on Rusdie wasn’t entirely undeserved.

    Oh c’mon, that sequence was funny. An Anglo-Indian copywriter trying on Flann O’Brien for size.

    On the other hand though, “The Moor’s Last Sigh” should have been definitely reviewed by fatwa.

    Incidentally, speaking as one of the few people who read the “The Satanic Verses” all the way through, I reckon the real reason for the fatwa was the utterly scathing and hilarious portrait in that book of the Ayatollah Khomeini in exile (“looking like a large piece of angry Victorian furniture”), stifling stiffies under his robes as he ogled Parsienne dames from the window of his hotel suite.

    The one thing extremist leaders can never forgive and forget is sharp and accurate personal ridicule and mockery.

  88. Leinad says:

    Which reminds me: The Steep Approach to Garbadale is probably gonna be on next year’s unfinished-book list. Crow Road meets the Business, with all the fun bits of each taken out and all the lame bits of Dead Air added. Sheesh Banks-y, this next ‘M’ novel better be good…

  89. Nabakov says:

    The Steep Approach to Garbadale

    Now that’s a title of doom. Sounds like a RAC handbill you’d pick up in an Aberdeen petrol station.

    While I have certain reservations about Hemingway, especially when it is raining like it will never stop, you gotta admit the dude just had the knack for coming up with great titles.

    The Sun Also Rises
    A Farewell to Arms
    To Have and Have Not
    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    Across the River and Into the Trees
    The Old Man and the Sea
    Islands in the Stream

    Redolent is the word that I am searching for here. And I have found it. A word that is strong and rounded yet still promising something more.

  90. patrickg says:

    Mysteries of the Udolpho – Anne Radcliffe.

    Oh yeah, I hear you there. Jesus Christ, if that chick fainted one more time, I was gonna blow chunks I swear it.

    God, and I’m a fan of that genre, and it still sucked sooooooo badly. The way I think about it with those books that were wildly popular a long time ago: sometimes, it’s because they’re truly amazing books, sometimes it’s because it was the Wilbur Smith of its day.

    Try The Monk instead, it’s a million times better.

  91. Helen says:

    I must be weird, I loved Heart of Darkness, Vanity Fair, Secret History, the God of Small Things and a lot of others mentioned here.

    Suz, if you persist with the Shipping News, there is an event to do with their house which absolutely haunted me, it’s so dramatic and strange.

  92. Helen says:

    Worst book ever: Bram Stoker, Dracula.

    I’d rather be in a room with a real vampire than read that shite again.

  93. Guise says:

    Gabardale is on the bookshelf, waiting for me to get around to it. I was hoping it would make up for Dead Air but now Leinad has me worried.

    The best take on The Crow Road that I’ve heard was that it is about a third too long. Loved the book – and most of Banks’ other stuff – but I had to agree with that sentiment. Song of Stone was a struggle, though, and almost ended up in the unfinished pile.

    Any other Banks fans out there inclining towards the opinion that he’s turned into a complete/bigger wanker?

  94. Guise says:

    And while I’m at it – any takers for Perdido Street Station?

  95. Aidan says:

    Count me in as a fan of “The God of Small Things”. It got me back into reading after a small children enforced hiatus (many many other things to do). I loved the twisted and broken characters, the gorgeously evocative descriptions and a real sense of place (though totally foreign to me).

    I am combing through the bookshelves reading all those Christmas and birthday gifts from many moons ago. I have just started #2 in Janet Frame’s 3-part autobiography. The first two-thirds of “To the Is-land” really grabbed me. I’m hoping the rest will be as good.

  96. Ron says:


    You might also like Wrestling with the Angel – A Life of Janet Frame by Michael King.

  97. Theodric says:

    I got through Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, V (twice), Vineland and The Crying of Lot 49 but gave up on Mason and Dixon about half way through with the promise that I would come back to it eventually. Trouble is, I’ve left it so long that I would now have to start at the beginning.

  98. suz says:

    Now that’s a title of doom. Sounds like a RAC handbill you’d pick up in an Aberdeen petrol station.

    Is that Aberdeen Scotland or is there an equally grim Aberdeen in Victoria?

    you gotta admit the dude just had the knack for coming up with great titles.

    The Sun Also Rises
    A Farewell to Arms
    To Have and Have Not
    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    Across the River and Into the Trees
    The Old Man and the Sea
    Islands in the Stream

    Brilliant titles, not a one of which I have ever even opened.

  99. suz says:

    Just thought of another never-finished though I attempted it about three times – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

  100. patrickg says:

    I loved Perdido St! Admittedly, Mieville’s vision is a cut above his potboiling, cinematic storylines, but that vision hung me right in till the end.

    If you can get through William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, much respect. Now there’s a dude with vision, and not much else…

  101. Tony says:

    Dr Cat, my wife is a heroine, but for a lot more reasons than her reading habits!!!

    Kim – I thought that myself about needing to hear H of D (and it was my sisters verdict), but I don’t know of anyone who talks like Marlowe tells that story, and I don’t have any trouble reading speeches. But you’re probably right.

  102. FDB says:


    “A Glastonbury Romance – Hands up who made it through that dense and soggy piece of nature cake. No? I thought not.”

    Guilty as charged. I took some fine acid the day after finishing it and had an extended run of eery confluences at a big OZ day party, culminating in a genuine grail quest.

    Mayhap I read too much into losing my favourite insulated cup of Bombay Sapphire.

    “Aye, wheel watcha gonna do? Iain Banks’ novels would make great short stories. Whereas Iain M. Banks doesn’t have give a shit about character ‘cos that’s not what and why we’re enjoying his work.”

    Straight up. Fucking great sci-fi. I loved The Wasp Factory though.

  103. Laura says:

    Surely Hemingway just opened Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations at random?

  104. Leinad says:

    Guise: I don’t think he’s a wanker per se, but he’s definately gotten lazy over the last decade or so…

  105. Mick Strummer says:

    BTW. Am I the only person who thinks that anything by Patrick White is overblown unreadable crap? I always thought that White’s reputation as a great author was based on the fact that no-one could actually read his work. Which brings to mind a career strategy. Write a dense unreadable work, self publish it, then go around proclaiming loudly what a genius I am. What with people unablde to read whatever crap I have written, they will then have to tacitly admit that I am so clever and they are so dumb because they couldn’t read my writing. Ergo, I must be some sort of literary genius.

  106. Ron says:


    Mate, I seriously think you need to spend a few months with us at the Patrick White Readers Group! 🙂

  107. woulfe says:

    This could be the beginning of another category – authors whose books you always finish.

    Kurt Vonnegut has died.

    Of the seven of his books which I started, I finished them all.

  108. FDB says:


    I’ve read all his books and likewise had trouble putting them down, let alone aside.

    Vale Mr. Vonnegut.

  109. Rebekka says:

    I will admit to never having finished anything by Thomas Pynchon (completely unreadable if you ask me), Lord of the Rings (I gave up when the hobbits started singing), The Line of Beauty (beautiful prose, but completely boring), and Foucault’s Pendulum (call me dense, but I didn’t see the point).

    I will add to that list Great Expectations, which we had to read for English Lit and was so boring that I had to give up and watch the video instead (and got busted, because the stupid video had a different ending!) – Dickens is a prime example of why authors should NOT get paid by the word.

    But I LOVED Vernon God Little. I think it is one of the most insightful things I’ve read ever, and am thinking I may need to re-read it. And I got through all of Kafka (yes all, collected works), Catch 22, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Name of the Rose.

    Vanity Fair and Pride and Prejudice are two of the most witty, hilarious, etc books I have ever read, and anyone who hasn’t really should.

    The book I really wished I hadn’t finished was The Mill on the Floss. Stupid moralistic ending.

    And I currently have Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel sitting half read in the pile by my bed, where it has been for about a year and a half. I was enjoying it, but then I just stopped (I think because the whole thing is so big and too heavy to either read in bed comfortably or carry on the train).

  110. Ron says:

    Kurt Vonnegut fans: Slaughterhouse Five is one of the two books selected for next month’s ABC TV’s First Tuesday Book Club.

  111. Adam Gall says:

    Thanks again for the book Tony, but unfortunately it was relegated to the ‘Read it later’ shelf after a (somewhat cathartic?) moment of bottomless panic over the composition of my thesis.

    I’ve got to agree with Mick about Patrick White being a bit tough to finish. There’s a couple of his on my list of unfinished masterpieces, although I did read ‘Voss’ straight through in a handful of sittings. Definitely a place and a time for Paddy.

    Author whose work I always finish: Bernard Malamud.

  112. j_p_z says:

    Oh, man, has Vonnegut moved on?

    So it goes.

    “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”

    Little Kago and the Zeltodimarians salute you.

  113. Bridie says:

    The big imponderables for me are these things.

    Why do I and others respond in the way we do, favourably or not, to any particular book? If I don’t get it, enjoy it, be enriched or informed by a book, particularly a classic work of fiction or non-fiction, what does that say about me? Why did I loathe and detest Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, when my soul-sister who has shared so many life experiences and a similar world view, thought it beyond profound? How come she doesn’t get poetry and I can’t imagine life without it? Why do I see less in Crime and Punishment and Pride and Prejudice now than when I read these books many years ago at 19? Why is it I can think John Cowper Powys’ A Glastonbury Romance is modern, surreal, sensually sublime, to-die-for literary experience and another think it an overwrought dated swamp of cliché?

    Such questions whirl around my fevered brain.

  114. Enemy Combatant says:

    Dear Kurt Vonnegut,
    Thanks for the gifts you left us. My children have travelled far with Billy Pilgrim. Bon Voyage, Maestro.

  115. Ken Scott says:

    Gone to Planet Trafalmadore.

    Heart of Darkness is worth perserving with, it’s only short, can be read at a sitting. Problem is with the flowery language but once internalised it is a cracking yarn. I’ve read it and re-read it, as has my 19-year-old son.

    Books I regard as chronically unfinishable: The White Peacock (D.H. Lawrence), The Waves (Virginia Woolf), Flights of Love (Bernard Schlink), Being and Nothingness (J-P Sartre), Foucault’s Pendulum (U Eco), Atlas Shrugged (A Rand), The Bible, The Cold Six Thousand (J Elroy), Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (L. R. Hubbard), Battlefield Earth series, 10 vol. (L. R. Hubbard), all of Jane Austen. One day I’d like to get through anything by Spinoza or Wittgenstein, perhaps in another life. Biggles – Air Commodore (WE Johns) is easy to read but unrewarding.

  116. Angharad says:

    Why do I and others respond in the way we do, favourably or not, to any particular book?

    Indeed, Bridie. I’ve pondering that same question myself. I keep trying to get my partner to read the books that I’ve found profound and interesting but he looses interest part way through. Or he gets ‘scared’ by them because bad things are going to happen.

  117. Vonnegut.
    What a life.
    His drawings were fabulous too.

  118. Kim says:

    Hello, sg! Hope you’re having a fab trip!

  119. j_p_z says:

    A line I always loved from Vonnegut, from “Mother Night”…

    “We are what we pretend to be, so we had better be very careful about what we pretend to be.”

    A lot of world leaders and countries (including my own) would do well to think on that a while.

  120. Absolutely adoring it – its Lao new year this weekend, and part of the festivities include everyone soaking each another with buckets of water (or water pistols for the more high tech)! Been drenched through every day this week…. highly recommended for us parched brisbanians.

    Not sure if we’ll make it to Cambodia now – have settled very nicely into the loatian rhythm of life and intend sticking around a bit longer….

    Keeping on topic, there is a great bookshop\cafe here where you can donate, buy or rent books by the hour, with proceeds going into literacy projects in the area. Some good authors too (including mr vonnegut)and have wasted quite a few hours already.

  121. Kim says:

    Yay! Glad to hear, sg.

    Just finishing off a Vonnegut post, be up in a tick.

  122. Nabakov says:

    Well Ken S, many of those books I regard as chronically unstartable like: “Atlas Shrugged”, “Dianetics”, and “Battlefield Earth”.

    “Foucault’s Pendulum” I would agree starts slow and turgid but it’s worth perservering with. By about the start of second act it becomes very funny indeed about the business of vanity publishing and by the start of the third act it blossoms as a brillant pisstake of conspiracy theorists falling for conspiracy theories about conspiracies.

    “We’re the Tres and you know more about us than we do.”

    Biggles – Air Commodore (WE Johns) is easy to read but unrewarding.

    Well doh! You’re at the crappy moribund end of the series.

    You wanna start at the beginning with “The Camels Are Coming”, “Biggles of the Camel Squadron”, and “Biggles of 266”.

    In these first stories, young James Bigglesworth drinks half a bottle of whiskey a day, smokes like a chimney, swears like a trooper and carries on with sexy spies. Johns cleaned up his act rather a lot after the books found a more youthful audience than was first intended.

    The ‘tween war stories are also full of derring do in exotic locations -kinda like Raiders of The Lost Ark meets Terry and The Pirates albeit with lips as the only organs that get stiffened.

    But like “The Saint” the series went right off the boil after WW2. I blame that humourless prick Air Commodore Raymond m’self.

  123. Ken Scott says:

    You are right, Nabster, the series does indeed deteriorate, albeit Air Commodore was a pre-WWII work (1937 OUP). The Cruise of the Condor is my personal favourite, it is a mature work by that stage. The Black Peril is also very interesting for Biggles’s frisson romance with ‘Ginger’ Habblethwaite whom he meets for the first time. It is an unrequited love story that by Commodore has degenerated to bickering and sniping at each other with sarcasm and cicumlocutions. Note this exchange:

    – ‘You seem to be cogitating with considerable concentration,’ observed Ginger Hebblethwaite, their protege…

    – ‘Since you’re both so confoundedly inquisitve, I’ll tell you what I was thinking,’ growled Biggles. ‘I was thinking what a queer thing coincidence is’.

    A discussion on ontology and the epistomology of coincidence follows.

    (Note too, that Ginger has been ‘a protege’ for some eight novels at this stage. This has caused me some sleepless nights over the years. Is it an industrial matter? Is it a class thing? or has Ginger brought this upon himself by his boy-man atttitude?)

  124. suz says:

    – ‘Since you’re both so confoundedly inquisitve, I’ll tell you what I was thinking,’ growled Biggles. ‘I was thinking what a queer thing coincidence is’.

    I remember it well. One of the great sadnesses of my adult life is that I didn’t rescue my large collection of Biggles books from my parents’ home, so they were given to charity.

    Perhaps my passion for those books as a 12 year old was an indicator of future queerness.

  125. Oh, Biggles! Loved him.

    There is at least one Biggles school-story book.

    Mostly full of the usual ‘what ho, chaps’, “I’d rather take six of the best than be gated over Whitsun” etc stuff, but it does have a memorable line when a schoolmate is explaining the rules of fighting to Biggles. The schoolmate is saying that you aren’t allowed to use a sneak attack, you have to fight with your fists. Biggles says (paraphrasing):

    That rule sounds like it was invented by someone who was good at fighting with their fists.

    I’m sure that years after Capt. W.E. Johns died, someone else wrote a novelised version of Biggles’ life – remember reading that when I was 12. It contains the “sexy spy” to whom Nabkov refers, who I think was in the chapter “Affair de Coeur” from “Biggles of 266”.

    When I was reading Biggles I was too young to be paying attention to homoerotic undertones, but, speaking of class, I do remember how Biggles’ mechanic from WWI (what was his name? Smith?) stayed part of the team in the between-the-wars adventures. He was always addressed by his surname, he always called the other characters ‘Sir’, and when one major character would speak to Smith about another major character, he would always say, for instance, “Take Mr Lacey to the airport”.

  126. Enemy Combatant says:

    G’day SC, glad to hear you’re travelling well in IndoChine.

    Mr. Scott, why does the spectre of a bit of unrequited shirt-lifting between Biggles and Ginger, cause sleep to pull upon your penthouse lids so lightly?

    Methinks you betray a sobriquet
    That got you where you are today.

    Ken Scott:”(Note too, that Ginger has been ‘a protege’ for some eight novels at this stage. This has caused me some sleepless nights over the years.”

    You some kinda secret swinger schmuckens, orwot?

  127. Brett says:

    Biggles and the Black Peril is currently cited in my thesis … I do love my work!

    I think there was a bit of a love triangle going on between Biggles and his two proteges. This is from the end of chapter 3:

    Algy watched the little upright figure [Ginger] disappear briskly around the corner, with a peculiar smile on his face. `I like the way that kid walks and the way he holds his head up,’ he mused, as he made his way towards the club house.

    I can’t say I’m at all surprised to hear that, Algy.

  128. Moby Dick.

    The writing is so good. And there are enough women in it to get one mans washing done. But not enough to have a really good time.

    I don’t think you can ever read it from start to finish. Because you can’t sustain the mood with all these blokes, that darkness, and for light relief its like this extended encyclopedia.

    It starts off where the Puritans landed or thereabouts and so I suppose its what you expect.

    The initial essay is brilliant. And its a buzz to open a book and it says “Call Me Ishmael” and I don’t know why.

    Another book is Harlots Ghost by Mailer. But not only could I not get through it. But I don’t reccomend anyone try.

    Its just that the first couple of hundred pages are just so magnificent you could buy the book for those pages alone.

    It winds up with all these letters the characters are sending to eachother.

    Perhaps there is some literary precedent to this that if I were familiar with it I would have taken it in my stride.

    But the first couple of hundred pages are really something else. Superior effort.

  129. Nabakov says:

    Another book is Harlots Ghost by Mailer. But not only could I not get through it. But I don’t reccomend anyone try.

    Well I loved it Birdy.

    Its just that the first couple of hundred pages are just so magnificent you could buy the book for those pages alone.

    Which I did.

    It winds up with all these letters the characters are sending to eachother. Perhaps there is some literary precedent to this that if I were familiar with it I would have taken it in my stride.

    Yes, for the middle third it is an epistolary novel. And the fact you claim you’re not familar with a narrative genre dependent on cumulatively escalating missives exposed for an audience beyond the putative reader is ironically a core part of your ineffable charm.

    But the first couple of hundred pages are really something else. Superior effort.

    It does get better. I’ve just been rereading it in parallel with Legacy of Ashes while watching ‘The Good Shepherd
    and damm my eyes, that ancient soak Mailer’s 16 year old work makes far better use of declassified research product and is far more historically, pyschologically and sensually redolent of the strange alpha and omega world of CIA in the fifties and early sixties than either Ashes or Shepherd.

    I’m now happy to go on record as claiming it’s Mailer’s masterwork. Or am I just saying that to go on this record?

    Also, a big thanks to toliwhatisit for resurfacing this thread even if you/it had other motives in mind. Can we have more of these kinda threads again on LP? It’s been awfully dry and earnest around here lately.

  130. j_p_z says:

    Yeah, Nabakov, I agree that Harlot’s Ghost is pretty fine stuff. I was never able to read it all in sequence straight from start to finish (my fault, not the book’s), but I kept it on my night table for some time and it was great to gobble up a randomly-chosen 30 or 40 pages at a pass. Some books I think work fine that way, and it’s such a sheer trove of information that it was worth hunting around in. Never been a great admirer of Mailer as an artistic presence, but when his meter is really running he can sure knock out a damn fine paragraph with a surprising point of view.

    Back on the topic of this exhumed thread, two other great books I’ve also pecked through with gusto but never fully finished are “KA” and “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony” by the interesting Roberto Calasso.

    And agree, more threads like this would be very welcome.

  131. Paul Burns says:

    Books I haven’t finished:
    Gravity’s rainbow. (Tried four times)
    Catch 22 (Tried twice)
    Don Quixote (Tried 3 times)
    Ulysses (Lost count how many times I’ve tried. Did read Molly’s speech at the end though.)
    Satanic Verses. (Read 3 pages.)

    When I was a teen I tried to read both War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but couldn’t finish them. When I went back to them in my thirties I couldn’t put them down.I’ve now read both books twice.
    I read Crime and Punishment from cover to cover when I was 16, and found it an exceedingly unnerving experience emotionally which I have never been able to forget. Since then, I’ve tried to read it twice, but have hardly been able to get past the first few chapters.
    I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter novels, or the Da Vinci Code.
    Books I feel guilty about not reading: Marx’s Das Kapital.

Comments are closed.

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
%d bloggers like this: