Read or Reject #4

My New Year’s Resolution is to give up on books that aren’t outstanding. I don’t want to miss out on a gem that happens to have a poor beginning, so I hope that you can help me sort the wheat from the chaff.

Should I continue reading any of these books?

The World According to Garp by John Irving

This is a modern day classic and so I had high hopes for it. I loved the first few chapters describing Garp’s birth and childhood, but as he aged his life became less interesting. I didn’t enjoy the stories-within-the-story and the plot began to drag. I gave up after 245 pages (out of 570) but keep wondering if something exciting happens in the final section. Do you think it is worth persevering with this book? Does it return to the greatness of the opening chapters?


The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman

This book won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 1990. It is set in London in the near future and has a fascinating beginning. I loved the inventive predictions for the future, especially the way in which people are educated and controlled via viruses. Unfortunately the plot quickly became too complicated for me and I had no idea what was happening. The central character performs an opera based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, but I’m afraid the symbolism was lost on me. After reading 50 pages in a row in which I understood hardly anything I gave up. I’m passing this one on to my husband and hope he might be able to explain it to me. Does this book suddenly make sense after a certain number of pages?

The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith

I hadn’t heard heard of this book before watching Faulks on Fiction, but it was mentioned several times during the series and so I was intrigued enough to give it a try. Unfortunately I found it a tedious read. He lives a very dull life and I didn’t see the funny side of reading the diary of someone who does nothing noteworthy. I gave up after 70 pages. I assume that the rest of the book continues in the same vein?

Salvage by Robert Edric

I normally love predictions of what life will be like in the future, but although Salvage had a promising opening I quickly realised that this book provides a vision of what government bureaucracy might be like in 50 years time. Bureaucracy annoys me at the best of times and so it isn’t something I enjoy reading about. Does this book move away from the red tape?

Was I wrong to give up on any of these books?

Is there magic lurking in the final pages?

56 replies on “Read or Reject #4”

I am sad that you gave up on the Diary of a Nobody; I found it hilarious. Nothing much happens, you are right, so if you’re not enjoying it, I guess you should leave it, but that is precisely why it is so funny.

Verity, I seem to have a very narrow band or humour when it comes to books – very few actually make me laugh 🙁 I’m afraid I just didn’t get it.

I’ve not read any of them, but our book club read Last Night in Twisted River by Irving (which none of us liked). In our discussion, however, Garp was mentioned as being breathtaking and classic. So I know they would tell you to keep on reading that one.

Sandy, Yes – I have heard people say how amazing it is, but I’m struggling to see it. I wonder if people forget the dull middle bit because the ending is so good? Hopefully someone will be along soon to tell me why people love it so much.

Hi-I wanted to add that I have not read this one either-however Irving’s ‘Prayer for Owen Meany’ is an all time favorite of mine. If you end up dropping “Garp” (the movie had the same problems that you say the book has…) try that one-I would like to know what you think of it. I enjoy your blog very much!

Donna, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I have a copy of Owen Meany so I will ensure I give it a try at some point. Thanks for the recommendation.

I enjoyed “The World According to Garp” but it was at least tenty years ago. I think he was a bit of a cult read then, and I don’t know how well this book has aged. I can only remember the beginning of it, so maybe you’re right and that’s where all thge good stuff is! I see you are reading The Periodic Table – I really liked that.

Deborah, I don’t think Garp has aged – it still feels fresh to read. Thanks for letting me know that you only remember the begininng – it makes me feel a bit better about not missing something amazing in the ending.

I’m loving The Periodic Table at the moment – it is so rare to have such good chemistry combined with a good book 🙂

Garp – I too read this at the height of its cult appeal. Seem to remember the beginning was way better than the end even then, but did enjoy it at the time.
Grossmith – I’ve not read, but I’d continue, but only because it is one of those ‘books one should read’ so you can get all the references made to it in other later novels – or maybe a good summary (cf Dante too!)
Edric – I’ve only read one of his books Gathering the water which I adored. That was about the effects of a valley being flooded to make a reservoir earlier in the 20th C. This one sounds like he’s taking the eco theme onto another level and could be a little worthy … I’d like to read more of his books though.
Not very helpful am I 😉

Annabel, No – you’re very helpful. Thank you. I think you are right about Grossmith – it was mentioned so many times in that history of the novel TV series so it seems to have had a lot of influence on other books. I might take your cheat’s suggestion and ses if I can find a quick summary to read instead.

I’ll try to read some real Dante soon and not leap straight into the summaries – that might make many other books a bit more understandable too. 🙂

Thanks for letting me know that Gathering the Water is good. I won’t write off Edric yet.

The only one of these I’ve read is Salvage, and, no, it doesn’t move away from the red tape — in fact, it’s all about the effect that bureaucracy has had on the future society. It’s a good book in places, but you are not missing anything by abandoning it.

I think I read Garp three times in a row, back in the 1980’s. I loved all of it. It’s a baggy pantsed monster of a book. Things do turn much more serious towards the end. The movie is more-or-less decent and gets most of the book right.

cbjames, Thanks for pointing out that there is a movie version -since I’m not a big fan of baggy pantsed monsters I might just watch that instead. 🙂

I’ve never had any luck with John Irving- had a friend in highschool who loved him so I gave Owen Meany a try and it was just tedious. All these other books I’ve never heard of, so I’m no help there!

Jeane, I’ll try some more Irving in the future, but I might have to face the fact that his style isn’t for me. Maybe I’ll find them all tedious?

I picked up Garp because I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany (have you read that one?) but it didn’t live up to my expectations. Probably because I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. I vote drop.

Alex, No I haven’t read Owen Meany (Garp was my first Irving). I did bond to Garp and his mother at the start of the book, but I lost interest in them as Garp grew up. Such a shame 🙁

Stephanie, The annoying thig is that it is good in the beginning and I have invested a lot of time in getting to the half way stage. It is almost enough to make me hate him too 🙁

I’ve only read The World According to Garp and I read it many years ago but loved it. I took my time reading it and I recall that it became more serious as the book progressed but I enjoyed it.

I’m sorry that I can’t help you more. There are so many books to read, it might be worth putting Garp and the others aside for now and maybe returning to them some other time?!

Good luck!

Amy, I am still intrigued about what happens at the end of Garp – I do like the sound of serious 🙂 May be I’ll have to give it another try at a later date.

I think I liked Garp all the way through – but then, it’s such a long time ago. My problem with Irving is that his books all contain the same elements and that gets boring after a few books. But reading just one never hurt me! 🙂

I gave up on Garp too years ago and that was after loving Owen Meany (give that a try instead!) I’ve heard great things about Diary of a Nobody but if satire is not your thing then give that up too. The Child Garden has been on my wish-list for years.

50 pages is the limit for me – if I’m not feeling it by then then to the bottom of the pile for another time or completely rejected it becomes.

Claire, Satire is very hit/miss for me. It isn’t normally my type of thing at all, but I have just finished a fabulous satire of the publishing industry so perhaps I just have to find satire about the right subject.

I’ll ensure I try Owne Meany at some point.

The World According to Garp –I loved it enough to reread it a couple times and also saw the movie. I remember being bored with the time in Vienna/story within a story every time I read it. The thing I would say is that Garp’s own story keeps turning–some of the turns can break your heart. This is my favorite of John Irving’s books, but also liked The Cider House Rules (a little preachy though) and A Prayer for Owen Meany (ditto). I read the Diary of a Nobody but didn’t find it that funny either.

Susan, It is interesting to know that you found the Vienna section boring – that is when it all went downhill for me. It hasn’t recovered yet (although I did like the brief scene with the abuser in the park) I think I may have to keep trying with it, if only to satisy my curiosity.

It is more than ten years since I read Garp, but I know I loved it at the time and that it made me laugh and cry. I don’t remember the ending, but I vividly remember what happens in the middle – so if you think the middle is dull, you haven’t got to the heart of it yet.

I loved Owen Meany too, in fact I was so moved by it I bought several copies to give away to people. The Cider House Rules is a classic as well – but only if you like his style, I guess.

As for Pooter, the only thing I remember about him – the only thing anyone remembers, I suspect – is him painting the bath red!

Phillip, You and a few of the earlier commenters have persuaded me to give Garp another chance. Hopefully I’ll be rewarded with something special. Thank you for pleading its cause.

I wasn’t overwhelmed by Garp (though I did finish it), but I’d like to add my voice to those suggesting you give Owen Meany a try. I’ve read it twice, and would say it is one of the best (if not the best) books I’ve ever read.

Amused, I know my taste in reading has changed a lot since I was in school too – I don’t think all those Mills and Boon novels I read would hold the same appeal now 😉

I did enjoy Salvage very much, but then I don’t remember it as being about bureaucracy. I recall it as a chilling tale of a very possible future for Britain, where greed and corruption remain oblivious to dreadful natural disasters, or even try to feed off them. The ending was quite tense as the floods start to rise again. But it sounds to me like you’ve signed it off in your mind already, and I think it’s really hard to get back into a book after that. If you don’t like this you’d better stay clear of Kafka and Orwell too!

I think you may just be the Simon Cowell of the book blogworld, Jackie! I can hear you yelling Next! And ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ 🙂

litlove, You are right – bureaucracy probably isn’t the right word. It is all about the corruption of those in power. You are also right in that it would take a very compelling argument to make me pick this one up again (unlike some of the others on the list) This sort of book just isn’t to my taste. I wasn’t a massive fan of 1984 so I’ll remember to lower my expecations of Kafka 😉

Thanks for the comparison to Simon Cowell – I’ll try to take that as a compliment 🙂

parrish, Faulks on Fiction was a fantastic program and has added a lot of books to my wishlist. At least I have a greater awareness of these important novels, even if I don’t actually enjoy reading them.

Hi Jackie,
I DO remember the ending of GARP and in some ways its the best part of the book – typical Irving a bit bizarre, comic-tragic but still reasonable in his world. Please finish it, I think you will appreciate Owen Meany and Cider House Rules even more. Often an author’s first novel is not their best but its wonderful to see their development and growth as writers.

SEY, Thank you for the plea to finish Garp. I will do that as a number of comments have intrigued me and I especially like your mention of the bizarre ending. Your comments about appreciating the other books also makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

I’m afraid I will be of no help at all since I’ve not read any of these. However I am becoming a big proponent of abandoning books that are not holding my interest.

Kathleen, It is very liberating and can only lead to enjoying the books you are reading even more. Glad you’ve discovered the joy of abandonment.

I felt the same way about Prayer for Owen Meany – first couple of hundred pages were ok, but it went downhill from there. I’m yet to finish it… Might pick it up again during this long weekend.

I haven’t read the others so cannot comment – sorry.

I’ve always struggled with John Irving, laboriously reading much of Cider House Rules, Widow for a Year, Hotel New Hampshire. I abandoned Garp, and have started A Prayer For Owen Meany several times. Everyone I know loves the later, so I plan on picking it up again this summer. All I can say is, that Haruki Murakami loves American authors John Irving and Raymond Carver the best, so they must be worth something!

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