Putting the Book Down

Tuesday May 13, 2008 in books |

Anyone who occasionally looks at these pages may be aware that I feel bad about abandoning books. I feel a duty – however odd – to finish a book once I’ve started it. Probably wrongly, I often feel it’s something lacking in me when I give up on a book. I feel am unable to appreciate something that’s often very widely acclaimed, I’m just too dim to get it when everyone else has.

No Laughing Matter by Angus Wilson is a book that’s sat on my shelves for longer than I can remember. My yellow paperback copy has a inscription written by an old work friend (long since lost) who gave me the copy as a gift. Giving up on a book that I always meant to get round to makes the process all the more disheartening. The novel came back to my attention as it’s one that often turns up in top 100 lists. It’s one of Peter Boxall’s 1001 books before you die. It also turned up in last Saturday’s Guardian, named by several contemporary authors as the out of print book they’d love to see available again.

So what’s my problem? I found No Laughing Matter, like most of Wilson’s work, very difficult to get into. I also found it incredibly dated for a novel only written in 1967. Perhaps because it looks back on the period between the two world wars in its microscopic study of an English middle class family, although there are some similarities with Waugh – and I don’t find his work as dated. There are also echoes of Joyce, and it’s here – Wilson’s irritating experimentation – that led me to toss the book aside. I’m really sorry. But the hot weather at the moment inspires reading in the park beneath a shady tree – and I don’t want to spoil such rare perfect days curled up with a novel I can’t stand…

Picking books from must read lists often has this effect on me. It’s the same with films – and I wouldn’t want to be watching Citizen Kane on a sunny day either.

Although some books deserve to be in print a question has to be asked: if they were so good why did they fall out of print? Sounds like as a far as No Laughing Matter is concerned you just answered that question. Thanks as always for your perceptive thoughts.

simon    Tuesday May 13, 2008   

Good for you! It is hard though, isn’t it? Life is just too short to waste on books you aren’t enjoying, so continue using books as frisbees as often as you want to!

chartroose    Tuesday May 13, 2008   

True – you could spend your whole life reading 1001 books to read before you die – and then where would you be?

The Book Tower    Tuesday May 13, 2008   

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