So, to which author falls the distinction of having written a book that heads the list of the top five most abandoned – as in left unread till the end – titles? I am sure it will come as a shock for you to learn that it is none other than J K Rowling. But before you keel over, let me tell it is not for her Harry Potter series, but for the first ‘grown-up’ book she wrote. And the top reason people gave for abandoning The Casual Vacancy? It wasn’t exactly Harry Potter, was it?
Well, as someone who has never read a single word that Rowling ever wrote (I am sorry but all that magic-Muggles stuff is just lost on me), I am really not qualified to comment. But the next book on the list of top five most abandoned titles makes perfect sense to me. It is Fifty Shades Of Grey by E L James, but more on that later.
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After that, the list gets a bit mystifying. The next title that most people gave up on is Eat Pray Love (which I loved from the word go; and long before it became something of a cult book) on the grounds that the heroine was too ‘whiny’ and ‘self-obsessed’
followed by The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which many found too much of a slow starter to persist with.
Well, I don’t know about you but I firmly believe that when it comes to books, the world is divided into two kinds of people. The first group believes in the ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ line and ploughs through to the (sometimes bitter) end while the second just wearily intones ‘Life is too short…’ and gives up the moment boredom sets in.
Sadly, I happen to belong to the ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ school, so I have wasted years of my life battling through to the last page of books that were best left unfinished. But somehow, as far as I am concerned, to give up in the middle seems to smack of failure.
And while at a rational level, I know that the failure is that of the writer’s and not mine, the reader’s, I am still reluctant to put the book away. So, there it lies, languishing on my bedside table, so that I can administer a sop to my uneasy conscience by reading a few pages every night before turning in. That way, at least, it serves a purpose: it puts me to sleep like no page-turner would.
Of late, though, I have begun to wonder if boring, unreadable books are really worth all that effort (not to mention the self-flagellation involved). The thought first crossed my mind when I tried to read Fifty Shades Of Grey. Sado-masochistic bondage or deviant romances are not really my cup of coffee (I am more of a regency romance-Georgette Heyer kind of girl) but given that everyone was talking about it and that it behoves a columnist to be au fait with popular culture, I tried to give it a shot.
Honest to God, I tried. In fact, I tried three times to get beyond page 150 before throwing the book down in disgust and flouncing off to read something – anything! – else. No, it wasn’t the erotica that put me off (frankly, I didn’t find it the least bit erotic) but the sheer banality of it all. Not to mention the utterly execrable writing. (Though what really made me weep was the thought that this book had topped the bestselling charts and made its author a millionaire many times over.)
But I treated Fifty Shades Of Grey as a one-off. It was just one of those freak books that you either loved or loathed; and I just happened to be one of those who loathed it.
That was before I downloaded Dan Brown’s Inferno on my iPad before setting off on holiday. Now, I am the kind of person who loves long-haul flights for exactly one reason: you can read a nice, fat, fast-paced thriller uninterrupted for eight hours and, with a bit of luck, finish it in one greedy mouthful. And I had loved Dan Brown’s last page-turners, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, so I thought I was all set for the flight.
Not quite. About 10 minutes into the book, I was beginning to get worried. Half an hour later, I knew I was in serious trouble. There was no way I was wading through this bilge for the next seven hours. Well, not without losing the will to live. Which would be rather ironic, given the plot of the novel: a mad scientist tries to infect the world with a deadly plague and succeeds. But then, it turns out that it’s not really a deadly plague after all… ah well, never mind.
Suffice it to say that it took me not eight hours, but five weeks to finish the book. And by the end, even I couldn’t quite figure out why I was persisting with the damn thing. I couldn’t be bothered about what happened next. I didn’t care if Professor Robert Langdon was finally killed off. Hell, I didn’t care if Dan Brown killed off the entire human race in his parallel universe.
But still, I persisted until the very last page. Only to ask myself why I had bothered. Maybe the ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’
argument has run its course and it is time to remember that life is, indeed, too short.
From HT Brunch, July 21
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