Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Kindle and giving up on books

I hate giving up on a book, particularly when I've got more than halfway. It seems such a weak thing to do. That's why I don't do it often.

I gave up on Vikram Seth's 1349-page "A Suitable Boy" because I wanted to be able to look forward to a time when I wasn't reading it. I abandoned Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" a chapter before the end because it was the only way I could express my contempt for its total lack of the basic suspense it was supposed to be providing. I have occasionally set a book aside with the intention of returning to it. Sometimes I have done so.

In truth the thing I really hate about stopping reading something is the conversation with the GLW.

"Oh, I thought you were reading Book A."

"Just thought I'd have a change."

"Oh." (Heavily loaded, hinting at disappointment at spouse's lack of stickability.)

Anyway, the Kindle changes all this. I used to think its weakness was that nobody knew what you were reading. I now realise that can be a strength. Since I bought it I've read eight books: Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom", Jay Z's "Decoded", Keith Richards' "Life", Max Hastings' "Finest Years", David Nicholls' "One Day", Ben Macintyre's "Operation Mincemeat", Rory Stewart's "The Places In Between"and Peter Doggett's "You Never Give Me Your Money". (I know this because my Kindle tells me.)

More interestingly, I've given up on a further two. Both "The Hare With Amber Eyes" by Edmund de Waal and "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy were books that were recommended to me by friends. If I'd been reading either of them in actual paperback - laying them on the bedside table at night, putting them in my pocket in the morning - I would probably have stuck with them. But they weren't so I didn't and I have no regrets about it at all.

They're not sitting there curling up with a look of mild reproof. They're still inside my machine. I might return to them at some point in the future, much as I have done with records that didn't make an impression at the time I got them but did many years later. We shall see.


  1. The bottom line is that reading a book, whether it be made from a tree or some high tech bit of plastic, has to be enjoyable or in some way 'worthwhile.' Stickability is all well and good but what about compatibility between you and the author? As you say, the same can be said with music - one man's album of the year might be, to paraphrase Ian McMillan, another man's squeaky gate music. Your hit rate, anyhow, seems to be holding up. For the ones that don't make it I guess there's always charity shops who'll take them off your hands. (Don't know what the Kindle equivalent of a second hand book depository is - the delete button?)

  2. I used to stick with a book through thick and thin. Nowadays, if I can't connect or it doesn't hold my attention, I give it up pronto.

    There's so many books & life is too short to be slogging through things in the vain hope that it might come good in the end.

  3. I'm a convert to ebooks mostly due to my 2 hour commute to Central London everyday. I read very quickly and lugging two books with me everyday was a pain; but I couldn't run the risk of finishing one at the start of a journey and having nothing else to read!!

    However I can already start to feel a similar thing happening to me that happened with mp3s and the Ipod. If I get bored with a book I stop reading it. I know I've more to read and it's as easy as pie to start another.

    It means that I'm not sure if I'm giving myself to the book as much as I might an analogue version. Which I kind of feel has happened with music to an extent. I still obsess, but when you've got over 2000 albums in your pocket the temptation is to skim, not submit.

    I'm being sent a hardcopy version of a book I already own digitally but haven't read. I'll see what the 'old fashioned' way feels like again!

  4. It's worth noting that "The Hare with Amber Eyes" was beautifully bound and presented, a lovely thing to hold - I do wonder if I would have finished it had I been reading it on a Kindle...

  5. I also set aside 'The Road' despite the many recommendations from my friends. I did likewise after seven episodes of 'The Wire'...there must be some German compound word for the embarrassment of not liking something that is universally venerated by others.

  6. Pedant alert: If you "wanted to be able to look forward to a time when I wasn't reading it", then surely you should have persevered with it?

    I read a lot of poetry and plays these days, because they're quite short and easy to dip in and out of, whereas novels are the "big, baggy monsters" Henry James warned about in the 19thC - largely popular in days of serialisations, candle light and no telly. Really no need for anything to be 500+pages these days, surely.

  7. What about books that you should have given up on but regretfully didn't. I have quite a few of them unfortunately! Last one "Solar" by Ian McEwan - kept waiting for "it" to happen and it never did.