9 December 2011

The books of shame

As you may have worked out, I’m a bit of a bookworm. It’s what keeps me sane on my commute into and out of London every day. I’ve made way through lots great books but I’ve also come across some fairly disappointing ones. There are those, though, that I am ashamed to say I never finished. I have a pile of them on the desk in my study, staring at me. Like Poe’s Raven, they just remain there implacably, goading me to give them another go.

In the meantime, I find excuses to not revisit them, mainly because there are plenty of other books I would rather read as a matter of priority. So here I will swallow my pride and admit to the books that I have but which failed to get through cover-to-cover. Just note this doesn’t include the books I am currently reading (which, if you’re viewing this on the desktop version, you can see in a widget on the left sidebar).

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren – I briefly went through the reasons for this recently (see point 2).

The Man In The High Castle by Philip K Dick – An odd one. I love Philip K Dick’s short stories and have quite liked a few of his books, but I just couldn’t get into this one. The premise was that the Nazis won the Second World War, but that’s not really very clear in the text. I just got bored and moved on.

The Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose – This is another one from a writer I love. My Master’s thesis was written on a subject Penrose pioneered. This is his first book on computing and artificial intelligence (the follow up being Shadows of the Mind). As fascinating as the ideas are, I just got bogged down in the technical computing of Turing machines and pages and pages of binary code and programming instructions.

Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton – one of the most important books in the history of science. Whilst I spent my formative years being taught a lot of ‘Newtonian’ mechanics, I felt it was important to read Newton himself. Similarly, for Euclidean geometry, I read Euclid; for Darwinism, I read Darwin’s The Origin of Species; and for Platonism, I read Plato’s Republic. But this was just so hard to get through. I have subsequently become aware of a hypothesis that Newton was being deliberately obscurantist in his examples in order to avoid plagiarism.

The Book of Dave by Will Self – Truly one of the most frustrating reads of all time. I picked it up on the premise that it was a witty satire on religion, where the diary of a London cabbie became the basis of a post-apocalyptic society. What I wasn’t aware of until I started reading is that the dialogue is written entirely phonetically in a cockney accent. To try and make sense of it, you have to try and read each sentence two or three times. Some things are worth a lot of effort to read; this wasn’t one of them.

God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew – I’ve been questioned as to how I could put this down. It’s been maybe about 12 years since I started this. I just didn’t find it terribly interesting at the time and got distracted by Frank Herbert’s Dune series, the entirety of which I read between my GCSE mocks and my finals, which probably contributed to me losing a grade on 8 out my 9 GCSEs.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – One of the classics, but one I just struggled to be able to get a handle on. This probably had much to do with the fact that I didn’t try to read it until after I had seen Apocalypse Now. The book I have it in contains many other stories by Conrad, all of which are fairly similar and could be considered as early attempts building up to the masterpiece. But once you’ve read 2 or 3, they do just seem to merge into one.

Does God Believe in Atheists by John Blanchard – Creationist claptrap. I heard him speak when he came to my church, promoting this book, many years ago. The book manages to waste a lot of paper by not saying much. Blanchard wants to start by defining an ‘atheist.’ He does this by first defining a ‘theist’ in an extremely narrow way that would exclude Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, a fair few christians and many others besides. He goes on to use Richard Dawkins as the primary spokesman for all atheists, getting muddled up between atheism and an understanding of various sciences including evolutionary biology, cosmology and geology. It was just painful to read.

A User’s Guide To The Brain by John Ratey – This is another one that I found utterly fascinating, but at the same time I just couldn’t understand it. It’s a pop science book on neurology, though it doesn’t shy away from the terminology. What I have read, I have loved. I just find it easy to get distracted by other books.

So those are mine. Have you got any books of shame, or have you managed to finish any of those that I haven’t?

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