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On putting books down.

July 8, 2011

I’ve done it four times this year – more than I have ever done it before. That is, I’ve put four books back to my shelf after having read through some of it. For each instance, it was for a different reason, and in each instance I felt as though I was cheating the author out of an opportunity to affect my perception of the world. That said, each was set down for different reasons, and each has a different future in how highly I esteem them. Let me outline:

The first book was The Origin of Species by Nino Ricci. This was during my post-Everything-is-Illuminated reading crisis, when I was certain no book would ever capture me in such a way again. I read through the first chapter, but I didn’t really like it. The writing style just didn’t quite jive with me, and nothing exciting seemed to happen at all. There was a meeting of two people that didn’t really mix well. Ever since then, though, I’ve been imagining of the things that could have happened with this relationship. I’ll definitely be returning.

The second was a collection of short stories, Dinner Along the Amazon, by Timothy Findley. This was how I got through my post-Everything is Illuminated reading funk – reading two of the stories included. Findley captures family crises and brokenness so phenomenally well, that the stories I read reminded me of what it is that I love about his writing. It doesn’t transfer to words well though, but there is a feeling that emanates from the pages that I’ve only ever before encountered from Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero. I didn’t finish the collection, but I pushed a couple of his novels up in my to-read pile.

The third was War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. This is merely because it had far too many characters for me to follow when it wasn’t my primary reading. Earlier this year I attempted a new reading strategy – three books instead of two, two of the three being fiction, one being non-fiction, one of the fiction being a very long book. It failed. But I really enjoyed what I read of War and Peace, so I will be going back to it. And it is on my e-reader, so it is really quite a convenient thing to carry around.

The fourth was An Irish Heart by Sharon Doyle Driedger. I don’t write about my non-fiction experiences on this blog very often because I don’t find that my academic pursuits translate well to my literary adventures. But let me assure you, this book is not worth the money, time, or effort it demands to read. I say this for several reasons. First, there is no real organization of ideas or themes. Individuals pop up in the history, and then stop existing the following paragraph, never to return again. As a result, all of her impeccable research – and this is to her credit – is lost; there is no thread combining it. And second, it is all narrative. The field of history, one I am hoping to contribute to in my lifetime, is defined by analysis; one’s contribution is defined by one’s ability to analyse. And there was no analysis in this history. This exploration of Griffintown – certainly a story that deserves telling in Montreal’s history – had all the potential to become fascinating, but ultimately failed. It would’ve benefited from any sense of direction or focus. If I had my suggestion, it would’ve been on the flooding of the neighbourhood (which proved to be the most interesting section). Ultimately, not recommended in the slightest – after getting three quarters of the way through, I intend to do nothing more with this failed attempt at social history than regard it as a project that I hope to never resemble in my own output.

I’ve never really set aside a book before. Until this year I had always convinced myself that a book should be read – once it is in my hands, it is deserving of being finished before it is replaced by another. This year I started to leave this ethic, and I am not sure if it is for the better. I trust in the ability of authors and their publishing and editing supporters to reduce the amount of drudgery that is out there in the world of literature – so each book has a chance to change how I look at my environment. It may provide a memory or a flashback, as most of the great novels I have read do. I suppose that is one of the reasons for which I will be going back to three of the four that I’ve abandoned at some point.

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