The Unfinishables (or, book trauma)

“If I open you, I will finish you.”

This is the creed I stick to whilst reading.  I am incapable of not finishing a book.  I can take a book out of the library, mind you, and not read it, but once I start it, it’s on.

Holy Toledo – there were four commas in that 22 word sentence.  That’s way too many.  I’m just going to leave them there as a kind of cautionary comma tale.

I believe the worst experience was in Grade 11 when we were all forced to read Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O Mitchell.  The classroom jokes included calling the book Who Has Seen the Plot and “Woooaaaahhh, Mitchell – your book is bad.”  I think I was the only one who finished the cursed thing.  I realize that hating this books makes me a bad Canadian, and an even worse Saskatchewanian, but I FINISHED IT.

Thinking back, there are only four books I haven’t been able to finish.  I’ll start with the least traumatizing and work my way up.  Give the pictures a clickaroo for more info on the books (especially Abadzis’ awesome Laika “micro-site”).

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick.  Avon: 2009.

This books is full of plucky, spunky, funny, articulate essays on everything from Harriet the Spy to Forever (yes, Skurnick’s definition of teen is kinda liberal).  My plan was to read one of the essays each night before bed.  That meant I would take at least a couple of months to finish the book, but it would be a fun lil’ pre-sleep routine.  Well, not so much.  Why?  The dang thing was chalk-full of spoilers!  While I had read a good chunk of the titles featured in the book, there were many still in my “To Read” shelf on goodreads.  So, I had no choice.  I had to put it down a mere twenty-some pages in.  I know I just could have plowed through, as no plot synopsis or analysis is a substitute for the real thing, but I just couldn’t do it.  This is not to say that Shelf Discovery is a bad book.  Quite the opposite.  But I just couldn’t live with the spoilers.


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  HarperCollins: 2009.

There are two things in life that scare me: spiders and home invasion.  I have had an irrational fear of both since childhood.  This  means that I can’t handle Coraline or The Graveyard Book. I’ve never even attempted Coraline because so many people have warned me against it (my spider fear is intense, folks).  But I was determined to read The Graveyard Book because what kind of self-respecting youth librarian isn’t all over Gaiman?  Besides, everyone told me the scene at the beginning is quick, non-explicit, and that it can be easily digested by nine-year-olds.  I gave up by the second page, scared out of my bloomers.  I’ve tried several times, even skipping over the first few pages, but I just can’t hack it.  (Note: I also tried The Graveyard Book audiobook.  That didn’t work either.  Gaiman’s voice box clearly comes from the same factory as Boris Karloff’s.  Spooksville).

Before I Die by Jenny Downham.  David Fickling: 2007.

Man, I love well-written, angsty YA.  Gayle Forman, Jandy Nelson, Sara Zarr – I love it. I like some grit, some real trauma, some good ol’ fashioned naughty bits.  When I read the (mostly starred) reviews of Before I Die, I knew it was for me.

The premise is simple (teen girl has just months to live and wants to go off her chain before the end) but all the reviewers said the execution was brilliant, raw, and beyond expectation.  Since it’s in this blog post, you know I couldn’t get through it.  I gave up around page 30.  Maybe things turned around in the end (I don’t think they do), but I couldn’t get over the “die” part.  This was three years ago and lately I’ve been thinking of trying this one again.  But for the time being, it remains an Unfinishable.

Laika by Nick Abadzis.  First Second: 2007.

I tried to read this at the lake this summer.  ‘Tis not beach reading, y’all.  Laika was the first animal sent into space.  It didn’t go so well.

I was about 2/3 into this book before my other half had to come outside, extract my bawling self from a lawn chair, and say firmly “I don’t think you should read this anymore.”   He then had to hide it at the bottom of his suitcase and return it to the library for me because I couldn’t even look at it.  The only thing more upsetting for me than this book was when I thought the baby alien was going to die in District 9. Seriously.

Laika is terrifically well done, but I think that was the problem for me.  I still can’t shake it.  It’s like Old Yeller but in Russia/space.  That makes it about 40 million times more intense.

In my experience, I find that recommending an Unfinishable to a child or teen is more effective than anything else.  If I can honestly say “I was too traumatized to even finish this book,” it will fly off the shelf.  Of course, I’m not going around trying to traumatize chidlers.  But Unfinishables make great sells.  They issue a challenge:

I couldn’t get through this book.  Can you?

4 thoughts on “The Unfinishables (or, book trauma)”

  1. I cried at VPL, standing in the stacks, when I started the first page of Laika. Can’t do it. Mind you, I can’t read any kids’ books that have dogs in them period because odds that they’re going to die by the end are astronomically not in my favour.

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  2. Oh dear, I just started Laika…I guess I was naive/ignorant and didn’t anticipate the unhappy ending…perhaps I will also return it. I just can’t deal with dog or cat death.

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