I regret to say that today I have had to do something I almost never do, mostly because I really hate doing it – and that’s abandon a book I had been reading. And I had got almost all the way through, too. I know, I know, this is like the person swimming the Channel who abandons the quest just as they get within sight of the further shore. But I really couldn’t muster the force to continue. I appreciate that many others will enjoy the book. Indeed, there were parts I found enjoyable – even instructive – but it seemed so poorly written, so ill-constructed, so flat, so full of error, with neither structure nor cadence, that I found the prospect of continuing just not worth the effort. No, I am not telling you which book it was.

The last time I abandoned a book, the tome in question was 2121, a dystopia by Susan Greenfield, which I gave up on page 19 (though I was sure I’d abandon it on page 12 – I just read a few pages more because I felt I had to make sure) which combined very poor characterisation with a seemingly total disregard for the entire canon of science fiction that the author sought to enter. Since then I have always always always finished what I start.

I fear I might have been spoiled. One book I shall surely finish is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (I am 7/8ths through its 2,900-page extent). I started earlier this year and it has been a revelation. The prose is so lucid; the arguments so well constructed; the tone so measured (yet not without biting humour in places). Sure, it’s no potboiler, and requires concentration, but it is so well-wrought that most other things seem slack and ill-made by comparison. And I am listening to an audiobook version of The Lord of the Rings, narrated by Andy Serkis, on my daily dog walks. Tolkien, a philologist by profession, a poet by avocation, took infinite care over the words he used, because he realised that words have meaning; they have nuance; they have history; they have impact. They deserve respect.

And yet I feel terribly guilty. About not finishing a book, I mean. I think I need to calm down with a collection of SF short stories. Or just stare at the wall.

About Henry Gee

Henry Gee is an author, editor and recovering palaeontologist, who lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets, inasmuch as which the contents of this blog and any comments therein do not reflect the opinions of anyone but myself, as they don't know where they've been.
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2 Responses to Incompletion

  1. rpg says:

    I know what you mean, Henry. There are a only couple of books so dire that I have not finished them. There are others (well, at least one) that I have finished through gritted teeth and then thrown out the patio doors into the garden and left them there.

    Words indeed have nuance and history. Shame on the authors who do not respect them.

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