Over the past six months, I’ve only really had two books I couldn’t bother to finish. They share a couple of common traits (although not topics), chief among them that they are recounted in a narrative style – often a draw for me. Unfortunately, the first becomes repetitive while the second takes on an overly academic tone.
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
- Only read about 230 out of 540 pages, but prepared to speculate on what the rest of the book says
This memoir about modern Mumbai’s seedy criminal underworld was nominated for a Pulitzer, according to the book’s cover, so I may be the minority report here. The author has some important themes, ranging from poverty to political corruption to police brutality. Understandably, there is plenty of overlap, so one can’t tackle one topic without touching the others. However, it makes the author’s chapters seem terribly repetitive, even with the introduction of the seemingly Teflon-coated police inspector that no one can get their corruption hooks into. As it turns out, the inspector isn’t entirely a paladin, as he’s pretty comfortable with police brutality.
Mehta seems to have written an important book. Unfortunately, I started counting pages to the end about fifty pages before I actually threw up my hands and moved on to another book. How the hell does one write a book about a seedy criminal underworld and make it so freaking dull?
On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History by Nicholas A. Basbanes
- I think I made it to about page 100 out of 430 before giving myself permission to give up on this book
I love to read quirky, seldom-considered bits of history (for an example of this kind of niche history that is worth the read, pick up Christine Sismondo’s America Walks into a Bar). Unfortunately, Basbanes’ written material runs in long, almost Dickensonian, sentences. Basically, the writing style suggests one academic sort is sharing his ideas with peers, rather than explaining what he has to say to a curious general public. While Basbane has made a real effort to research quite thoroughly, his content didn’t stick with me. I spent too much time trying to grind through his writing style instead of digesting his topic – not what a casual reader wants to do at Starbucks or in bed before lights-out.