The Idiot, or Not Finishing Books I Don’t Like

‘Do you think,’ the professor was saying, ‘that you could spend two hours reading the same passage, the same sentence, even the same word? Do you think you might find it tedious, or boring?’

I stated in a recent post that I am trying to improve when it comes to not finishing books I don’t like. I usually find this a struggle, as I am one of those people who likes to finish what they start. But when it came to this book, the decision to stop reading it was very easy indeed. I made it page 122 of 432, so I read only 28% of it. I couldn’t even get to a decent 50% completion, I just had to give up. I couldn’t read any more. I was so completely bored.

The premise was what interested me – a coming of age story set at a university, and the protagonist wants to be a writer as well. I can relate to that. As it turned out, I related to some parts of the book, but that did not mean I liked any of the characters, or the overall narrative – or lack thereof. Granted, if I had got beyond page 122 things may have picked up, but I can safely say from what I managed to read that nothing happens, save for various descriptions of university experiences and classes, or skipping those classes because the protagonist is above them.

‘One morning, on my way to a lecture on Balzac, it came to me with great clarity that there was no way that guy, the professor, was going to tell me anything useful. No doubt he knew many useful things, but he wasn’t going to say them; rather, he was going to tell us again that Balzac’s Paris was extremely comprehensive.’

She believes either that she won’t learn anything, or that what she does learn won’t be what she wants to learn – ‘ Everything the professors said seemed to be somehow beside the point. You wanted to know why Anna had to die, and instead, they told you that nineteenth-century Russian landowners felt conflicted about whether they really were a part of Europe.’ This was another feature of the book that bothered me – here she refers to Anna, having never referred to her before. I know she means the protagonist of Anna Karenina, but that’s only because I have read the book before and studied it, and was able to make an educated guess nonetheless by the reference to nineteenth-century Russia. But there were so many other references like this, to various authors, philosophers, characters and so on, that I did not get, making me feel like the title of the book. These 122 pages I read were dense with them, and reading felt like trying to walk through quicksand. You think you’re starting to enjoy the book and relate to it and then, nope, another obscure piece of trivia with the protagonist or her friends proving just how intelligent and well-read they are – I consider myself to be intelligent and well read, but I don’t talk like this – I don’t think anyone does…

‘I get that you despise conversation, but you shouldn’t let it get to the point that you’re incapable of saying, ‘Fine, thanks,’ just because it isn’t an original, brilliant utterance. You can’t be unconventional in every aspect of life. People will get the wrong idea.’

Our protagonist was so eager to know what books ‘really meant’ and find the deeper meaning behind the apparent mundanity and fruitlessness of her life and her time at university. I couldn’t tell you what this book meant as a whole – but I can tell you that these first 122 pages meant boredom, confusion, and dissapointment in what looked like a fun premise.

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