I feel I have a pretty good success rate with the books I choose to read. By that I mean I enjoy the majority of books I get lost in and have had a pretty good run of things recently. Whether it be fiction or non fiction, I have chosen wisely and been satisfied as a result. However, there are the ones which you devote time to but after around 100 pages have the inkling that it’s not quite living up to your expectations. I am in this place at the moment with The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. Things had looked good before embarking on this National Book Award winner for fiction in 1962. Firstly, the protagonist likes going to the movies so for a kick off there is something I can identify with and secondly on attempting to buy it in a central London book store I was told it wasn’t in stock but the chap serving me was keen to state that it wasn’t just a great story but his favourite book of all time. I think if I had invited him back to mine for an impromptu book group session he would have accepted but as we had just met, I thought it unwise to do so and besides I was in the mood for some record shopping after I had acquired the book. He was however very keen for me to track it down and this I did. Alas, it has failed to sparkle. This is obviously not a feeling shared with The Guardian who labelled it “Sharp, witty and profound” or The Times who state it is “A modern classic… wry and lyrical”. I would simply label it “well enough written, not as gripping as I had hoped and if I want wry and lyrical in the future I’ll dig out The Best Of Leonard Cohen”.
I did contemplate casting it aside and beginning something else but have decided to plod on to the end as it isn’t a long read, 242 pages to be precise. I had the same inclination when watching Scorsese‘s Shutter Island at the cinema earlier this year and while I would like to say I was glad I stayed to the end, all it served to do was prolong my disappointment with the film and wonder how such a great director could put his name to a piece of work that did so little for me. I am fully aware many others would not share this opinion.
The last book I neglected to finish was George Gissing‘s (pictured above) New Grub Street but it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it. I just got side tracked by some other books and fully intend to finish it at some point soon. The theme of artistic creativity over commercial gain is always an interesting one especially when applied to writers as it is in New Grub Street. It’s also a theme that anyone involved in the arts has to deal with at some point or other.
Regardless of how enjoyable and easy certain books are to digest compared to others, they all still require a concerted effort and one always hopes the effort is worthwhile. My question is, how far should you get in to a book before realising that continuing is futile and it would be better to start a new one? Conversely, is it the case that one should persevere in the hope that at the very least there will be some sense of achievement on completion? I hold out more hope for the next page turner I have lined up – a second hand copy of Let It Blurt: The Life And Times Of Lester Bangs. I can’t see that being tossed aside by page 70 or indeed 170. In fact on completition it may be the apt moment to reacquaint myself with Mr Gissing.
Image 1 – Cambridge Forecast
Image 2 – Alison Anderson