Unfinishable Books

Copies of Ulysses, Tristram Shandy, and The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium.

An unscalable wall of unfinishable books. The first two were bought from Bookcase in Carlisle, the last from a stall at the open air market in Keswick.

At a time of sickness, too much sickness, in fact, to be able to string many words together, I find myself neither reading nor writing, whether about the reading that isn’t taking place or anything else for that matter. While I’m ill, all books have become resistant in that manner that certain books are under any circumstances. In my case, attempting to read anything is currently as fruitful to me as making yet another attempt at Ulysses, Tristram Shandy, or The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium. Each of these titles then, it would surely follow, has something about it that renders the well mind unwell. A contagion in book form perhaps? And I know from others that there are many such books that scramble the brain so – the unfinishable despite the best intentions.

Perhaps there should be a fail list of these hard-to-read titles on the Internet? Perhaps, in the light of the comments above about sickness, it could be called the Sick List? Readers could consult it so that they could source secondhand copies and thus avoid paying full-price on words that, let’s face it, would either make little sense if read or else remain unread and contribute to a guilty conscience. There’s a market here for a book that goes through the Sick List and offers, book by book, pain killers and remedies for readers who have failed.

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7 Responses to Unfinishable Books

  1. Letizia says:

    The Sick List – brilliant! I’d have to put Tristam Shandy on my list as well. And, oddly enough, Moby Dick, which I just cannot get through for some reason. Ulysses I managed but it was for a university course so that goes in the Forced to Read and Happy I Did List (need to find a shorter name for that list).

    Get well soon.


    • Jeff says:

      I quite appreciated the way that Ahab’s single-minded pursuit at any cost paralleled anyone attempting to read Moby Dick. I hope Ulysses was worth it. These titles have an embarrassment factor to them. I don’t think anyone’s supposed to admit that they’re maddening. I get the impression that a true literato is supposed to talk at length of how enjoyable they are, and how it’s only at the third reading that things fall into place (with the caveat that something or other nonetheless eludes etc., followed by more talking at length). Thanks for your honesty!


  2. Stefanie says:

    Sorry you aren’t feeling well. I must say I did love Tristram Shandy when I read it last year. And I like Ulysses very much too when I read that a few years ago. It helped to read it with a second book that annotated all of Joyce’s references otherwise I would have had a much harder go of it. Hope you find something that makes you feel well instead of sick!


    • Jeff says:

      I do recall laughing uncontrollably at some passages of Ulysses. I think it was a chapter constructed almost entirely of neologisms (which narrows it down a bit, I’m sure).
      Sleep and Ibuprofen are my current substitutes for reading and anything else not work-related. I still have 3 days to work this week, and as a new employee, I’m dreading being asked in for any of the weekend again. It’s a pity because the only thing I can realistically afford to enjoy on my income is cheap reading, and now I don’t even have the energy for that! Never mind. I’m sure to be back to normal in a week. Until then, even a bus ticket is a bit of a challenge.


  3. Ste J says:

    I think Moby Dick needs to be added to the list, how anybody has the patience for that is beyond me and James Joyce’s penchant for made up words is another one that has me struggling. I like The Sick List it is a good name and shall henceforth be borrowed ( with full credit given) and used in polite company.


    • Jeff says:

      You’re welcome to the term. It’s snappier than ‘books that read like everything does when you’re unwell’.

      I quite enjoyed the documentary aspects to Moby Dick, but I have to admit to regularly checking to see how many pages were left to go. I’ve recently been battling with De Quincey’s Confessions of an Opium Eater while battling, in parallel, with my infection. Now I’m recovering, I find the book just as enjoyable as when I was ill, so maybe it’s another book for the Sick List? Confessions is like a continuous digression from a point that you keep forgetting. It’s one to return to like Sterne and Joyce. I’m now continuing with 7 Days in the Art World. Feeling better already.


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