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The Sunday Salon: Books Abandoned and Anticipated

The Sunday Salon.com This is a weird Sunday Salon post to write, since I actually haven’t finished a book since I wrote about The Happiness Project last Sunday. That feels so out of character for me, since I normally finish one or two books in a week.

The biggest reason I haven’t finished anything is because I couldn’t find the motivation to read the book I started last Sunday — Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubenstein, L’Oréal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good by Ruth Brandon, a book I received for review from Harper.

The book started out interestingly enough, with a history of how a poor Polish Jew, Helena Rubenstein, escaped Europe and went on to found one of the world’s most successful beauty product empire. At the same time, Eugène Scheuller, a conservative Frenchman, began another beauty business, but used his fortune to buy political power during WWII. He was eventually accused of being a Nazi collaborator, but his business managed to thrive anyway.

I wanted to read this one because of the way Brandon uses the conflict between two major players in the beauty business to look at, “important contemporary questions about standards of beauty and the often murky intersection of individual political aims and the role of business.” That sounds interesting, right?

Unfortunately, book just got bogged down for me after a few chapters because it started to focus more on the business of beauty after WWII, with a focus on purchasing and subsidiaries and tax policies and corporate takeover. The book was focusing on the politics of beauty, but politics at a global level rather than a personal level. That’s just less interesting to me, although I suppose I should have seen it coming after re-reading the description. After much deliberation — and an investment of 165 of the almost 300 pages — I decided to just let the book go.

That may not seem like a big thing, but I am a compulsive book finisher. I hate investing time into a book and then not giving it a shot until the end because I always believe it’s going to get better. But that happens less often with nonfiction than I want to admit. Letting Ugly Beauty go was a good step towards learning to let books go. The book wasn’t bad, just not working for me right now.

Giving up on that book left me open to read some of the other books on my shelves that I’ve been anticipating for awhile. Last night I started reading And Hell Followed With It: Life and Death in a Kansas Tornado by journalist Bonar Menninger. I only got through one chapter, but I already am enjoying it. Fingers crossed that it stays good.

The other book I’ve been thinking about recently is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I rather impulsively decided to join a year-long read-along of this book after Rebecca (The Book Lady’s Blog) posted about it a few weeks ago. Reading a Great Russian Novel is on my reading bucket list, and doing a big group reading project helped me get through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest a couple of summers ago, so this seems like a way to tackle this particular goal.

I picked up my copy about a week ago and it’s been sitting on my desk since. I can’t really say I’m “anticipating” reading the book — more anticipating the challenge of getting through a giant chunkster. I’m supposed to be through page 111 by tomorrow, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. First check in and I’m already behind… good start!

In any case, I have to wrap this up because I have a giant list of things to work on today. I’ve been putting off working on my next books story for the local newspaper, but I’m on deadline today so no more excuses. Happy Sunday, everyone!

Do you have any recently abandoned books, or books you’re currently anticipating? What are your big reading plans for this Sunday? Any advice on reading War and Peace?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ash February 13, 2011, 10:48 am

    And Hell Followed With It looks incredible, I hope it’s good because I want to hear your thoughts on it. I have Ugly Beauty but haven’t read it yet. Maybe I’ll have better luck because I know what I’m in for? I rarely abandon books for the same reasons you outline here, but if something is just not working at all and it’s keeping me from reading I will give it up.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:30 pm

      Ash: And Hell Followed With It was great; I just finished it this afternoon. I don’t think Ugly Beauty is a bad book or anything, it just wasn’t working for me this time around. If you don’t mind the business angle, I think it’s a great book.

  • Jenny February 13, 2011, 12:06 pm

    I keep abandoning books because I have SO MANY BOOKS to read lying around my room. I got all these books from work recently, and there are still books from the work book sale that I haven’t read yet, and I brought books with me from home that I want to read, and the library has all these books… So I’m more suffering from bookish ADHD than being displeased by anything I’m reading, but the end result is, nothing gets read. :p

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:33 pm

      Jenny: One of the reasons I want to be able to abandon more books is for the same reason — I have SO many books around my apartment that it seems like a waste to stick with books that are not excellent.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) February 13, 2011, 12:30 pm

    I’m a finisher too, but feel like I really should learn how to give up on books that aren’t working for me.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:34 pm

      bermudaonion: I’m really bad about book abandoning. Letting Ugly Beauty go was hard!

  • Savvy Working Gal February 13, 2011, 1:35 pm

    Kim thanks for letting us know you abandoned Ugly Betty. I am sure I would have abandoned it as well. I am taking it off my TBR list. There are too many books on my list to waste a weekend.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:35 pm

      Savvy Working Girl: I think the book is worth a try; I liked some stuff about it. But in general it was a little too international business focused for me to get into it.

  • Trish February 13, 2011, 2:32 pm

    I really wanted to read War and Peace with everyone this year but just don’t see it happening. I’ve only finished two books this year and probably won’t finish another for another month given the difficulties of Ulysses. Ha! I do hope you enjoy it, though!! I’ve heard great things about it.

    I usually finish books to the bitter end. Sometimes it’s just a giant waste of time, though.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:36 pm

      Trish: If I were reading Ulysses I wouldn’t be trying anything else either. That book scares me way, way more than War and Peace.

  • Gwen February 13, 2011, 3:11 pm

    For the most part, I am a finisher too. One book that is staring at me right now though that I just can’t stomach finishing is How to Become a Scandal by Laura Kipnis. What could have been a very funny look back at past scandals is severely marred by the author’s need to write in circles and get deeper into the motivations of things than I think is really necessary. Really, I know the people that cause scandals are idiots, I don’t need to delve into say, the differences in an astronaut wearing diapers and the explosion of the Columbia. One was a tragedy and the other is sheer lunacy.

    Sort of bummed that Ugly Beauty isn’t quite what I expected, will have to move it further down or even off my wish list.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:38 pm

      Gwen: Bummer about the Kipnis book! I have that on my shelf to review, as well, but haven’t started it yet. I’ll give it a healthy dose of skepticism when I get to reading it.

  • Betty - Reflections with Coffee February 14, 2011, 4:06 am

    Hoorah for you for letting go! As the trite saying goes: “So many books, so little time.”
    I have many abandoned books — I’m not sure exactly what to do if it happens to be a review book 🙁
    But did start one yesterday, and finished it this morning (not yet 5:30 AM), albeit to say it was a short book.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:39 pm

      Betty: So, so true 🙂 I’m not exactly sure what the best thing to do with a review copy is other than to write about it honestly, and then be done after that. Lucky you finishing a book so quickly — I want to do that soon!

  • tolmsted (BookSexy) February 14, 2011, 12:17 pm

    It really is harder to abandon a book if it’s for review. But I find if I try to force myself into carrying on I tend to procrastinate and get behind on my reading altogether. Not reading Infinite Jest KILLED my reading schedule last Summer! (and made me swear off all reading challenges). So I’m siding with Betty. The burden of read-ability resides with the author!

    And Hell Followed With It looks wonderful. The cover reminds me a bit of the opening chapters of The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. I’m looking forward to reading your reactions.

    • Kim February 15, 2011, 6:40 pm

      tolmsted: That’s exactly what I was doing — procrastinating, watching TV instead of reading, just sort of putting it off even though I love reading.