Abandoned: House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer’s Journey Home

A quick glance through it at the library a few days ago convinced me that House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer’s Journey Home would be a wise choice for me.  After all, it is a memoir by a Southern writer who became a writer despite the obstacles thrown at him during his childhood.  I really enjoy reading memoirs, and I identify with Southern writers, so it seemed like a no-brainer of a choice.  Top it off with the revelation that the author’s mother has a Cajun background – and I couldn’t wait for it to work its way to the top of my TBR stack.

But I missed one little thing.  I see now that the book seems to be written entirely in the second person present tense.  It reads like something told by a mere observer of Mark Richard’s life, not like something written by a man who is revealing the touching events of his own life.  I read the first ten pages of the book, all the time hoping that Richard would switch over to first tense as the book progressed and his narrator grew older, figuring that he was recounting events so early in his childhood that he only knew what was told to him by others about them.  As far as I can tell, however, the entire book is written this way.  By the end of page 10, I was so frustrated by the distraction of reading in second person present tense that I returned the book to the library on my way home from the office this afternoon.
I’m pretty sure there is an interesting, perhaps even a moving, story between the covers of House of Prayer.  Unfortunately, I am not going to experience it.  Has this kind of thing ever happened to any of you…something so distracting about a book that, despite really wanting to read it, you just toss it aside?

Abandoned: The Big Rich

I suppose the odds were catching up with me.  After all, we are almost half way through the year and, until tonight, I have abandoned only two books.  I’ve been struggling more and more, though, with The Big Rich, a multi-person biography of the men who were so instrumental in building the oil industry in this state.

The book is interesting; that is not the problem.  I am giving up on it some 238 pages in (a little less than half-way through) but I have learned a lot about the key players, how this particular bunch rose to the top of the heap, how they managed to stay there, and how often some of them had to start over again.  Their surnames adorn buildings, streets, and businesses all over this state: Bass, Cullen, Murchison, and Richardson, primarily.  The University of Houston would be very different today if not for the money Roy Cullen donated to the school in its earliest days.  In other words, I have heard these names, and some of these stories, for my whole life.

But I began to struggle with the book when it focused on the conservative politics of the Texas oil men, and all of the national politicians who were so willing to come to Texas, kiss a little oil-man-butt, and take their money in exchange for favors to be delivered later.  That list of corrupt and semi-corrupt politicians includes, among others: Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Joe McCarthy, Dwight Eisenhower, J. Edgar Hoover, and countless others.  Business as usual, I know – but I’m sick of reading about this country’s political class and how incompetent and corrupt it generally is and has been.  This section of the book cancelled any curiosity I had to learn more about Texas’s version of the Beverly Hillbillies.

When reading a book becomes as much of a chore as this one has become, it is time to shut the covers for good.  Now I remember why I abandoned my political blog four years ago.  Anymore, I react to politics and, more specifically, to politicians with a mixture of disgust and boredom – all of them.  I surrender.  This is Abandoned Book number three.

Burned by an E-Book

Here’s one more reason that e-books will never equal the real thing.

We’ve discussed before why libraries carry such a limited selection of e-books (certain publishers refuse to sell to them) and why they have so few copies of the titles they do carry (publishers will only sell them a certain number of copies and they try to limit the number of times an e-book can be “checked out” before it has to be repurchased by the library).  All of that means that library patrons will almost always have to queue up for an e-book, placing it on hold for a few weeks before it becomes available for download to their e-reader.    Then, when the book finally becomes available, it will only be available for checkout for a few days (usually five) and can only be read for fourteen days after it has been downloaded.

Well, that combination of silliness caught up with me today.  After waiting six weeks to get a copy of Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey, I will not be able to finish it before the file becomes unreadable on my iPad.  Remember, we’re dealing with an e-book here.  Since I didn’t have a physical copy of the book to carry around, I failed to realize that the book is 720 pages long.  For that reason, I didn’t start reading it soon enough to get it done before the file becomes unreadable  – something that happens tomorrow.

My choices, you ask?  Only one comes to mind: queue up again for the book and resume reading it in another month or so.  The book cannot be renewed for another two weeks because the “corrupt by” date is built into the file on my iPad.  I realize this is only likely to happen with exceptionally long books, and that it is partially my fault for not checking the length of the book early on, but this is just more evidence that e-book publishers don’t get it.  (The OverDrive software does not show page numbers by default – a conscious effort to change the display is required for that to happen.)

One thing for certain is that I will not be rewarding Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, publisher of A Journey: My Political Life, by purchasing a copy of the book for my shelves or for my iPad, nor am I likely to line up again and wait my turn for a library copy.  Two can play at this game.  Unfortunately, even though it is not by choice, the book officially becomes my second abandoned book of 2011.

Abandoned: The 8:55 to Baghdad

I’ve decided this year that, when it comes to “abandoned” books, I want to do more than just keep track of the number of them I encounter.  After all, abandoned books are, in their own way, just as remarkable as books that I absolutely love –  they are just at the other extreme end of the rating scale.  These are books that even fail to allow me to turn their pages without almost groaning out loud from the effort.

That does not mean, of course, that they are necessarily “bad” books.  It simply means that after giving them a fair shot, I see going on with them as being a colossal waste of my time.  It reflects my personal reaction to these books.  Others may very well love them; see the next paragraph for proof of that.

This brings me to my experience this weekend with The 8:55 to Baghdad by Andrew Eames.  This is another book I discovered through Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go and is the first of hers to which I’ve reacted negatively.

The premise of The 8:55 to Baghdad is that its author will recreate Agatha Christie’s 1928 train trip from London to Baghdad, the trip that spawned her famous Murder on the Orient Express.  The book’s subtitle, From London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie, tells readers what to expect.  As Eames remarks early in the book, making this trip in 2002 is much more difficult, and potentially much more dangerous, than the trip that Christie took.  World War II and other recent conflicts in Europe have redrawn some borders and made them more difficult to cross, and the political unrest and actual fighting in the Middle East was, in 2002, getting worse by the month.

I have read and enjoyed several train-trip books in the past and expected that this one would be a treat, filled with interesting fellow passengers of the author’s and lots of colorful stories about the stops he made along the way.  That might very well prove to be the case – eventually – but after slogging through 60 pages of some of the more tedious prose I’ve read in a while, I will never know.  I simply cannot take another page of lifeless characters and writing so dry that I can barely concentrate on two consecutive sentences long enough to get their meaning.

The 8:55 to Baghdad is definitely not for me and I am stamping it as officially abandoned.