Finishing books

Last week as part of September’s 30 days of lists, I was prompted to list reasons to quit something. And as a person who regularly leaves things half done, I chose to quit quitting.

While it’s true that I’m really bad at leaving craft projects and paintings incomplete, I’m also pretty bad at abandoning books half way through. Generally I’ll find my way back to them eventually, but pausing during a good read makes you lose so much momentum. And when I do find time to pick a good book back up again, it takes me a chapter or so to even remember who the characters are.

So, this must stop. While I have some great new reads which I’m itching to start on, right now I have a plethora of incomplete books crying out for attention. But each incomplete book has its own back story, and for each I remember exactly where I was when I started, and paused, my reading of it. So selecting which to complete first is not such a simple decision…

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

My grandmother, my father’s mother, loved giving presents. She would put so much thought into choosing gifts and spend so much time wrapping and decorating each one. As a fellow book lover she frequently gave books to people for Christmas and birthdays, and naturally this was something I particularly enjoyed. When she died in November 2008, days before I moved to Edinburgh, she had already bought most of that year’s Christmas presents. And so that year, for the last time, everyone received presents selected by Granny. Mine was The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, accompanied by a silver monogrammed bookmark. I really enjoy the way this book is written and the depth of the research undertaken by the author, particularly the inclusion of old weather reports and social statistics to set the scene of what life was like during that time. Yet something about how special that last gift is has stoppped me from quite finishing the book, and the monogrammed bookmark is still resting in one of the final pages.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin & American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Half way through reading A Clash of Kings, the second volume of the Song of Ice and Fire series, I joined a book group that was reading American Gods. So I abandoned the former for the latter, but in the week or so before the group never completed the reading. The book was great; the book group wasn’t so great. And as it turned out, that was their last meet-up. Without a sense of urgency I lost the nightly reading habit that I’d hoped the group would encourage. I will return to both, particularly since I’d like to read A Storm of Swords before HBO complete a third series of Game of Thrones. These books take you to a different world entirely, with kings and knights, houses and sigils, direwolves, white walkers and dragons. The complex web of characters plays out even better on paper than it does on screen, with even more detail. As the bookseller that sold me A Clash of Kings said: “He spends a chapter describing one character and their back story, only for them to die on the next page”.

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharpe & Just My Type by Simon Garfield

These books are perfect for dipping in and out of, in that typically each chapter deals with a different subject. The main problem with these is that they are so well written and inspiring that they make me want to stop reading and do something instead, whether it’s creating something artistic or just oggling lovely typography (with a better appreciation of it).

Dune by Frank Herbert (again)

I read the whole Dune series as a teenager and have such a distinct image of the desert planet Arrakis, sandworms, the Fremen people, spice, and all the brilliant names, like Muad’Dib, Kwisatz Haderach, the Bene Gesserit, House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and the Sardaukar. It’s a cliche, but re-reading this book is like seeing an old friend again. One of my old flatmates ‘borrowed’ this book many many months ago and I’m on a quest to return it home – at least for now I can dip into James’s identical copy!

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

I love Scarlett Thomas’s writing. The End of Mr Y was totally captivating and is one of those books that, a few years later, I still find myself thinking about from time to time. Our Tragic Universe was formerly a book that lived in James’s flat, before we moved in to our current flat together and while I was practically, but not officially, living at his. I’ve found it a bit of a slow read so far – for the first chunk of the book the protagonist is dissatisfied with her life and a little depressed. It’s perhaps for this reason that since the consolidation of our literature this novel has continued to drop down the priorities list.

Pocomoto: Brush Popper by Rex Dixon

This was a find from one of Edinburgh’s lovely second hand bookshops. It’s a children’s western about a horse named Pocomoto, probably one of the greatest horse names ever. I bought it for its intriguing title and simple illustration, but I’m not sure I’m committed to finishing this one. It may find its way to a more appropriate owner sometime soon.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, Bed by David Whitehouse & The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

All three of these novels were bought in an airport or train station. Books are great for long journeys, especially for reading on the train. The 4.5 or 5 hour trip from Edinburgh to London is ideal for reading – it’s long enough for any other activity to be boring, but gives you enough time to get so involved in a good book that you almost forget where you are. More than once has a ticket inspector had to give me a little nudge to get my attention, as I sat reading with complete obliviousness to my surroundings.

So I have no good excuses for not finishing most of these, except the usual – time and energy. But just writing this has been the reminder I needed of how much life exists in the pages I’ve been neglecting. And at least I kept my bookmarks in.

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