Saturday, June 10, 2006


Books I dumped halfway and don't feel bad about dumping.

(I am wearing bullet-proof underwear so no mortar fire, okay?)

The Alchemist Paul Coelho - all that predigested wisdom got right up my nose.

For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway. I tried to read this many years ago. Just didn't feel that the writr wanted me in his book. Later though, I did enjoy The Old Man and the Sea.

Thus Spake Zarathustra - Niezsche - A boyfriend insisted I read it. (He thought my brain needed improving.) When I saw how much Niezsche distrusts and dislikes women, I decided that since he was wrong about half the human race, he couldn't be trusted on much else. (Should have dumped the boyfriend too.)

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - I did read it through once, but got totally stuck the second time, despite liking episodes in it very much. I sat back at a reading group meeting and listened to everyone else praising it and wondering what was wrong with me. It's a great book undoubtedly, but not one I connect with.

Soul Mountain- Gao Xingjian - another reading group choice. Only 2 out of 10 of us managed to get past the opening chapters. I did like some episodes, but overall found it incredibly slow, miserable, meandering and plotless. To add insult to injury, towards the end of the book the guy actually has a good laugh about his book being unreadable! If anyone has any doubt that the Nobel is awarded on a political rather than a literary agenda, this clinches it.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I was supposed to read this as a set book at school. I hated the petty living room world of the novel. (I was into adventure, science fiction, historical romance.) I refused to go past the first couple of chapters. My English teacher (wise woman!) just said that if I couldn't get on with it, I should leave it, and gave me another novel to read instead. A couple of years later I came back to the book and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Crash by J.G. Ballard. Stomach turning.

Ulysses - James Joyce. God knows I've tried, and I love parts of it, especially Molly Blooms soliloquy. But can I read it from beginning to end? Nope. Not even after sixteen million attempts.

Books I struggled through but wish I'd dumped:

The Famished Road - Ben Okri - At the time this won the Booker there was a joke that someone had put a prize voucher in selected copies of the book, but no-one claimed them. Although I very much liked the Nigerian setting, the novel seemed to me a rip-off of Amos Tutola's classic The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the bush of Ghosts (well worth reading) from which it borrows its surrealism and cast of ghosts ... but it's another horrid, overlong, plotless meander.

Great Apes - Will Self. This book has one of the most exhilarating first chapters I've ever read - I actually went back to reread it twice before moving on to chapter 2. The basic premise of the book is fascinating: the central character is transformed intio a chimpanzee and so is everyone else around him. The first part of the book was a joy, but the joke wears progressively thinner as the book goes on. It would have made a great novella, but the pressure to make it a book length thing destroyed it.

The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown. Another reading group read. (See how risky the whole business is?) I felt like I'd overdosed on french fries and jelly beans.

Your turn! What are your dumpees?


Just thought of one more unreadable to add which will probably have the rest of you screaming. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I dug up this review I'd written on Amazon:
This was such a disappointing read after all the hype. I'm giving up halfway through, and passing my copy to someone who may appreciate it more. The first part of the book was so hackneyed that I found it laughable - I was not at all convinced by the love story. I got very annoyed by Faulk's omniscient narration, the viewpoint constantly flitting from person to person. As other reviewers here have pointed out, Faulks has a tendency to "tell rather than show", which deprives the reader of much of the pleasure of reading. I also found that I couldn't care less about the characters, particularly Steven, who remains vague and shadowy. That I stuck with the book so long is testimony to the fact that Faulks recreates the scenes in the trenches so well. Both my grandfathers fought in WW1 and I am so hungry to know more about what they experienced. But maybe I'd be beter off reading a good history book.


Greenbottle said...

since you're wearing a bullet proof panties i won't errr there...but i'd gladly throw a tomato at your head for dumping hundred years of solitude...i'm curious, which booked did you pick up that make you stop reading marquez half way??...amazing...

Chet said...

Currently reading Han Suyin's And the Rain My Drink, set in Malaya during the Emergency. I had an extra copy that I gave to Janis Ian (she loves getting used books) when I saw her in April, and I thought I better read my copy in case she wanted to discuss it. Now she's going to think what awful writers I read. I'm struggling and I think I'm going to give up. I did enjoy her earlier trilogy about China, altho I can't even remember the titles now!

Now about Hemingway, have you read The Sun Also Rises, which is also called Fiesta? That's one un-dumpable book - well, for me, at least.

The Visitor said...

A Map Of The World, by whateverhernameis.

so badly written, it made me angry. what utter shite. a piece of smelly, pretentiously "uplifting" crap. i should have smelled a rat when it became an "Oprah Book Club" recommendation.

Chet said...

Are all "Oprah Book Club" recommendations bad, or just the occasional one?

Dean said...

How can you have put down One Hundred Years of Solitude? Stunning revelation. And possibly unique.

I thought Soul Mountain was readable and amusing in a quiet way. but not earth-shattering.

The Visitor said...

not sure, Chet.

probably not all of them, cos she also has Steinbeck on her recommendation list.

Jordan said...

The Alchemist is one of my favourites! But I have to say, I only liked it when I read it in the original Portuguese. In English it just didn't have the same...oomph. I've since read two more of Coelho's novels in English: The Fifth Mountain and Eleven Minutes. Eleven Minutes wasn't too bad, but I didn't enjoy The Fifth Mountain at all.

My uncle gave me a copy of Don Quixote about four years back but I put it down after a few pages.

It took me forever to read Orhan Pamuk's Snow. Actually, I can't even remember if I ever finished it.

I think it's true that something is inevitably lost in translation.

sympozium said...

The Alchemist was utter crud. Don't know why so many people fell for its cheap philosophising. At least Gibran's The Prophet had some beautiful writing to save it.
Its 'anti-materialistic' message was also scuppered by its Coelho rewarding the boy's quest with wealth - am I right?
One Hundred Years of Solitude - heavy going and perhaps a 100 pages could have been cut. Has anyone noticed Marquez's books are all "Tell" and not "Show" and there are hardly any lines of dialogue in them?
Han Suyin - her China: History/Biograhpy series was terrific! The titles are : The Crippled Tree; A Mortal Flower; Birdless Summer; and My House Has Two Doors.

Anonymous said...

I have not been able to get through Henry James' Wings of a Dove. Writing is too dense for me.

Feel the same way about Da Vinci Code and Alchemist as you do...

sympozium said...

Da Vinci Code - should've been called Da Wanky Code! :-)

midnite lily said...

Should have dumped the boyfriend too should have? you haven't already? =P or you should've done it as soon as u realised?

i love coelho too. maybe its more the spiritualism metaphor in his stories. although i'd agree that some of his other titles are predigested, i did like Alchemist.

i just dumped Ishiguro's Never Let me Go.

Chet said...


Thank you for the reminder about the titles in Han Suyin's China series. It was a trilogy (Crippled Tree, Mortal Flower and Birdless Summer) for many years, and then two more books were added to it - My House has two Doors and Phoenix Reborn.

Sufian said...

Pram - so irritatingly socialist.

Moor's Last Sigh (Rushdie) - die already!

Anything by Clarice Lispector.

Nabakov's Dozen

A lot of Malay books.

The Stone Raft - The only Saramago i can't finish

sympozium said...

I thought Ishi's Never Let Me Go was the most gripping book he has ever written - couldn't let it go, and no pun intended.

I dumped Birds Without Wings though. Awful!!! Won't even bother with Colerri's Mandarin.

sympozium said...

Chet - you're welcome. Suyin has also written a series about Chou En Lai, I think. One of the books in that series has one of the most beautiful titles ever, I reckon - "The Morning Deluge". Sharon, how about open a forum on The Most Beautiful Titles For Books...Ever! (another candidate would be "That They May Face The Rising Son").

sympozium said...

Sorry, should be "Sun" and not "Son". Silly me.

Dean said...

Pretty much everything Henry James wrote is drivel. Good quality drivel, though.

Never Let Me Go is a masterpiece, however.

Ted Mahsun said...

Girl in Hyacinth Blue. I almost never dump books, but this one was just too... dissatisfying. I hate the short-stories-in-novel concept. Leaves an icky taste in the mouth.

unfazed said...

Possession by A.S. Byatt- i tried, i really did but it's long, rather tedious and wordy without the reward of an intriguing plot or breathtaking lines.
other dumpees: Pickwick Papers, Lord of the Flies, Lolita and numerous others.... but i prefer to believe that one day, somewhere in the future i will finish reading all these. heh.
oh my gosh....actually read Ben Okri but can recall nothing of the book; except i kept on it thinking it would obtain a plot somehow, get better or understanding might suddenly dawned on me. nope- did not happen.
as for 'bestsellers' like Dan Brown and Paulo Coelho, the first was badly written; like 'get to the point already damnit!' and the latter, thinly disguised philosophical preaching inspirational bla bla bla. who knows? maybe something was lost in translation.
'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' - one of my favourite book titles....

Lydia Teh said...

Dumped : Soul Mountain, House of Blue Mangoes, Oryx and Crake and your beloved Annie Proulx's Postcards. Laboured through For Whom the Bells Toll. Didn't enjoy the story at all but like the way Hemingway uses language.

Ron said...

It's interesting how many of the 'dumped' books mentioned here (and elsewhere) are classed as 'literature'.

I try to keep up with 'literature' but my dumped pile is mainly made up of books which have won major prizes. As for the current 'you must read' authors such as Orhan Pamuk and David Mitchell - well, I've tried but they are now in my growing pile of unreadable (by me, at least) books.

Perhaps I'm just not very smart.

PS I did actually like Birdsong and my award for my best two books read in last year or three go to The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (this book has recieved more kudos from family and friends that I've recommended it to than any other book).

Ron said...

Yes, I know I spelt received wrong! :-)

Now, Ronald, repeat the following 50 times:

I before e but not after c !!!!

The Eternal Wanderer said...

Let's see now...

I've only ever dumped Dan Brown's Angels & Demons after 3 chapters and The Da Vinci Code after 4 chapters. Thankfully, those were books borrowed to me by friends.

Usually, I will try to plod through the whole book to the finish, but when something I read just really doesn't interest me or makes me feel uncomfortable or disgusted, then, I will dump it halfway and probably sell it to a store like Pay Less Books.

bibliobibuli said...

wow! so many responses

and i think the comments prove that what is a favourite book for one person is a dumpee for another ... and as ron says some highly rated literary novels seem to generate the most heat! i also marvel at the guilt induced by dumping a book - do you also feel that there must be something lacking in you, the reader for not being able to finish a book. i also wonder if i'd picked up a title at a different point in my life, or under other circumstances whether i would have loved it. i'm sure i'd have enjoyed "the alchemist" when i was younger for e.g.

sympozium, dean - sorry i listed "100 years ..." ... i appreciate it's importance, the skill of the writer, the way it influenced other writers (could rushdie have written "midnight's children" if he hadn't read it? would "house of the spirits" have been possible?) but i guess the second time i tried to read it i just ran out of energy, especially because of all those guys with similar names ...

chet - i have a couple of books by han su yin but haven't read either, i'm ashamed to say ... yes, i'm sure i'd like other hemingway better and will try "the sun also rises"

visitor, chet - as i've said before, i've enjoyed some of oprah's choices very much indeed ... but i don't think i'll try this one

jordan - i've only read extracts of "don quixote" but enjoyed them ... wonder if i'd ever have the stamina for the whole thing? impressed that you read "the alchemist" in portuguese

anonymous, dean - i've enjoyed the henry james novels i have read ("washington square" and another i can't remember. but his books aren't exactly a breeze. time i went back to him.

midnight lily - should have dumped the boyfriend at that point and saved the heartbreak

sufian - pramoedya? i agree with you - i got quite angry with him for potentially having one of the great love stories in literature and just letting it fizzle out in the second book of the buru quartet which politics took centre stage

i enjoyed "the moor's last sigh" but can't take too much of rushdie - he's exhausting

had to google up the clarice lispector!

have several novels by saramago to read on my shelves, all thrust on me by raman

sympozium, midnight lily, dean - i loved "never let me go" but our reading group hated me for suggesting it and gave it the thumbs down. i want to read "birds without wings"!

ted - i read chevalier's first novel and didn't like it very much

lydia - can't believe you couldn't finish "oryx and crake" - i think it is a very unsettling book though - had nightmares aftr reading it, and a friend i lent it to couldn't read very much at a time because it was so upsetting

ron- have noted down your recommendations and many thanks for them. don't worry about spelling.

eternal wanderer - does payless buy books??

madcap machinist said...

I hope you'll excuse the length of this comment, Sharon. Funny how you dumped some of the books that I have enjoyed immensely.

Reading The Alchemist would leave me light-headed, every time, without fail. I don't know why... maybe it's because of its poetry and simplicity. Yes, I can see your point about 'predigested wisdom' and how it can put anyone off, in a way that's why it's so popular. Thinking about it that way seems to be too cynical though -- I'd rather think of it as inspired and love it for that.

And Thus Spake Zarathustra too? I hope I'm not committing dating suicide when I say that it resides as an e-book on my desktop and I read parts of it from time to time. Totally agree that Nietzsche comes off as a mysogynistic prick but his intellect is so deliciously irresistable -- It's a love-hate thing.

What else? Ulysses. Took two years (on and off and taking notes) to read it and based my degree thesis and project on it. Totally understand why you dumped it and I don't think that I would ever reread it but I would list it as one of the books that I would take to a desert island.

Crash! Ah, okay, I felt queasy at times reading it but, comments on the prose aside, the idea of the book is fascinating. Took much longer than I thought it would to read it. But my world is irrevocably changed now that I have read it three times. I still want to write about it but let's say that it is so bizarre yet plausible that I can't even mention sex anymore without mentioning the book. Seems like men would enjoy the book more than women.

Recently dumped: DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, Frey's Thousand Little Pieces, Rana Dasgupta's Tokyo Cancelled (will get back into it if I ever get it back -- it is travelling, ironically), Monica Ali's Brick Lane (kept nodding off...). I sometimes go for bargain books at Pay Less so I dump a lot of books that I'm actually embarassed to say I bought :-) -- cheap cheap, after all, and you never know what might be interesting. Generally I tend to plough on anyway, unless I already have another more interesting book on the TBR pile

Know what? I first came across The Da Vinci Code last year, lent to me by a friend. Dumped it after the third chapter. Bought the video game for X-Box recently so that I can know the story without having to read it or go to the movie and dumped it after the third level. Bought the senget, pirated dvd of the movie and fell asleep after 20 minutes. It's been dumped three times... should be talak tiga lah... but I finished it at the second sitting and wish I hadn't bothered.

bibliobibuli said...

machinist - maybe later i'll come back to the books i dumped and see them differently ... but doesn't this just go to show how different tastes are?

i enjoyed "vernon good little" very much and although i thought "brick lane" overlong, as too many novels tend to be this days, found it a breeze to read

generous of you to book-cross - where did you leave your book? in the past i've done it but am always afraid that the book will just get lost

with books so cheap at payless you can afford to take risks

Krishna said...

Dear Sharon, you passed me Birdsong telling me I'd love it!(something about the mixture of sex and violence which would appeal to my ghoulish tastes).Didn't realise you were pawning off one of your dumpees on me:-) It still rests unread but will definitely get to it.

And I join the growing chorus of disapproval at your dumping of 100 Years..noticed when we did the reading that you weren't impressed with it. I love it and the only time I agreed with Thor Kah Hoong's rambling articles in the Star was when he stated that it was one of the few books that he finished and immediately felt like flipping back to the beginning to start reading it all over again.My feelings exactly upon reading it.
Oh well,one person's "chuck-away" is another's "Must-Read" I guess.

madcap machinist said...

I'm afraid my tastes are rather limited -- have always depended on recommendations... and for that, am very grateful for your blog.

I used to leave books around after I was done with them for others, before I ever heard of bookcrossing. I don't know... it's partly because I always hope to find one by chance. These days I pass books to friends and urge them to pass along.

bibliobibuli said...

krishna - we have such different tastes and i didn't want the book to have no-one to love it

machinist - you are kind to pass your books on!

qaminante said...

My blind spot is "The God of Small Things" - I struggled through it but only one episode (featuring the orange-drink, lemon-drink man) sticks in my mind and oddly enough it was the very one Salman Rushdie chose for an anthology of Indian writers, so it's the only part of the book I have re-read. I thought it read like a pastiche of a book, I absolutely HATED it and lost all faith in the Booker prize after she won it. I also absolutely fail to understand the success of the Da Vinci Code, although at least I was able to read almost every word of it, unlike Roy's effort. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed "Birds without Wings" (flawed though it is), probably because I had such low expectations of it.

animah said...

Dumped books which I know I keep meaning to read, but it means I have to start all over again:
1. Possession, AS Byatt
2. My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk
3. Several Rushdie books (except Midnight's Children and Haroun and The Sea of Stories)
4. Name of the Rose, Focoults Pendulum, Umberto Eco
5. The usual 10 books on my 2 bedside tables, covered by the more interesting and less mentally taxing Vogue Living

sympozium said...

Qaminante, agree with you about (Oh My) God of Small Things - what WAS the fuss all about?

Anonymous said...

just have to defend the God of Small Things. I thought it was one of the most beautiful books I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Anonymous said...

I think it's all about identifying with the writer. I dumped Lord of The Rings after about a page (but at least I know what shade of green the leaves are.)

I didn't finish Anil's Ghost until much later. It's amazing how different books feel after you've aged a bit.

And of course there's "Pride and Prejudice" and "Little Women".

bibliobibuli said...

i think you're right. and sometimes we realise that books we read when much younger wouldn't have the same appeal now.

i loved "lord of the rings" which i read in my teens, but the film has spoiled it for me. "anil's ghost" i love.