Carnivalesque: The One Book You Couldn’t Finish?

It’s Thursday and that means it’s time for Carnivalesque: Our Travelling Blog Show! There’s a topic question and five of us give our take on it. Then we open up the comment section to continue the discussion and invite you to join in! Sounds like fun, right? So come join Janet, Hayley, Joanne, Jana, and I on stage and let’s the discussion begin. Jana and Hayley are on their way to a spring writing retreat and will try and join in. Here’s hoping you get lots of writing done, gals!

What is the one book you wanted to love but couldn’t finish or couldn’t like?

~ Jana ~ 

When I was in a book club a few years ago, one of the selections was “The House of Sand and Fog” by Andre Dubus III. I read half to three quarters of the book, but I couldn’t go on. Please don’t misunderstand; this is a wonderfully written book with believable, flawed characters and I pulled for all of them. Both of the main characters needed to own the house in question. But as I continued to read, I just knew this wasn’t going to end well, and I couldn’t go on. When I attended the book club meeting, I got the Reader’s Digest version of the ending and my fears were confirmed. I think almost everybody dies in the end. Given the story, this was the inevitable conclusion. But I didn’t want to go there.

I’ve had similar experiences with other books. If I get that horrible feeling that the ending is going to be depressing, sad or somebody’s going to die, sometimes I just can’t go on. I know every story can’t have a happy ending, but I reserve the right to pick and choose the endings I want to hear.

~ Joanne ~

I suppose the one book I wanted to love was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. At the time, I wanted to read some of the classics, so I asked for it for Christmas. I started the novel with high hopes, and read probably 100 pages, but I just got bored. I’m afraid I am afflicted with the same problem as the rest of the world right now: the need for instant gratification. I have precious few minutes for leisure time, and so I find myself demanding a lot from my leisure activities. If I’m not immediately hooked and constantly entertained, forget it.

~ Janet ~

Life of Pi – everyone said it was the best book ever. Everyone said I had to read it. The reviews were amazing. But there was no way I could get through that book with that tiger and that boy! No.Way. I’m a firm believer in abandoning books – even taught my students in elementary school to do it (yes, there’s an art to doing it that needs to be taught – there needs to be a reason you can’t continue…besides, if I gave them that out without the lessons behind it, some of them would never have read a complete book). Life is too short and there are too many books out there that I want to read to waste precious time on stuff that just isn’t doing it for me! But, when people recommend a book with such enthusiasm, I feel the need to go beyond my Page 50 Rule hoping that things will pick up, the story will get better. Life of Pi did not! I can suspend all kinds of belief when it comes to fiction – for that book, I could not. I still get “The Look” when I tell people I couldn’t finish Life of Pi – you know the one where surprise, awe and disbelief are all rolled into one glare? Someone has suggested I go back and try again…um…NO! Again, too many books, not enough time. I guess I should be used to “The Look” by now as I’m constantly given ‘it’ when I tell people I read the last page (sometimes chapter) first. Hey, to each her own – for some The Life of Pi was all that and a bag of chips, for me…meh!

~ Karyn ~

 My pick is…wait for it…Wuthering Heights. OMGosh, I know! I’m going to hell. Even Edward and Bella have read it. And my apologies to Emily Bronte. I’m reading Jane Eyre this summer! Does that make up for it. Oh wait, that’s the other sister, Charlotte.  I admit I tried to read it many years ago, maybe now I’d have more success. Back then I was confused from the first Chapter onwards. I was impatient to read about this great love story between Heathcliff and Catherine and instead got this crazy narration style point of view from some Lockwood fellow. Obviously, I had no idea what this book was really about! Heathcliff was not only unlikeable but nasty, Catherine doesn’t make an appearance, and it soon became apparent that it was going to be depressing from beginning to end. Not my kind of book. Is it crazy that I still want to finish it?

I’ve read many books for book club that I would never have picked and some I’d have preferred not to finish. If you don’t finish the book you get penalized and have to pay the pot ten dollars. I don’t know about you, but if you’ve already paid for the book, that extra ten bucks hurts! Plus you don’t get to complain about the book. Kinda like voting and politics. But here I am anyway, complaining about a book I haven’t read. I guess I’m going to have to choose Wuthering Heights as one of my book club picks so I can say I’ve read it.

~ Hayley ~

More than any book I’ve ever ranted about or given up on, one book frustrated and disappointed me the most…but I don’t like spreading bad book karma so I prefer not to name names. Suffice it to say, I wanted SO badly to like this book, and I tried SO hard to make it work, but I just…
I thought the premise was intriguing. I was so ready to like the protagonist, and for a while, I really did like her. Then everything kind of went sideways, but I didn’t notice it at first. I kept reading along. I started complaining a bit to a friend who’d been reading the book as well. I kept plodding on. The story got worse, the plot got ridiculous, the situations got excessive and offensive and condoned things I just do not want to read any character deciding is okay, and all her compelling character traits just went right out the window for me. I read every last blessed word of that damn book, and I tried SO hard to like it, to find something to redeem the whole atrocious/dull mess that was the bulk of it, but right to the final sentence it just left me fuming and eviscerating it, and every time I get talking about it I go on a rant — oh look I’ve done it again.
Bad writing doesn’t tick me off. Horrible characters or awful situations don’t tick me off. This book had promise, and it was supposed to be better, and everyone I knew loved it, and I gave that damn book so many chances. If I’d gone in planning to rip it apart or have a laugh, maybe I wouldn’t be so bitter.


21 thoughts on “Carnivalesque: The One Book You Couldn’t Finish?

  1. I hate to admit it, but I’ve never finished a book by Jane Austen. I’ve tried and tried. I picked up Emma, made it through a few pages and blah. I gave Sense and Sensibility a whirl – same results. A couple years ago, at my daughter’s insistence, I sat down with Pride and Prejudice and gave it the old college try. I made it almost to halfway before I just couldn’t take it anymore. Sorry to all the Austen fans out there, but she just isn’t for me.

    • Good morning, B.E. At least you know you gave it your best shot! It’s interesting how story structure and writing styles have changed over the years. I find it very hard to read the classics, probably because of the very reasons Joanne mentioned. I love that generations of readers will keep reading them and that it was your daughter who encouraged you to try again. I have a confession: I watched the movies instead. (Sorry, Jane Austen) They were delightful.

    • Confession, B.E. – I’ve watched the movies, haven’t read the books! Have you seen The Jane Austen Book Club? Fabulous, tying in all the books and the characters who start the book club – one of my favorite movies. I also really loved Becoming Jane – the story (somewhat non-fiction, I think) of Jane Austen. I still think that Jane wouldn’t get published in today’s world of publishing – just my two cents.

  2. Jana, years ago, when Oprah had her book club, she interviewed Andre Dubus and they talked about the ending of the book. Apparently, when it came time to write the end of the story he had to put it aside for awhile. He didn’t want it to end that way either! He said he took a break to think of an alternative ending, but in the end that’s the way it had to be. Imagine walking around with all that in your head! I’ve read HOSAF. Incredibly well-written, as you say, but reading it is like watching a train wreck. I think I had to read several HEA’s to decompress. I only finished it because it was a gift, but having read it I’ll never forget it.

    Joanne, I’ve never read Frankenstein, but I love the story of how Mary Shelley came to write it! I suffer from the same affliction as you. I want to be swept away, entertained. Right now. Immediately.

    • I remember that interview, Karyn – he also confessed to writing most of the book long hand while sitting in his truck at the local grave yard. Hmmm, wonder why he had the ‘urge’ to kill everyone off?

      BTW – Karyn – I love it when reluctant readers become life-long readers. You can actually see the little light bulb go off over their head when they discover the joy, magic and excitement of the printed word. One of the best parts of being a teacher!!!

  3. Janet, I’ve read Life of Pi. However, my son read it this year for English class and it was very interesting listening to him talk about the story. I like how you encouraged your students to put down a book they couldn’t finish. Just because it wasn’t for them, doesn’t mean it wasn’t an excellent book and another student wouldn’t have picked them up. As a parent of a child who was a reluctant reader in the early grades, the key to our success was getting him to read stories he enjoyed. That meant putting aside the ones he didn’t and talking about the ones he did. Now he’s a reader – thank you J.K. Rowlings and Harry Potter! And if works for when you’re a kid, why shouldn’t it work as an adult. That’s why I love libraries! They hand you the opportunity to read all kinds of books without the pressure of feeling like you have to finish the ones that aren’t for you.

    I don’t know what to say, Hayley. That must have been quite the book! I think it’s interesting how books we have a very negative and visceral reaction to stay with us.We will never forget those stories. I feel like the books we absolutely dislike are as important to our reading life as the ones we adore. To understand what went wrong for us is as interesting, sometimes more so, than discussing the ones where everything went right!

  4. Haley, you know we’re all dying to know what book it was! Tease. 😉 I’ve never read House of Sand and Fog and I have the feeling I don’t want to. I get enough unhappy endings in life. When it comes to entertainment, I want to feel good. Call me shallow. I am. I’m so shallow I don’t read “literary” these days. I did the classics in junior high school, high school, and college. I even managed War and Peace. Seriously! *rolls eyes*

    Okay, the last book I remember not finishing (because it was sort of a big deal at the time) is one of Laurel K. Hamilton’s. Frankly, I don’t remember which one. I had it and a couple more on the shelf and I just couldn’t read the series any further. Either of hers. I had them all, and had read them, though with growing concern toward the end that both series had “jumped the shark.” I know there’ve been a few since then but they didn’t leave enough of a mark for me to remember. Sad, that. That’s my biggest fear as a writer–that my work will have as little impact on a reader. 🙁

    • War and Peace, Silver? I bow down to you!! Someone I knew long time ago wanted to read the big classics – War and Peace, The Grapes of Wrath, Anna Karina (talk about your tragic ending – watched the movie and was horrified at the ending)…I say there are just not enough hours in the day to read the books you do want to read (the ones that entertain you) – the big ones…yep, Coles Notes!

      I understand your fear, totally! If it counts for anything – your work has had an impact on me 🙂

      • One summer, I read the “horror” classics – Frankenstein, Dracula, Hunchback of Notre Dame. One summer I read the Muskateers. One summer I read War and Peace. LOL Took all blasted summer but by George I finished that sucker. One summer was Charles Dickens and one was the American classics that I didn’t have to read for school. I also managed Lotlita, Ayn Rand’s books, and Dr. Zhivago. Ha! That’s probably why I most read fluff now. I do love my genres–romance, mysteries, thrillers, SciFi.

        • I love the idea of themed summer reading! War and Peace – kudos to you!!! The size alone scares me. I have read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged! I remember it was a great book club discussion!

  5. I think I know which book, Hayley – I believe you talked about it on your blog years ago (and I was bold enough to e-mail and ask). You did better than I – didn’t even attempt it!!

    I loved House of Sand and Fog, Jana – but I tend to read ‘dark’ anyway (The Lovely Bones, The Almost Moon, Fall on Your Knees, We Are The Mulvaneys, The Gargoyle – I’ll stop now…all very dark and somewhat depressing). I love that now adays you can check out info on line – just in case you don’t want to finish something or are looking for info without having to buy the book.

    Karyn – I love libraries. Terrible confession, I read mostly from libraries (mostly because we chose to change the way we were living and ‘retire’ from the high-paying/high-stressed jobs. Not very good for those looking to get rich from their readers – not very good for those who are in the book club – but very good for me and my budget!

    I think, Joanne, the classics including Frankenstein and the Jane Austen’s/Bronte Sisters, are just not for me. Just the thought of them reminds me of high school – or first year English at University. That said, I have signed up for the Jane Eyre Extravaganza that will be taking place this summer (hope I don’t have to resort to Coles Notes – ha, anyone remember those?).

    • Janet – We Are the Mulvaneys – I have wanted to discuss that book FOREVER. Oh, mercy! That father! AH! I think he’s my least liked fictional character. I was so disgusted with him!

      But I loved The Lovely Bones when I didn’t think I would!! See, goes to show you! And I also loved Fall On Your Knees. Right up there in my top ten – okay, fifteen!

      Libraries Rock!

  6. I agree that Wuthering Heights is a book with more dull per page than should be allowed, but the one I could not finish — tried half a dozen times in as many years — is Of Human Bondage. sheesh.

    I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry that so many of you don’t read Austen at all. I read Austen yearly. Well, Mansfield Park, no, but folks: Persuasion! It’s marvelous. I reread it, S&S, and Emma over the Christmas holidays every year. Maybe that’s the key — the cold weather, pot of tea, escape from seasonal tasks?

    • Hi Lynn! I love your first line 🙂 I’ve never heard of Of Human Bondage, but it doesn’t sound very cheery! So I don’t think I’m going to try very hard to find it…

      On my virtual book tour, because I’ve been talking about reunion stories, Persuasion has come up many times as a favorite by commenters. So, I think I’ll start with that one. Also, there’s no movie to fall back on (that I know of)! But reading Austen is definitely on my Before 50 list!

  7. Hi everyone, dropping in for a quick hello at the retreat!

    Jana, House of Sand and Fog sounds like my kind of read, I should check it out!

    Joanne, I really want to get around to Frankenstein sometime. I’m reading Dracula finally this Hallowe’en!

    Janet, I can’t recall if this is the same book I mentioned to you before. I’ll email you again, hah!

    Karyn, Wuthering Heights is one of my favourite books of all time! I absolutely adore it, the writing, the language, the nesting narrative style. It’s awesome. If you move on to it after Jane Eyre, I’ll do a reread with you if it helps to have someone to talk to, complain at, or ask “What the hell was that about?” It’s a magnificent story with no good movie adaptations. In my opinion, it is totally not a love story though. Not a healthy one at least!

    • Hayley, so glad to hear you made it to retreat! Yay! I’m going see how I survive Jane Erye. Then I’ll think about revisiting Wuthering Heights. But I’m totally pumped about reading JE, especially in company which is a wonderful way to read books IMHO 😀

  8. There are so many books I’ve stopped reading I can’t even remember them all. The big ones that I remember though are the Sookie Stackhouse books. Picked up the first one, hated it. Didn’t finish it. What else…..Blood Dreams by Kay Hooper, didn’t hold my interest. Struggled to get through Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner, but I finished it. Don’t recommend it, but I finished it.

    I tried to read Pride & Prejudice because hello, who doesn’t love Mr. Darcy? I wanted to read it and I wanted to love it, but it was just too hard to read. Sorry Ms. Austen.

    • Hi Erika! I’ve never tried any of the Sookie Stackhouse books. Do you watch True Blood? I tried when it first started but my kids were younger and it was just too inappropriate to have on family room TV.

      I know! I feel guilty even saying I haven’t read Jane Austen. But I’m gonna. One of these days. Because I love the idea of Mr. Darcy, too!

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