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Old 4th Oct 2006, 0:07   #1
Flutty
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Default An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stalled.

Recently I noticed how a book I had been reading had found its way back onto my bookshelves. Now that it is there I will be less likely to read it further. This set me to wondering what sort of process is involved in finally admitting you will not complete a book. This is to be my intimate history of a book stalling.

The book attracted my attention because of its audacious title "An Intimate History of Humanity" by Theodore Zeldin. It was in a book sale organised by the English Library in Geneva. I flicked the pages, saw some chapter headings I liked, read a few paragraphs and found the style agreeable. It was also cheap so I bought it.

I started reading it on a train trip to Vevey. I must have just completed a book prior to that. I often start new books on trains. I have a memory of reading it on a crowded Italian train, sitting uncomfortably in a temporary seat the corridor of an old fashioned coach. The train was from Paris and going to Milan, via Geneva, and Lausanne.

It is a curious but profound book. Each chapter starts with a sort of pen portrait or an interview with a contemporary and ordinary person. And then Zeldin weaves a way through the past, finding mirrors or parallels in history for the emotional problem the interviewee. I have copied a couple of passages from it, and even remember that there is a passage on page 88 that I re-read. It is a book that I feel I can pickup on occasion and read a chapter and then let it soak in. It is a strange, but beautiful book.

I took it with me to the USA on a long air, train and road trip. I was also trying to read "A Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein. My last recollection of reading Zeldin was on the plane on the outward journey. After that, I think I glanced at the next chapter, but decided not to start it as I like to read a non-fiction book one complete chapter at a time.

When I was in the States I visited lots of bookshops. There are not many opportunities for English language book browsing in Geneva. I know a few, but not many. So I came back loaded with new titles, and new hopes of reading them. And I was trying to get through that damn Heinlein book. I felt I had to complete it after doing 300 pages of it. But oh, how it dragged. So I laid Zeldin to one side, and tried to finish that damned novel. It was a classic sci-fi novel, damn its eyes.

I also laid out all my new books on my to read table - I had already read two of them, "Kierkegaard in 90 Minutes" by Paul Strathern and "The Art of Living" by Epictetus. I kept casting covetous looks at them, and even stroked them a few times... as I tried to complete that bloody novel.

Then this weekend I reshelved my books. I had moved my books into my new bedroom, about a month ago, and had left them in unsorted piles. As part of my reshelving project I gathered up all my old books littering the to be read table and shelved them too.

And now Zeldin is there with the rest of those other shelved and abandoned books with their folorn bookmarks stuck at the page where I had got stuck.

And tonight, I finally gave up on "Stranger in a Strange Land". It has gone back to the shelves, with its bookmark removed from it as an act of deliberate and irrevocable closure. And then I lasciviously opened and read a chapter from my next read "Human Nature: Fact of Fiction".

Perhaps I might go and rescue Zeldin from the shelves and bring it back to the table. It was really a casualty of my obstinacy in trying to read a long and, for me, tedious novel.

.....

I hope that was not too indulgent.

Anyone else have a history of how they never quite finished a book?
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 6:02   #2
Beth
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stalled.

Back in the spring, I began reading Emotional Intelligence by Goleman. It's good reading, but for some reason I placed another book, maybe Never Let Me Go, on top of it one night at the bedside. That moment was a bit predictive of the fate of EI for sure.

I keep a tower of books balanced on the nightstand, and all year I've added to the tower, finished most, abandoned a few, all the while keeping EI about 3 or 4 down while the top layers change constantly. The Goleman is there and I know it's there. What is so comforting about having a huge stack of books on the nightstand? If they fall in the night there will be confusion, for sure. Why can't I just declutter and put EI back on a shelf somewhere? This is just one example of many books that I have kept close at hand, never to finish. Why is it so hard to acknowledge that the stall might be a fatal dive? After reading your post, I think it could be quite typical of most bibliophiles. The details change, but the obsession with reading and books is permanent.
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 9:53   #3
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stal

I wrote the above, because I was enjoying that book. But it has stalled. Since writing the post I have now restored Zeldin to my "to be read" table.

I think I am a relatively slow reader and these days -- since I have become a grown-up -- I never seem to read for more than thirty minutes at a time. This means that I find it difficult to read novels. I sometimes think that some people read too quickly and too superficially.

I am a habitual dipper. That suits me for the most part as I tend not to read novels much. I read mostly non-fiction. And I read with big pauses after some passages. I then enter a dream-state and and either reiterate the idea or debate the idea. Sometimes, at a later point, I can rediscover these passages and attempt to recover those moments of thought or insight.

I also retain the old librarian's pre-cataloguing impulse - I call it gutting a book. That is, you read the preface or introduction, check the contents, look at the index headings, read the bio of the writer, and if you still feel you need more, perhaps read the introductory paragraphs and concluding pages for each chapter.

I often do that with my new purchases. I think I do this because at a later date I might go to a new book, knowing it covers a particular subject.
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 10:32   #4
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stal

This approximates the thread's purpose: I can't bring to mind a single book I have started and not finished, even if there was a lengthy break in the reading flow during the process. I remember that Credo by Melvin Bragg was long delayed and then significantly interrupted for example, but the prime case (and the first instance for me) was Harry Harrison's Star Smashers Of The Galaxy Rangers. I started it when I was about ten, then being a fan of his Stainless Steel Rat series; but the tone of SSOTGR left me cold. It seemed really childish, I thought, not recognising at the time that it was a pastiche of the classic Sci-Fi serials. About three years later I needed a read for a long car journey and - in a forerunner of the mindset which later quit me smoking - I reluctantly picked it off the shelf to finally get out of the way. I really enjoyed it, finally got the joke and was rewarded with a funny, subject-satirical twist at the end for my trouble. Plus I saved loads of money on fags and added years to my life expectency...

Actually, I lie.
I bought a four volume set of The Works of Lu Xun from Oxfam on total impulse, knowing nothing about him or His Works but liking the look of them (and having more cash suddenly). To date I have read only one passege from the entire set. I did find it interesting; he was a Chinese socialist and the set includes essays, memoires, historical folk tales and fiction (possibly some poetry too, I forget) - but I've never gone back to it. I basically live like a student, which means I move house every twelve months to two years and the greatest chore is the relocation of reading material, this included, but I don't mind. I like having them around! I've probably still got SSOTGR here somewhere...
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 11:14   #5
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stal

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flutty View Post
I wrote the above, because I was enjoying that book. But it has stalled. Since writing the post I have now restored Zeldin to my "to be read" table.
Yay! I so loved this book. Was given it by a friend on my 27th birthday and began to read it, but then ended up travelling to Greece and, though I took it with me, I didn't get to look at it again until a few years later. I even bought it in a Greek translation for my partner! Zeldin is such a lovely philosopher! And I love the way the book is written/structured - the personal histories informing the idea/theory.

I'll be looking forward to reading more of your responses. I may flick through it again and join you.
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 12:04   #6
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stal

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Originally Posted by kaninaki View Post
Yay! I so loved this book - "An Intimate History of Humanity" by Theodore Zeldin.

Was given it by a friend on my 27th birthday and began to read it, but then ended up travelling to Greece and, though I took it with me, I didn't get to look at it again until a few years later. I even bought it in a Greek translation for my partner! Zeldin is such a lovely philosopher! And I love the way the book is written/structured - the personal histories informing the idea/theory.

I'll be looking forward to reading more of your responses. I may flick through it again and join you.
Now that is what I call incentive.

I stopped on about chapter 8 - entitled something like "why it is harder to destroy your enemies"...

I think we should start a new thread - in the review section. Do you feel ready to write a short review of it. I can only comment on my first impression of the first third.
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Old 5th Oct 2006, 18:05   #7
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stal

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I think we should start a new thread - in the review section. Do you feel ready to write a short review of it. I can only comment on my first impression of the first third.
Oh, that's a challenge! Haven't written a palimp-review yet. Shall try to in next coming weeks.
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Old 6th Oct 2006, 10:28   #8
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stal

OK kaninaki, challenge accepted.

Let's do this together via off-Palimp comms.
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Old 31st Aug 2007, 1:29   #9
Flutty
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stal

Just re-discovered the Zeldin book.

I was moving some books from one shelf to a new shelf and I noticed it and thought..... hmmmmm maybe I should look at this again and then transferred it to my to-be-read pile.

I wonder if I will have anything to report soon.

Last edited by Flutty; 31st Aug 2007 at 15:30.
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Old 31st Aug 2007, 15:08   #10
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Default Re: An intimate history of how a book that you are reading joins the list of the stal

I've got makeshift bookmarks holding the page for me in numerous books that I think one day I might gat back to...

except that I know I won't. There's always something newer and fresher on the horizon. You know the poem,
Quote:
...I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
for me this seems to apply to books more than to paths. I've been thinking about getting back to The Gift of Rain since JS mentioned on the Booker thread that it picks up again after p250 or so, and like Paddyjoe, I expected to like it. But I've already had trouble with it once, and there is so much that is bright and new and not yet troublesome, just a few bookshelves away.
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