Putdownable: Bestsellers I Never Managed to Finish

Some witty soul (must be Mark Twain) had once commented that a classic is ‘a book no one reads but everyone praises’. I believed this quite strongly as I could not fathom how people have actually read Ulysses or War and Peace without dying of boredom or getting squashed by the book!
Ulysses has topped virtually every poll of unread books, followed very closely by A Brief History of Time. Just for the record, I just loved the latter.

ASIDE: In a recent poll, however, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire topped the list. Of the readers polled, the largest percentage said that they had not read HP4. This is, of course, completely faulty reasoning. Because if out of 100 readers surveyed, 50 have not read HP, they form an infinitesimal percentage of the books actually sold. On the other hand, if out of the same 100 readers, 30 have not read Ulysses, then that means none of the people who have bought a copy have read the book!

But I must confess that there have been several books that have topped every bestseller list in town which I have bought on reading spectacular reviews and even more spectacular blurbs – only to find them boring or incomprehensible or both!

Does this signify my lack of intelligence (yes, but that has been proved in more scientific ways as well), culture (maybe, my esoteric tastes in film are well documented) or effort (unlikely, because I have made serious efforts to read these books)?
So, whatever it is – these are my dust-gathering bestsellers!

A House for Mr Biswas – V S Naipaul
The Nobel Prize winning Sir Vidia’s magnum opus has been critically acclaimed, commercially successful and generally accepted as one of the most accomplished novels in modern time.
I started to read it after I read Naipaul’s very flattering opinion of Shatranj Ke Khiladi in which he compared the film to a Shakespearean drama.
A man marrying beyond himself and trying to build a house to prove himself to his in-laws is not goggle-eyed stuff but then hey! Thirty pages down, I was wondering whether I got the right book or not. Fifty pages down, I was regretting not buying the screenplay of Seven Samurai instead. And I never got to hundred pages.
Now, I regret that if I had not written my name on the flyleaf, I could have probably gifted the book to some classics-hungry fellow somewhere!

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
I have answered quiz questions on this. The first line – “Howard Roark stood naked at the edge of a cliff” – has been quoted in some many college quizzes that it is not funny. I have tentatively participated in discussions on Howard Roark’s influence on film characters. This discussion was started when someone had said Amitabh Bachchan’s character in Trishul was modeled after Roark. I was very interested in knowing on which page of the novel does the hero go with an ambulance to attack the baddies!
He didn’t. So I have not read the book.
By all accounts, the book is an entertaining and easy read but some arbit circuit in my brain just shorts out whenever I have tried to read it.

Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Again, I know every bit of trivia about this book and its film. But Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara’s epic romance in the backdrop of the American Civil War just fizzled out despite having all the ingredients of a page-turner.
Actually, romance of a spoilt rich girl with a handsome rake who would eventually leave her with a pithy quote is not something I would stay up nights for. On top of that, they made the movie longer than the novel and despite David O. Selznick’s opulent recreation of the sets & events, I happily fell asleep. And woke up to find that the movie has still not ended!
And now I am told it has been voted one of the Ten Best Novels of All Time. Frankly, I don’t give a damn!

Lord of the Rings – J R R Tolkien
I am sorry. I am sorry. I know I deserve to be given the bastinado and executed by garrote but what to do, all that Legolas and Gollum and Middle Earth just addled my minuscule brain.
All my friends (along with millions others) have read this book a million times. Not only that, they have enrolled themselves into discussion groups, fan clubs and even sent me quizzes to take part in (“Which LOTR character do you resemble most?”) but I remained the outsider.
I have tried reading the normal paperback version, the hardback version (in three parts and bigger fonts) just in case I hade developed an allergy for the small type but alas, nothing took me beyond the first ten pages!
And before you blindfold me, I have one more confession to make – I hated the movies too! Gggnnnggg…

How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life – Kavya Vishwanathan
I bought the book because it was banned. I figured that there might be an outside chance of this book becoming a collectors’ item, which I can sell to buy the Seventh Harry Potter book. Well, it still hasn’t and we have only 61 days to go!
I knew I would not like the story about a nerdy girl’s attempt to be popular but I never realized I would hate it so as to not finish reading it. After all, how many clichés about NRI ambitions, teen fashion and college romances can you read? My wife – who is a Mills & Boon and Enid Blyton addict – expected both her favourites to meet but she hated it as well!
Maybe they should make the film – which can be touted as the Great Hollywood Debut of Deepika Padukone – so that more people can hate it!

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
A senior from school claimed that this book is the distillation of all the philosophy theories developed by humankind. To have read it is to have discovered the true meaning of life. Either he was ragging me or he was high on ganja (or both), but I did buy the book conned further by the claim of the huge number of copies sold on the cover.
A vague travelogue on a bike by a guy who obviously never managed to pick up any women despite having a reasonably snazzy bike, he tried to draw parallels between Oriental philosophy and spark plug replacement. I am guessing this from the cover because I never read beyond the first few soporific pages.

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
I was a little suspicious about this book since all of Bombay claimed to be reading it when they were stuck in their cars during the 2005 July floods. I mean, how good can a book be when you are forced to read it because you are surrounded in five feet of water for miles around you?
But the premise seemed very interesting – an Australian drug peddler gets involved in the Bombay underworld – and some very reliable people gave the book rave reviews. And it was surely the most visible title among the pirated books sold at traffic lights. So I bought it and even fought with my wife on who gets to read it first!
If there were gripping descriptions about the crime scene in Bombay and graphic accounts of the third degree torture that the author had to endure, then there was no indication of the same in the first hundred-odd pages. All they had were some touristy impressions of South Bombay’s cheap lodges, cheaper restaurants and cheapest drug peddlers.
Now Mira Nair is making a picture of the book starring Amitabh Bachchan and Johnny Depp. Maybe she will be able to sift out the good parts – like she did for The Namesake.

So, those were the skeletons in my closet… go ahead, sue me!


Give Lord of the Rings another go. It is slow slogging through book 2 but if you survive Two Towers, there is a good chance that you will be hooked for life.
Diligent Candy said…

*shaking my head in utter disbelief*

Afterthought: At least you are MUCH better than some characters I know you have not read some of these books and still claim to have...sigh!
the mad momma said…
I'll borrow Opel Mehta from you out of sheer curiosity as well as shantaram. i chucked zen as well. the rest i have read... enjoyed ayn rand because i was in my teens and roarke seemed to be the kind of guy most teenage girls dream abt. naipaul - i read it because it was part of the syllabus. would have died rather than read it otherwise.
udayan said…
Someone famous once said, "The world is divided into 2 sorts of people, one who have read LoTR and one who are going to read it." Sadly he seems to have missed classifying your unique position :)

One which you might have missed is "The Alchemist". I went upto 3 pages and not proud of it.

Ayn Rand needed a shrink, badly. I tortured myself horribly to finish "Atlas Shrugged", but won't recommend it to my worst enemy.

Remember liking Gone with the Wind quite a lot when I read it (20 years back, i think).
Anonymous said…
2 points:
1) From your blogs what I know about you is your love of writing. LOTR is more than an imaginative story. The sumptuous english literature is at its best. Tolkien's command over "The queen's language" is utterly magnificent. forget about the characters, forget about the ring and its quest...but read it for the pure enjoyment of a rich literature and language. I am sure, given your own passion for writing that you will not be dissapointed.It was not for nothing that Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon language (old English) at Oxford.
2) Ayn rand's novel will make you look at a building differently. Her novel will make modern architecture fun and exciting. I can assure you that your view of skyscrapers will change forever once you read the whole book...forget the naked body of Roark..read it for pure engineering and architectural pleasures...
anyway, your taste in literature is as good as your taste in movies.
Nilendu said…
Whew! Time to let the intellectuals drive the nail and quietly escape the scene. Just for the record, I have not read any from the list. Never watched ANY movie from LOTR or Harry Potter series (seriously!). I just don't get this "fantasy" thing. Only book from the list I borrowed from local library was "Shantaram" -- boooooring. Could not go beyond 100 page or so.
Dear Friend,

I think you should be forced to watch "Devdas", HAHK, DDLJ, KKKG, KANK, and every one of Karan Johar's movies at a stretch. How could you put LOTR on that list. I almost got kickjed out by my Dean for missing classes during my MBA because I had not left my room for three days just to read LOTR.

Come, come, I know I am also an extremist, but then maybe u shud give the LOTR another read.
And as for Ayn Rand. She was a plagarist and after reading Atlas Shrugged I am of the opinion that the nearest thing on Earth equivalent to Vogon poetry is her writing
@ Prometheus: Umm, err... I wouldn't mind watching any of the abovementioned films at a stretch. Did you mean that as a punishment or something?

I am sure a whole lot of people are buying K Jo DVDs for your hating Ayn Rand.
Surya said…
My sister will kill me for this .. but please add Catcher in the Rye... She gifted it to me, and I have not been able to get myself to finish it. I totally agree with you on Zen....
Lavs said…
I totally agree with you on this post. I never buy bestsellers coz I find them too boring for words. I tried thrice to read JRRT but never managed more than 50 pages. I later saw the movie hoping that it would inspire me to read the book. After seeing the first movie, I decided that JRRT is not my cup of tea. I would rather read Harry Potter 100th time.
Anonymous said…
I love fantasy...so LoTR was a good read...and the writing was good too. Harry potter - it is a kiddie book...but I like it for the fantasy part.
I have a mental block with Ayn Rand. Just the sight of the book makes me wanna snooze :)
Anonymous said…
you have to BE bombay to read Shantaram. Dilliwalon ke pet mein nahin pachegi :P :P :P
~A said…
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig - try beyond few pages - just finished it.

Btw, Rajni's friend.
bhanu said…
Was a huge fan of Ayn Rand while in college. As far as the other books are concerned never touched any of them however saw the movies and well um...liked them.

Have a suggestion - do a post on the top ten myths in Bollywood as an example have heard that Meena kumari always hid her left hand as she lost one finger in an accident. Nowadays whenever i catch a movie of hers my attention is focussed on her left hand.
Kady said…
Totally agree about the LOTR thing.. the movies were atleast bearable (parts 2& 3 NOT 1). The only time i liked the movies more than the book!