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A Year of Abandoning Books

This time last year I resolved to abandon any book that failed to excite me. When I made that resolution I failed to appreciate how difficult this task would be, but a year down the line I’m getting better at it, having learnt a lot more about my reading personality.

How Does it End?

The problem with abandoning books is that you don’t get to find out what happens in the end. That sounds obvious, but, particularly in the case of popular classics, this really bothered me. I initially found it very difficult to abandon these books, wasting days of valuable reading time ploughing through to the end. There are a few solutions I’ve utilised in the past year, but you’re probably not going to like them:

  • Skim read the dull sections
  • Ask someone else what happens in the end (Twitter is particularly useful for this!)
  • Read the plot summary on wikipedia
  • Watch the film version

Over the course of the past year I’ve used all these tactics at some point and now have a vague idea of what happens in a large number of books that weren’t to my taste, freeing my time to enjoy those books that do capture my imagination. I’m sure that some people will be appalled that I advocate skimming the classics, but the reality is that there are far too many to read in a lifetime and so I’d prefer to dedicate my reading time to those that are enjoyable.

Abandonment Dilemmas

My biggest abandonment dilemmas come from books that have both positive and negative attributes. The problem is that these often make the most interesting reviews and I enjoy thinking and writing about these flawed books. As I mentioned last week, these flawed books frequently stick in my memory and  go on to become favourites. So for the time being I am going to continue reading/reviewing them.

Boring Books

I don’t have any qualms about abandoning boring books. Anything that fails to elicit a response (either positive or negative) will be abandoned. I’ve discovered that the more ruthless you are, the higher the overall quality of your reading will be. Earlier this month I read two amazing books. I then went through a mini reading slump where everything seemed dull in comparison. I ended up abandoning 6 books in a row, but that 7th book was outstanding. When reading books in quick succession the gems seem to shine far brighter and I’m so pleased that I’ve set high standards for my reading.

How This Affects the Blog

It amuses me to read the part in my post last January about my blog being a more positive place to be. I didn’t realise that mentioning all my abandonments would mean that the negatives would far out-weigh the positives. This is a reflection of reality as there are very few outstanding books in the world, but I quickly realised that it wouldn’t be right to mention all the books I abandon on my blog. I now only mention those where I feel I have something to add – the times when I find myself going against the tide of public opinion or find a particularly well written book that I know others will love.

I will probably not mention:

  • Books I give up after just a few pages and can’t really explain why
  • Books from debut authors, especially those that haven’t had much coverage
  • Older books that aren’t well known
  • My failed attempts to investigate unusual genres

I will still continue to give honest negative reviews and mention books I’ve abandoned (particularly prize winning books). I’m hoping the only difference you’ll see is the higher number of highly rated books.

I think the key is to be open to trying new things. I am often surprised by which books I end up loving. My battles with dull books have shown that you normally know which ones will work for you from the first few pages.

Don’t be scared to abandon books!

Be ruthless and spend your reading time wisely!


2000 - 2007 Booker Prize

Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall

Astonishing Splashes Of Colour : Shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: vivid, child, grief, eccentric, family

Astonishing Splashes of Colour is a vivid account of the grief felt by one woman because of her inability to have children. The central character, Kitty, desperately tries to be happy but every time she sees
a child she is reminded of her pain.

Although much of the book deals with a difficult subject matter there is a lot of humor. Kitty’s failed attempts to entertain her nieces were almost farcical and there were moments when I felt guilty for laughing at her.

Kitty also suffers from synaesthesia so scenes are overlaid with a colour specific to the mood or event taking place. This added another dimension to the book and never felt gimmicky.

I watch her walk miserably away with her two children and wish I could help her, although I know I can’t. She chose the wrong person. The yellow is changing. I can feel it becoming overripe – the sharp smell of dying daffodils, the sting and taste of vomit.

Although it can’t be described as fast-paced the mysteries surrounding Kitty’s past drive the plot forward and I was gripped to the emotional narrative throughout.

This book does a fantastic job of investigating the problems faced by vulnerable members of society and I loved the way it highlighted their problems without being condescending. I also appreciated the inclusion of a character with Asperger’s syndrome (Kitty’s husband). Did anyone else notice this, or am I reading too much into things?

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys getting inside the head of beautifully flawed characters. I’ll be thinking about this family for a long time to come.


This was my first Clare Morrall book, but it definitely won’t be my last. Her new novel, The Roundabout Man, is published next week and I am also keen to read, The Language of Others, which is about a woman with Asperger’s syndrome.

Have you read any of her books?

Which do you recommend?

2000 - 2007 Memoirs

Riding the Black Cockatoo by John Damalis

Riding the Black Cockatoo

Five words from the blurb: Australia, skull, Aboriginal, return, descendants

Riding the Black Cockatoo is the memoir of an Australian man whose family displayed an Aboriginal skull on their mantelpiece for 40 years. He decides to return it to its native home, discovering lots of facts about Aboriginal people along the way.

This book has recently become a set text for GCSE English and I can see why. It is fast paced and easy to read, but effectively manages to capture the author’s changing perspective of Aboriginal society.

The book begins with brutal honesty, recalling the rampant racism of his childhood. The jokes that were in regular circulation are shocking to read now and show how far things have come in just a few decades.

As an Australian of Greek descent who weathered the taunts of ‘wog boy’ throughout my childhood, I remembered the feeling of relief when the bedraggled Vietnamese boat people started washing up onto our shores in the late 1970s. Suddenly the attention shifted from wogs to the newly arrived slopes and geeks. Yet despite the ever-shifting focus of racism in this country, Indigenous Australians have continuously occupied the bottom rung of the ladder.

John Damalis explains how he became ashamed by the presence of the skull and set about researching its origin. Unfortunately, for the reader, the journey of discovery was very short and easy. Everything was over quickly and lacked the depth I’d have liked. I’ve read a few Australian books, but wouldn’t say I know a vast amount about Aboriginal society, so it was disappointing that this book failed to teach me anything of value.

The writing style also began to grate on me after a while. Explanation marks were everywhere! The chatty, informal style will appeal to some, but I’d have preferred a bit more focus as I sometimes felt that the book trivialised events.

I think this is one of those cases where the flaws can be seen as a positive. This book will provoke discussion and is a perfect introduction to cultural studies, especially for teenagers.  But next time I want to learn about the Aborigines I’ll ensure I read a book written by someone who know a bit more about them.



I read this book as part of Australian Literature Month at Reading Matters. Head over there to find more Australian fiction recommendations.


Books in Translation Thriller Uncategorized

The Devotion of Suspect X – Keigo Higashino

The Devotion Of Suspect X 

Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander

Five words from the blurb: Tokyo, ex-husband, shattered, Police, genius

I hadn’t heard of this book until one of my sister’s friends recommended it to me, but I love Japanese thrillers and so decided to give it a try. I’m pleased that I bought a copy because I’ll be recommending this intelligent thriller to everyone.

The Devotion of Suspect X begins with a woman murdering her ex-husband with the help of her daughter. Their neighbour hears the crime and offers to help dispose of the body, beginning a gripping narrative that centres on the question: Will they get away with it?

The premise is very similar to Out by Natsuo Kirino (my favourite thriller), but The Devotion of Suspect X is a much lighter novel. It is quicker and easier to read and doesn’t contain the same level of violence or dark emotion. For this reason I’d recommend it to those trying Japanese fiction for the first time.

The plotting in this book is perfect. There are no unnecessary scenes and the pace is relentlessly intriguing throughout. The main battle of wits is between the neighbour, a maths genius, and a friend of the police officer who happens to be a physics genius. I admit that this scenario is unlikely to occur, but I didn’t care because it led to one of the cleverest series of twists I’ve come across.

The characters were all well formed, with interesting flaws. I didn’t develop an emotional attachment to any of them, but this ended up being a positive as I found myself rooting for both sides equally. This is quite unusual in a police procedural as I normally find myself less interested in one of the plot threads.

The Devotion of Suspect X is a perfect thriller. It isn’t particularly deep or meaningful, but it is endlessly entertaining. I can see why it sold 2 million copies in Japan and I hope that word-of-mouth spreads it around the world.

Highly recommended.



Two Realistic Tales of English Life


Glasshopper (Myriad Editions)

Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown

Five words from the blurb: family, turbulent, childhood, secrets, alcoholic

Glasshopper contains a dual narrative covering the childhood of a boy called Jake, growing up in 1980s Portsmouth, and that of his mother coming-of-age in the 1960s.

Jake’s childhood is a troubled one. His father has moved out and his mother is an alcoholic. The reasons for his mother’s alcoholism are slowly revealed over the course of the novel; as are Jake’s strength and resilience.

This is the perfect book for anyone wanting to reminisce about life in England. The tiny details about Texan bars and sherbet Flying Saucers had me smiling in recognition. The story itself was very ordinary, but Jake’s charm was hard to resist.

Unfortunately the 1960s section didn’t come alive in the same way. I’m not sure if this was because I wasn’t alive and so didn’t pick up on the little details or because they weren’t there in the first place.

The writing was reminiscent of Maggie O’Farrell, so anyone who loves her books is sure to enjoy this one.

Recommended to anyone who remembers 1980s England.

Central Reservation

Central Reservation by Will le Flemming

Five words from the blurb: rural, England, twin, ghost, grief

Central Reservation is set in rural England during the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. The central character is Holly, a teenage girl, who is followed everywhere by the ghost of her twin sister. The ghost is an unnerving presence, rather than the scary, malevolent kind that you normally find in novels and it can be seen as a metaphor for the grief that she carries around with her.

The book started off really well, with an intriguing first line:

On a grey Thursday morning Holly lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, and wished her sister would die. Five hours later her wish came true.

The first few chapters were equally gripping, with a particularly vivid description of a bus crash.

Unfortunately the middle section was a bit ordinary. Events was realistically described, but the quiet study of a family’s grief did nothing but leave me feeling faintly depressed. I know a lot of people love this type of story, but I suspect that because I am lucky enough not to have lost a close member of my family it didn’t resonate with me as much.

Luckily everything picked up towards the end and the foot and mouth aspect of the book was very well done. I remember travelling home during the outbreak and seeing (and especially smelling) the pyres of dead cattle everywhere. I hadn’t come across a book that covers the subject before, but I’m sure everyone will be moved by some of the scenes in this book.

The specific Englishness of this story means that it is unlikely to have universal appeal, but if you’re looking for an emotional read this is a good choice.

Recommended to those familiar with rural England.



Some of the best books aren’t very good?

Whilst compiling a list of my favourite 2011 books  I noticed a strange thing. Many of the books I remembered vividly were ones I hadn’t enjoyed, whilst I often forgot about the seamlessly good ones. Re-reading my reviews produced some interesting findings. I seem to remember the books with an excessive number of coincidences, or characters that behave in unrealistic manner, far more than those with accurately observed ones.

I also noticed that I was more likely to recommend these books to others. I’d always warn them about the unrealistic aspects of the book, but state that it was worth reading anyway.

Meanwhile the beautifully written books quickly faded from my mind; the plots so ordinary that there was nothing to jog the memory afterwards. My reviews reminded me about the clarity of the writing and the perfect plotting, but although I enjoyed every minute of the reading experience, these books do not seem to live on after the final page has been turned and so I have not gone on to recommend them.

Longevity is often thought of as a sign of quality, so does this mean that the annoying books are the best?

Should a beautiful, but quickly forgotten book, be marked down for its inability to stand out from the crowd?