Books Yet To Be Read

1 Dec

I’ve just been reshuffling the contents of the bookshelves at Sutton Reeves Heights, in preparation for exciting events. I’m pretty good at decluttering and find it immensely therapeutic – except when it comes to books. I once managed to give away over 800 of them, but that was some twenty years ago. I’ve taken quite a few to the charity bookstore today. But I could do with getting rid of a great deal more. The ones that I’ve read and might read again, the ones yet to be read… They arch their spines at me, defying me to put them out in the cold. 

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New bookshelves appearing…

I’ve alluded before to another trouble I have with books (click here to see). My problem is that once I’ve reached a certain point in a book, I feel that I can’t abandon it. This is ridiculous, of course. I’ve mentioned the difficulty I had in getting through Martin Amis’s London Fields and J A Baker’s The Peregrine. Both books had their merits but they were long and dragged on at times, taking me many months to complete. For the last six months or so, I’ve been stuck on Roy Jacobsen’s Borders. I really enjoyed his Burnt-out Town of Miracles and thought that Child Wonder was an evocative masterpiece. So when I found a newly-translated work by the Norwegian writer in my local bookstore, I bought it straight away. It concerns the Wehrmacht becoming mired in Stalingrad. And it begins promisingly enough, switching between one surreal vignette and another. But it’s left me feeling equally bogged down, somewhere around page 208 of its 281 pages…  

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And yet more shelves…

I’ve acquired two new books by one of my favourite writers, the French experimental novelist, Georges Perec. They’re sitting on those shelves, waiting to be read. They also happen to be his first novel and his last. The latter was thought to have been lost before being found in an attic a number of years ago. I was aware of Portrait of a Man from David Bellos’ superb biography of Perec, A Life in Words. But now I actually have a copy. And, yes, of course, only Perec’s first book could be his last… As for 53 Days, Perec died before completing it, unfinished by the writer rather than the reader. I already possessed a French copy that my father has been reading, but that’s another tale for another post. My American edition of the book – also translated by Bellos – has the extant text plus lots of notes the author made and curious-looking appendices. How exciting is that? And so I’ve come to a radical conclusion. I’m not going to finish reading Borders. Instead I shall start reading 53 Days, in tandem with the immensely talented Colombian illustrator whom I’ve previously mentioned.  

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… and yet more books

I’ve loved everything that I’ve read by Georges Perec, except A Void (La Disparation), his full-length lipogram, omitting the letter ‘E’. I admired it but didn’t much enjoy it, again taking several months to read it. Life a User’s Manual, on the other hand, I have read several times and experience the opposite sensation every time – I don’t want it to finish. That, it seems to me, is the mark of a novel’s success and an inspiration as I stumble toward the finishing line with my own latest work. 

All text and images © PSR 2016

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6 Responses to “Books Yet To Be Read”

  1. Jocelyn Green December 1, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

    Paul, you’ve given me some good examples of books to add to my reading list. I find that I am able to stop reading a book when I become stuck. I figure there’s no point forcing myself to read. Books I’ve become mired in include The Magic Mountain and the Charterhouse of Parma.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves December 1, 2016 at 11:03 pm #

      Thanks for commenting, Jocelyn. I envy you – I need that self-discipline. Both of those are highly regarded but it doesn’t mean they work for you as an individual reader. I think it must be something to do with being made to finish my main meal as a child, even when I didn’t like it…

  2. Mari Biella December 4, 2016 at 11:22 am #

    I have the same problem, Paul – once I start reading something I feel I have to continue right up to the last page, even if I’m not enjoying it. I don’t know why. I think a lot of people these days tend to think that the onus is all on the writer to entertain the reader. My feeling is that it’s more of a two-way thing. If I can’t read a book the way it deserves to be read, perhaps, then why continue? I’m currently reading a book that I expected to enjoy, but it’s not really doing anything for me so far… but still I press onwards, albeit slowly.

    “Exciting events”? Could you tell us a bit more?!

    • Paul Sutton Reeves December 4, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

      HI Mari and thanks for commenting. You expect to have to work a bit at a rewarding read, but this one feels like breaking rocks in an Alabama penitentiary. I used to have the same problem with manuscripts. Once I started writing something, I’d keep ploughing on, even when the ground was infertile.

      Well, the exciting events concern the Colombian illustrator with whom I’ve said I’ll be working. We’ve begun illustrating our wedding book – that is to say, we’re getting married!

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