unfinished books and a nice excerpt

I’ve been starting too many books lately with only a faint commitment to finishing, or even reading much of them.  This has been born from completing but only enjoying two thirds of my book before last (Emma Donoghue’s rightly acclaimed ‘Room’ – doesn’t it essentially end two-thirds of the way through? Isn’t the rest filler?)  And only around a third of my last book (Catherine O’Flynn’s ‘The News Where You Are’ – quite saggy, scant momentum).  Both of these were Christmas gifts bought for me at my request, so there was an obligation to finish them.  Another request, Paul Auster’s latest, ‘Sunset Park,’ is now waiting.  I’m nervous after hearing mixed reviews.

Wanting a short break from feeling obliged to finish everything, I frivolously binged from the library – albeit not successfully.  A Costa shortlisted book of poetry, a serious looking Emile Zola novel I’m unlikely to get too far into but felt like a worthy idea at the time, a Graham Swift novel I’d never heard of, and an Alan Sillitoe book of short stories entitled and containing “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner” – partly selected after loving the film, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which Sillitoe wrote.

Our excellent new library sits squarely on the quickest route from my flat into the city centre, so I often fail to resist a quick scan of their New Books or Quick Picks sections.

Today, neither needing nor wanting new material, yet knowing I wasn’t being grabbed by anything I had, my feet wandered in there again.  My hand selected a book called “Travel Writing – A Story,” by Peter Ferry.  My brain was attracted by the simplicity of the title and cover, and was won by a cover quote from Dave Eggers and a compelling inside sleeve.

I spent an hour or so with the book and a coffee, and a band called Pepper Rabbit playing in my headphones, occasionally glancing out onto a high street bulging with Saturday afternoon shoppers.  I grew more committed to this book than I had to anything else I’d read in a while.  I particularly enjoyed the following.

“…I became interested in what we do and where we go to give our lives meaning when we don’t or can’t find it at home, when life there becomes too staid and certain and we have to create challenges – even dilemmas – for ourselves because problems are interesting and important and life without them is neither.  It is the reason that people join the circus, I think, drink too much, drive too fast, jump off things, jump into things, climb things, run away from home, and paddle into the wilderness.  It is also the reason they tell stories.”

Peter Ferry – Travel Writing: Chatto & Winduss 2008

I thought this was quite neat.  Of course, there’s no guarantee I’ll finish it.


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