Brand building through storytelling

Unfinished books: A reader’s confession

On the edge of my bathtub sits a novel I’d been longing to read, by an author whose last book I pressed on everyone I know. I trusted that her latest would carry me away to a fictional world so complete, so compelling, so believable in every detail that I could lose myself there and return to everyday life both refreshed and expanded by my journey down Story Road. But here I am on page 172—more than halfway along—and the book still hasn’t gripped me. It flops open in the middle of a chapter, with that woebegone look of badly fitting pants flung over a fitting-room door.

Heading home last night, I ducked into a bookstore and let another novel seduce me. Why kid myself any longer? Bathtub Book and I are heading for a breakup. It’s about to join the hundreds, maybe thousands of books I’ve cast aside in my life as a reader.

If you could have seen the books I gave away in a recent downsizing (I lost count at 30 boxes), you might take me for a well read person. But for every loved volume with my name on the flyleaf and jottings in the margins, there must have been another with its spine barely cracked.

Am I more faithless than the average book buyer? Not according to a survey I’ve just found of 4,000 Brits, who confessed that nearly half the books they began were never finished. So what if Bill Clinton’s door-stopping My Life was then everyone’s notion of a hot Gift for Dad (but ranked number one on the top 10 unfinished non-fiction list)? Doesn’t Dad have his football games to watch? And who but the most dogged literature buff has ever stuck with Ulysses to the end? I managed to ace a course on the novel without every reaching Molly Bloom’s famous “yes I will.” (I’m a “no, I won’t” sort when it comes to run-on sentences and missing paragraph breaks.) But at least I finished—and was glad to recommend—both Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and The God of Small Things, which also earned spots among the top 10 unfinished novels.

I’ve noticed that impatience is just one of many reasons to abandon a book. The other enemies of absorption:

* Wrong mood. I was feeling sour and put-upon when I first picked up Too Close to the Falls, a poignantly wacky memoir by my colleague and friend Catherine Gildiner. Bad idea. The book’s wit passed me by until someone I trust exclaimed, “I’m reading Too Close to the Falls and I can’t stop laughing.” Thank goodness I gave the book the second chance it deserved.

* Bad timing. I started Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, an elegant gothic thriller, on the final leg of a flight home from Asia. “I’m going to love this book,” I thought. So I did—until our return broke the spell, with jet lag, weeks of laundry and a daunting e-mail queue. Then my computer died. Bottom line: a book to start again, on day one of some future vacation.

* Too long. Many non-fiction books have a premise that can easily support 100 pages but not 350. Why read every word of The Long Tail if you can get the gist in a couple of chapters?

* Not what I expected. It’s only human to want more of the same from an author who’s enthralled you in the past. But what authors want is to break ground creatively—to be captivated by an idea and follow wherever it leads. Which may not be your kind of place. Or mine, if we’re talking about Bathtub Book.

A while ago a colleague of mine let it slip, with a sigh of embarrassment, that she had never finished my book, which I remember signing for her. “You bought it,” I said. “That’s the important thing.” Still, I can’t help but wonder why she gave up onMy Mother’s Daughter. Perhaps it just wasn’t what she expected. Oh, well. Why crack my brain on that conundrum any longer? Someone else just told me she’s reread my book and put the word out among her friends. It’s a mystery, this bond between reader and writer. If memory serves, it’s also the theme of The Thirteenth Tale. I  must get back to that book. But only when the mood and time are right.

I really do finish lots of books, honest. Here are a favourites I’ve read more than once.


Posted by Rona

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