Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Ten Books I Almost Put Down But Didn’t. I’m going to cheat a little and include some books I did put down but then came back to later, instead of only books I almost quit reading but finished anyway during the same general time period.
1. The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse. Regular readers may recall Hermann Hesse is my next-fave writer, and that I’ve been crazy about him since I discovered Demian among my father’s old books, during the Summer of ’94, when I was fourteen. But this particular book, which won him the Nobel Prize, was so difficult to slog through.
I was reading it when my family moved back to Pennsylvania in August ’96, and since our things were in boxes in my maternal grandparents’ house for almost a year, it was a great excuse to stop reading. When I finally went back to it around 2004, I kept the bookmark in that same spot, as a reminder of how my life was disrupted so badly when we left New York. That’s a very special bookmark too—I left it in a library book about Tad Lincoln, and when I checked it out again some years later, it was still there.
If you’re just getting into Hesse, I’d definitely recommend NOT starting with this book! It was his only book I found boring and a chore to get through, instead of a delight that flew by. It’s also proof that some writers excel at shorter novels but aren’t so good at longer books. However, the poems and the “Three Lives” stories after the main text are awesome.
2. Out of This Furnace, by Thomas Bell. I read some of this novel for my eighth grade social-studies report on my Slovakian roots. I had a real chip on my shoulder about my parents making me write about the Slovakian side of my family, instead of German, Italian, Dutch, or British. Now I’m glad they wouldn’t let me go with an ethnicity a lot of my classmates would’ve written about, so I could stand out from the crowd. I loved this book when I finally went back to it years later, and was actually moved to tears at a few points. I’m so glad my ancestors took our family out of that furnace so we could have a better life, and that no one’s ever called me a dumb Hunky.
3. The Song of Roland. Not easy getting through this Medieval French epic poem. At no point did I ever cheer for Roland and his buddies. The severe “my religion is better than yours” and Islamophobia turned my stomach, particularly when the conquerors murder and force-convert Jews and Muslims, and tear down synagogues and mosques. I have the same revulsion when I hear co-religionists talking about “the goyim” and using euphemisms for Jesus, Mary, Santa Claus, Christmas, and Krishna to avoid saying the names of “idols.” How dare you disrespect someone else’s religion!
4. Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Leonidovich Pasternak. I actually didn’t finish this till after my Modern Russian Lit class had ended. It was just a bad translation, coupled with the fact that Boris Leonidovich was much more experienced with poetry and translations than novels. This was his first and only novel, and it shows. (Oh, and the film adaptation sucks.)
5. Trinity, by Leon Uris. This was no fault of Mr. Uris (whom I’ve always liked, in spite of his shortcomings as a writer), but because I started it way too soon after finishing War and Peace. I just couldn’t get into it at first, since I was still coming down from that intense reading experience of the last 19 days. I needed more of a breather.
6. The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri. An older translation coupled with constantly having to look down at footnotes to see who all these people and concepts were. When I went back to it, I stopped interrupting my reading with footnotes and just enjoyed the poetry and story. It flew by from there on out.
7. Pretty much anything by the late fraud Beatrice Sparks. I’ve pretty much only read her crap to take one for the team and be able to compellingly warn people away from her propagandistic garbage. She wasn’t a good writer either, coupled with the fact that she blatantly lied about these being “real teen journals.”
8. Coming Home: A Woman’s Story Of Conversion To Judaism, by Linda Shires. Reading this book was like watching paint dry. Easily the dullest, slowest-moving, most off-topic conversion memoir I’ve ever read.
9. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. Another boring, slow-moving book which was like watching paint dry. Hemingway is easily one of the most overrated writers I’ve ever encountered. I’ve enjoyed his short stories, but that beyond-Spartan writing style doesn’t work when stretched out to an entire novel.
10. The Winds of War, by Herman Wouk. I just recently got back into this, after abandoning it quite some years ago. It just wasn’t the right time for me to read it, but now it is. Mr. Wouk will be 99 on May 27th; may he live and be well!