unfinished books

I’ve always said you could count on one hand the number of books I’ve not finished in my life. And it’s true! I’ve asserted that every book deserves a complete chance, and sometimes the payoff comes at the end, even in the last few words. Of course this has also meant that I’ve slogged through some miserable books through the years because I couldn’t appreciate the characters or the writing or something, and no payoff came at the end. Still, this devotion (which some have told me is silly) has meant that you could count on one hand the number of books I have not finished.

Except that’s not really true. You could count on one had the number of books I can recall that I’ve not finished. Going back to my childhood — when I’d already developed that complete-read ethic — I’m sure there are plenty of books I set aside unfinished for whatever reason. But I don’t recall them, so it’s almost as though they don’t count.

The ones I remember are the ones that count. Here are the unfinished books I remember:

The Blue Ice, by Hammond Innes. I started reading this at the suggestion of a friend when we were probably high school age. As I recall, it’s an espionage thriller, sent in the years immediately after WWII. I remember getting about halfway through it, guessing the big twist that was likely to come, and then putting it down and for some reason not picking it up again. I subsequently misplaced it, but I’ve never forgotten it, and I think I should give it a complete chance. So I’ll find myself a cheap used copy and have at it. (Update 29DEC18: I did find a cheap copy of the novel and I finished it last week. Then I put it in a padded envelope and sent it to my friend with a note of apology. Forty years isn’t too long to wait before returning a borrowed item, is it?)

The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French. This was assigned reading in a philosophy of aesthetics course I took as an undergrad. The teacher described it as a polemic at the time (soon after it was written), and I recall that I found the protagonist just too perfect (in context) to be credible. I didn’t finish the novel, but I did get an A for the course. And I suppose I should find myself a copy of this too and read it cover to cover.

Absalom, Absalom, by William Faulkner. This beast defeated me. It was one of the books discussed by the reading group I was in for more than twenty years. I think we devoted several months to it. I got about half way through it and surrendered. I’ve heard it is Faulkner’s most difficult novel, and while I don’t mind hard work with my reading, this one was beyond me. Not only did I stop reading it, but I stopped going to the book group. That was years ago and I still can’t bring myself to go back. I don’t need to go far to find a copy of this book; it sits on a shelf beside me, within easy reach and waiting for me to try it again. And maybe I will.

What about you? Do you read books to the end despite misgivings? What is your list of regrets?

Explore posts in the same categories: Ramblings Off Topic

3 Comments on “unfinished books”


  1. Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

    David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

    Any Franzen novel. (Although I do find him fascinating in his crustiness. And I find people’s perceptions about him even more fascinating.)

  2. Paul Lamb Says:

    Two more I just recalled: The Gulag Archipeligo and The Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn. I doubt I’m ever going to go back and finish either of those!

  3. Paul Lamb Says:

    And not The Golden Bough either since, technically, I haven’t abandoned it but am still reading it. (Twenty years isn’t too long to pause during a book, it is?)


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