This post is a sop to the obsessive being that occupies part of my mind and insists that if I’m going to blog about my reading I should Leave Nothing Out. So here they are, the books I didn’t finish:
A C Grayling, Descartes: The life of René Descartes and its place in his times (2005, Pocket Books 2006)
We started this as a read-aloud on a medium-length car trip, perhaps Sydney to Canberra, after hearing A C Grayling speak at a Sydney Writers’ Festival. The Art Student had previously read his polemical Against All Gods, and regaled me with some of the good bits. Neither of us knew all that much about Descartes: the AS had come across him in her Art History course and wanted to know more, and all I had was dim memories from second-year University French: ‘Je pense, donc je suis,’ a long night sitting in a stove, etc. And the cover blurb offered us revelations involving a spy story.
It’s not that the book wasn’t interesting, but the combination of philosophical seriousness and careful assembly of evidence for the hypothesis that Descartes was a spy was far from riveting. We hadn’t got much further than 50 pages (again) when we agreed that conversation or the radio would be a better option, and later neither of us felt any urge to read on solo.
Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog: What dogs see, smell, and know (Scribner 2009)
This was read-aloud for a relatively short drive, discontinued because the book was a loan rather than because of any failure on its part to hold our attention. We knew we weren’t going to read the whole thing, so as reader-aloud I was given licence to pick and choose. I read the chapters towards the end about dogs’ theory of mind – asking the question whether dogs have versions in their minds of what is going on in our minds. It’s lively, fascinating stuff. Just as interesting as the dogs are the people who construct meticulous experiments to determine what dogs are actually doing when we project so much onto them.
Manuel Puig, Pubis Angelical (1979, translation by Elena Brunet, Random House 1986)
This book begins with a woman waking up alone in sumptuous surroundings the night after her wedding, having been drugged and subjected to sexual violence by her bridegroom. In the following chapters, written variously as diary entries and unannotated dialogue, a woman – not, it turns out, the same one – is in a hospital recovering from cancer surgery. Manuel Puig wrote The Kiss of the Spider Woman, and this novel has some kinship with that and the movies of Pedro Almodóvar. Evidently this style of febrile introspective suffering doesn’t do it for me in a novel, but I struggled on joylessly to page 50, where an arms dealer entertains some nasty images of brutally humiliating and killing his wife. Then I I gave up.
This post is about books I have no intention of returning to each of them when the urge strikes. There are others where my reading has stalled – Byron’s Don Juan, Grayling’s The Good Book, the Lehmann and Gray anthology of Australian poetry – but I’ll return to each of them in the fulness of time.