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Abandoned Book: Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch

June 27, 2009

In the past, once I picked up a book, that was it. I was Committed. And come Hell, high water, or atrocious writing, I would make it through to the end.

Now I’m a bit more cautious. I’ll dip into a book, maybe read the first ten, fifteen pages, before I decide whether or not to read it.

But actually abandoning a book that I’ve made progress in (50-100 pages) is still difficult for me. So I end up reading books I’m not enjoying, constantly counting how many pages are left. As you can imagine, this isn’t too much fun. Which is why I proudly announce that I’m abandoning my first book of the year: Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch by Dai Sijie.

Why? Because I find it distasteful. More particularly, I find the attitude towards women unacceptable. And since I’m a woman, I shall give the book no more of my time.

I wasn’t aware when I began the book that the plot involves Mr. Muo (the shy, Freduian psychoanalyst) roaming about the Chinese countryside looking for a virgin to sleep with a magistrate. Or, to put it the way the book does, “a girl whose red melon has not yet been slashed.”

I actually kept reading after that, as well as a horrid story about the origins of the Japanese flag, but then I got to this, an excerpt from Mr. Muo’s diary:

That bitch Mrs. Thatcher is driving me insane. This is the first time I have resorted to coarse language in my psychoanalytic notebook (my custom being to employ neutral, objectives words), but only the bluntest, most brutish terms can aptly describe my nightmarish encounter with this crone. …[she] is unnerved and offended by anyone’s shutting his eyes in her presence. So I have had to force myself to look at her as she narrated, but repulsed as I was by her pockmarked face, the only thing to enter my head was a vision of her brain riddled with smallpox.

Such negative word choice, as well as hatred towards a woman whose crime is to have smallpox scars, brought home to me that all of the women in the book are portrayed merely as sexual objects. And I have better things to do with my time than read misogony masquerading as literature.

Do you abandon books? For what reason? Do you blog about it?

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2009 6:49 am

    I agree with you – if it’s not working for you, give it up because there are lots of others books out there that will.

  2. June 27, 2009 6:49 am

    Glad to see you blog about leaving one book behind. From the sound of it, I would have stopped as well. I abandon books all the time, but I usually don’t blog about it. Thanks for this post. . . it reminds me that it’s fine not to finish a book. They’re too many good ones waiting in the wings!

  3. June 27, 2009 6:51 am

    “A girl whose red melon has not yet been slashed”?!! Eek. I don’t think I’d have finished it either.

    Also: “My custom being to employ neutral, objectives words” hahaha, yes, psychoanalysis is nothing if not “neutral” and “objective”, especially regarding women!

    Um, if Chris happens to read this, sorry! :P

    I need to get better about abandoning books that deserve to be abandoned. I’ve been lucky and I haven’t come across anything that annoyed me as much as this book would have in a while, though. The last book I didn’t enjoy, Girlfriend in a Coma, was still interesting enough that I wanted to read all of it.

  4. June 27, 2009 7:02 am

    That book sounds horrendous!

    I used to be just like you were…some weird sense of obligation kept me reading every book I started. Now, I can abandon a book without “guilt.” Of course, it took me until about age 40 to wise up and stop wasting my precious time on books that just weren’t doing it for me.

  5. June 27, 2009 7:42 am

    I also used to not abandon books, but I do now. I blog about them if they’re ones I make a certain amount of progress on (I’ve recently had to give up two books that I pushed onwards for 200 pages into, ugh!) before abandoning. I actually use pretty much the same format: “Abandoned book: title, author.” I keep them listed on my yearly reads, and that way if someone wants a review of a book I’ve given up on, they’ll see the reasons why I gave up, and whether or not that book might be for them. Sometimes my reasons are person, some are less personal. Usually people can tell from what I’m complaining about if a book will be distasteful to them or not.

    This book you mention here sounds like one that will NOT be added to the TBR list. I’m glad you mentioned it. I think Abandon posts are kind of helpful…

  6. June 27, 2009 8:49 am

    Yikes, that passage was bad. I would have abandoned it too. I do abandon books but I don’t usually blog about them unless it’s a very popular book.

    I abandoned The Memory Keeper’s daughter. I really wanted to like it so much but I just couldn’t go ahead with it. I hated the girl’s real mother and I couldn’t convince myself to read one more page about her. I still want to know what happenned to the little girl in the book though.

  7. June 27, 2009 10:08 am

    I wouldn’t have finished that book either. I give a book fifty pages to hook me in. If it doesn’t, I put it down. I don’t usually blog about it unless it was really horrible. Good luck with the next book.

  8. June 27, 2009 10:10 am

    Congratulations on giving up a book! I know what you are going through, but I’m still at the stage where I just “have” to finish it – thinking that maybe it will ‘get good’ on the last page. It never happens. Congrats on your new found independance

  9. lena permalink
    June 27, 2009 10:52 am

    I’m proud of you, Eva! I still haven’t gotten there with abandoning books. I have to finish it. And what’s worse, then I feel bad giving a really negative review of it. :(

    I don’t think I would have been able to finish Mr. Muo’s either – as the slashing of melons is not really what I want out of a book!

  10. June 27, 2009 12:54 pm

    I’ve only read one book recently that offended me and I stopped reading it because of that. I usually won’t finish a book because it wasn’t speaking to me. I might try to read it again later. There are few books I won’t give another try. I think this book won’t ever wind up on my tbr list!

  11. June 27, 2009 12:58 pm

    I use to hate abandoning books. I felt bad about abandoning books. Don’t know why but I did.

    Then I tried to read one book that was just so badly written and sad that I got of my feelings of guilt. Now I have a rule. If the book is so bad and I don’t think I could finish it, I can give up after trying to read 20%.

    I realize that some books start out bad and than get better. So, 20 % seemed like a good number to me. In a 300 page book that is 60 pages.

  12. June 27, 2009 1:23 pm

    I abandoned one incredibly dull book a few chapters from the end (and it wasn’t a short book). I just plodded along and at some point though “I don’t care how this ends!” It was so liberating and now I really do have an easier time of letting books go if they don’t feel like a good use of my already short time on this earth. Fill up your hours with the good stuff!

    And I wasn’t blogging then but I think I would post about the book now for the same reason you did — to maybe help someone else avoid wasting their time!

  13. June 27, 2009 2:56 pm

    Sounds dreadful – I think I would have put it down, too. I’ve gotten much better about abandoning books I’m not enjoying. On occasion I’ll blog about them, but only if I abandoned them for some interesting reason instead of the usual “it’s mindnumbingly dull.” Now I just need to decide what to do about that category of books that I read to the middle, realize it’s not going to be great but still not be totally disinterested in how it all shakes out. I always wonder if I’m wasting my time reading a book that by the middle I’m pretty sure is only going to be mediocre. But then, should I really expect every book I read to be super duper good? A quandary…. :-)

  14. June 27, 2009 4:02 pm

    Blah! I would’ve left it behind, too. I didn’t care for Dai Sijie’s writing at all when I read Little Chinese Seamstress, in fact. I have far less trouble abandoning books these days, especially when I realized how it was slowing me down to read things I didn’t enjoy. Good for you, Eva!

  15. June 27, 2009 4:13 pm

    I try to choose books that I really think I will enjoy or those that have been recommended to me, so I don’t usually start books I want to abandon. I have ended up reading a bunch of books I hated most of the way through out of some sense of completion. I’ve gotten better at it recently, though. All I have to do is look at my bookshelf and see all the books I’d rather be reading, and I’m cured of my completion-itis.

  16. June 27, 2009 4:17 pm

    I don’t generally abandon books, but have on a few occasions. The last book I abandoned was “American Psycho.” In fact, I took it back to the store and asked for my money back! I’ve never blogged about abandoning or wanting to abandon a book, but I think I may do that in future. An unfavorable review or note of abandonment with cogent reasons can be very helpful to others and would serve as a nice “note to self” in future.

  17. June 27, 2009 4:24 pm

    I rarely leave books unfinished, but when it happens … yes, I blog about it. Even that feedback is useful to people who are considering the book (*why* the book was abandoned, with a few quotes that reinforce my decision)

  18. June 27, 2009 6:41 pm

    Bermuda Onion, that’s the right attitude!

    Amy, I always like reading why people abandon books.

    Nymeth, I know! Isn’t that the worst imagery ever?! And don’t get me started on Freud. ;) I don’t usually come across books that are this frustrating, but sometimes I purposely take a change (usually on African lit) and sometiems I get burned.

    Debi, awesome!

    Amanda, you know, maybe I subconciously titled my post after yours! Whoops! That’s interesting that you keep them on your yearly reads; it’s a good idea. I think Abandon posts are helpful too!

    Violet, I HATED that book! I got it in audio form on clearance for one of my cross-country drives, so I did keep listening to it since I had nothing else, but I was so mad! lol

    Vasilly, thanks! See, once I hit the fifty page mark, I start to feel committed, lol. But I’m getting better!

    Reagan, thank you! You’re right; those books never redeem themselves at the end, lol.

    Lena, thank you! I usually avoid giving negative reviews too, even when I really don’t like a book, lol.

    Linda, I totally get the ‘not speaking to you’ thing! I’ve tried to read The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency three times, and never gotten past the third chapter.

    Monqiue, 20% is a good number!

    Kristen, I was soooooo tempted to do that with The Count of Monte Cristo! hehe It’s funny how really abandoning a book can feel so liberating!

    Megan, hehehe I think a post just saying “mindnumbingly dull” would be awesome! I definitely stick with the books in the middle, as long as there’s something that appeals to me (i.e.: it’s written by a non-American, Brit, by an ethnic minority, part of a challenge…that kind of thing).

    Andi, I remember not liking the Little Chinese Seamstress a ton, but since I read it pre-blogging, I couldn’t remember why so I decided to give him another shot. Now I feel perfectly fine never reading him again!

    Shannon, I usually have good luck in picking books that I enjoy! It’s the ones I pick up on a whim (like this one) that sometimes don’t work out. :)

    Terri, did the bookstore give it to you?! I’ve heard crazy things about that book; I have no desire to ever read it.

    Dawn, the nice thing about bloggers discussing books they’ve abandoned is that it doesn’t affect the TBR list! :)

  19. June 27, 2009 9:13 pm

    I cast books aside left and right – If I’m bored, if I don’t understand them, if I don’t like the characters, if I feel like I’ve got the general idea, whatever. I haven’t blogged about my abandoned books lately, but I like finding out what other readers have put down, especially if they give specific reasons, like you did.

  20. June 27, 2009 11:56 pm

    I really torture myself when I am thinking about giving up a book. Normally I add books to the TBR list when something about them sounds good or interesting, especially from trusted sources. It doesn’t happen often, but when I do abandon it will be after I have tortured myself mentally for a couple of days at least, and I have kept reading a little bit so that I can say that I really gave it a good go, because maybe it will get better five pages after I put it down otherwise. It is a pretty momentous thing for me, so yes I blog about it when it happens.

  21. June 28, 2009 1:41 pm

    Eva, Yes, the store actually gave me my money back for the despised American Psycho! I had a receipt, the book still looked new, and it had been under 30 days.

  22. June 29, 2009 11:35 am

    Good for you! Life is way too short to read books you don’t love. I used to have a hard time abandoning books, but the more I did it, the easier it became. Now, I rarely read past 50 pages of a book if I’m not loving it.

  23. June 29, 2009 11:40 am

    Charley, I’m so jealous of your ability! I’ll work on it though!

    Marg, lol: that’s what I do!!

    Terri, awesome!

    Lisa, I hope it gets easier for me too. :)

  24. July 1, 2009 9:43 am

    Yikes!! Congrats on abandoning a book. I do it all the time (and don’t blog about it), which is the reason why I mostly have positive reviews on my blog. because I only finish books I like at least a little. ANyway, now that I get the occasional book for review, I can’t abandon them so I have to start writing negative reviews, which I don’t enjoy at all. So I’m actually thinking against getting more books for review, as it is no fun plodding through a book I do not enjoy.

  25. Vipula permalink
    July 3, 2009 5:22 am

    Hi

    This book sounds really bad. I have never abandoned a book – I will probably drag it for months and then just finish it. Its unlikely though i will blog about it – unless I really want to prevent others wasting time on it.

  26. July 3, 2009 6:38 pm

    Oops this book is on my shelf. What should I do? What should I do?

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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