I have a ton of books.
This isn’t meant to be bragging or boasting, but is simply a reality. As a kid, my parents were kind enough to encourage me to read and fed the habit with loads of books. Since I’ve been old enough to have my own money, I’ve often spent it on books. My job exposes me to new books every day (which I often buy), not to mention the review copies and ARCs that publishers pass along. On top of this, I buy comics every Wednesday, borrow books from friends, and have a library card.
This all amounts to … a ton of books.
Now, I’m not embarrassed by the stacks of books that I haven’t had a chance to read. Each of these titles amounts to an opportunity – a possible new favorite tale. Lord knows I’m not the only one with a “stack” on my nightstand. iFanboy devotes a week each year to the stacks of books owned by the staff members, and fellow booksellers and booklovers often chat about everything they have that they haven’t gotten to read yet. Much more embarrassing that unread books is the books I have that I abandoned partway through.
Stopping a book that you’ve picked up isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you as a sales rep or at a bookstore, I understand that you can often get a “feel” for a writer’s voice and ability, and that’s all you need from the book. Similarly, sometimes you can tell that you won’t like a book, because of the author’s writing style or subject matter. Often, a new book comes along that steals away your attention. However, if you’re anything like me there are some books you’ve simply abandoned, without being able to put a finger on why. Books that seem to be written with you as an audience – books you feel like you should like – just don’t capture your thoughts like you’d hoped.
Here is a small selection of these books. My “stack of shame”, these are all books that just didn’t take me where I thought they would, proved too much for me, or simply didn’t hold my attention.
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
As I often tell customers who ask about Infinite Jest, this is the only book that has ever utterly defeated me. DFW’s massive 1,079 page novel covers decades of time, dozens of characters, and hundreds of end notes. Among other things, the book touches on “touches on the topics of tennis; substance addiction and recovery programs; depression; child abuse; family relationships; advertising and popular entertainment; film theory; and Quebec separatism.” While I’d like to get back to Infinite Jest and finish it some day, it has beaten me down numerous times.
Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
This is probably the most embarrassing title to have on the list, considering my love of graphic novels. On top of that, I love Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, and have enjoyed her articles in magazines and online. I even thought that Fun Home was well-written and illustrated. However, I only ever made it about halfway through this book, and I can’t really say why. I guess that the story just didn’t grab me, or my mood wasn’t in the right place to read it. Hopefully, soon I’ll be able to rectify this and finish the book.
Elegant Universe – Brian Greene
I tore through the first half of Greene’s book, which discusses classical physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics. Honestly, I was surprised by how understandable Greene made these concepts, which I never really got a great grasp of in high school or college. By the time the discussion moved on to string theory, I was totally left in the dust. It may have been more a fault of my grasp of the material than of the writing, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the complicated concepts. Though I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish Elegant Universe, I may move on to Fabric of the Cosmos, which is supposedly a bit more understandable for a casual audience.
Schultz and Peanuts – David Michaelis
Schultz struck me as a biography foiled by it’s own extraordinary research. Michaelis found out seemingly everything there is to know about Charles Schultz and his family, and included it all in his book. Rather than create an engaging narrative, for me the information overload made the bio feel bloated. The huge amount of information created what felt to me like a page of crucial biography for every few pages of unnecessary extra trivia. The glowing reviews for the book, however, make me wonder if I approached the book in the wrong way, looking for more of a narrative piece. I’ll definitely give this one another attempt soon.
I’ve tried to get into King’s magnum opus by reading multiple books in the series, as well as the Gunslinger Born graphic novel. Unfortunately, none of it ever took. This is another one I can’t really explain, since I’m a fan of all the other Stephen King books I’ve read. I’ll probably give the series one more try, and see if I can get past the haphazard-feeling initial pages and dig into the story.
So, I spilled. What’s on top of your bookside stack right now, and what’s in your stack of shame?