Sunday, October 06, 2019

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was published in 2004. I had a copy, and I'd heard great things, so I dove in.

I gave up 100 pages in.
This was NOT oh so NOT my cup of tea.

Of course I told no one and hoped my serious lack of reading taste never came to light. I mean, as an agent, I'm supposed to know what's good and publishable. Clearly I needed a tune up.

Then over the years other non-aficionados crept from their hiding spots and revealed themselves.
And I learned that not every book, not even one touted by Neil Gaimen, was for every reader (or agent.)

I cautiously revealed to a few, a chosen small few, that I too Did Not Cotton to JS & Mr N.
We vowed to keep the dastardly truth to ourselves.


But then, a writer I admire, and a client I adore, BOTH said how much they loved this book. And the writer pal said "you just have to keep going past page 100."

So I bought another copy, the previous copy having gone the way of The Strand, and knowing what first editions bring now, boy do I rue THAT trip to the used book counter!

When it arrived this week, I was daunted at the page count. When the hell am I going to read this? I wondered. But, I'll need something to dive into between the courses of on the requested fulls buffet, so it might as well be this.

Have you picked up a book a second time and had a different response to it?
Let me know what you read and the time elapsed between Read one and Read two in the comment column!

46 comments:

Claire Bobrow said...

The Catcher in the Rye.

First time I read it, I was in my early twenties. I hated it.

The second time I read it was about six years ago. Ding! A light bulb went off. Holden was depressed. Duh. It suddenly made so much more sense, and I felt so much sympathy for his character.

Timothy Lowe said...

Vonnegut's Catch-22. First try way in high school. Gave up on page 3. Just so wacky. But I'm glad I kept the copy, because I picked it up and loved it a few years later. Then I tore through a bunch of other Vonneguts and even taught Sirens of Titan for a few years (kids either loved it it hated it; no in-between).

Sometimes it just doesn't resonate the first time. I suppose that's encouraging for those of us who haven't sold a book yet.

Kitty said...

"Dreaming Myself, Dreaming a Town (Field Notes from the Land of Dreams)" -- nonfiction

From School Library Journal
YA-- In a readable, first-person narrative, Watkins writes about dreaming as it relates to self-knowledge, precognition, and impulses. After asking the inhabitants of Dundee, New York to record and submit their dreams to her, she has drawn conclusions about group and individual dreaming in Dundee residents, in her own life, and in the lives of other people she has known. Watkins' research shows that many Dundee residents shared entire dreams or at least dream fragments.

A friend of mine wrote it years before we met and became good friends. I read it and found it 'interesting.' Last year I gave it another go and honestly enjoyed it. I emailed her and told her how much I enjoyed the 2nd reading. She was pleased and said she'd write more later, but she never did. She died four months later. I knew she sick but she never let on how sick she really was.

nightsmusic said...

In all honesty, those few books I just wasn't able to even slog through, the ones I set aside because for whatever reason, they just didn't resonate with me, were given away and I've never tried them again. I hated Catcher in the Rye and Catch 22, more because they were foisted on me in school and I didn't like being forced to read anything. I actually picked up Franny and Zooey because it sounded interesting and was on a list of 100 by one teacher that we could read and report on. I managed to finish it, but couldn't relate at all. That was when I realized I didn't care for Salinger.

Maybe I'm just odd, but if I was bored or couldn't relate or found it slower than a snail the first time, I don't want to try again. :/

Kitty said...

My grandmother read "Catcher..." when she was in her 80s. She got a copy from my mother who was the high school librarian. Grandma referred to it as Stinker In the Straw. I tried reading it a year ago and couldn't get through the first chapter. My grandson had to read it -- actually got through the whole book -- and said he just couldn't relate to it and didn't like it at all. Btw, nightsmusic, I don't care for Salinger, either.

Nate Wilson said...

I put aside Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay 50 pages in. After finishing 6 other books -- so, probably about 3 months -- I reopened it and enjoyed the rest of the story. Not sure if the first 50 were actually less interesting, or if I merely needed to be in the right mindset. I hope you'll have a similar experience with Strange & Norrell, Janet.

As for others mentioned, I loved Catch-22 (by Joseph "Vonnegut" Heller) right from the start, but disliked Catcher in the Rye. Though with Claire's about-face on the latter, maybe it's time I give it a second chance.

K. White said...

I've always loved science fiction and fantasy. However, there have been several recent SFF books that had outstanding reviews & won major awards, but which left me cold. Thinking something must be wrong with me I've made multiple attempts to read them. I always get a little bit further before I give up. Thank goodness I borrowed them from the library, otherwise I'd be poorer.

CED said...

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for me.

I got a copy before it was a thing, read the first chapter or two, then put it down because it didn't grab me. But I loved the title and cover, and so I picked it up about four months later, got past the beginning, and never looked back.

I love, love, love Strange and Norrell (novel and TV show), but I totally get people who don't (and I know a bunch). It's a very particular thing.

Timothy Lowe said...

Nate. Wow. I am so freaking embarrassed. I meant Cat's Cradle. I make that mistake all the time.

I was going to try to pass it off as an auto-correct issue but decided that was too much of a stretch.

Sarah said...

For me, it was Terry Pratchett's Men at Arms. No chapters . . . many narrative threads. . . it was so easy to put down. My brother kept harping at me, so I finally picked it up again. Halfway through, I was hooked, and I've read all the Diskworld novels.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

The Woman Warrior - memoir by Maxine Hong Kingston

This really counts as a near-miss - because I was warned by the highly-trusted-where-books-are-concerned friend who recommended it to me to skip the first chapter if it wasn't to my taste. Which it wasn't. So I jumped ahead to where the fantasy-world disappears into the mists from whence it came, and everyday reality kicks in. And I couldn't put it down. It's since become a classic, but this was when it first came out, so kudos to my farsighted book buddy.

I love blog posts where the other Reiders recommend things.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Everyone went on and on about how great N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth saga was, the three books grabbing a mess of Hugos and countless other awards. The first time I picked up The Fifth Season, I admit it daunted me. It started all in a second person present point of view as in You do this, you do that. The next bit was in past tense regular third person but did not seem to have anything to do with the "You" from the first bit. Boy, am I silly and sometimes not too bright.

I put it down, unable to latch on. About a month later, I was at dinner with friends and one mentioned she loved the trilogy. Five months later, I picked it back up, got six chapters in and never looked back. I consumed all three books in about three days. Yeah, it deserved the Hugos and there should be new awards invented just to give to it. It was amazing. But I almost missed it.

Theresa said...

Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad. I got through a couple of chapters the first time, put it down, and never picked it up again until it was due back at the library. About a year later, because so many of my reader friends said good things about it, I got it from the library again. That time, I couldn't put it down.

I don't think I even made it 100 pages in JS & Mr. N. I tried the series and lasted about 10 minutes. Just not for me.

Lennon Faris said...

The first of the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.

The opposite happens, too - trying to put the brakes on a story that you don't want to end. The most memorable one for me was the last few sentences of the Narnia series (C.S. Lewis) when I was in the fifth grade. I read one sentence a day for the last few weeks up until my birthday. I remember grieving afterward.

Ah, books.

Dena Pawling said...


>>"you just have to keep going past page 100."

Most people [including me] won't give a book 100 pages to get interesting.

However, I have learned that for me, sometimes it's the format.

Several years ago, I attempted to read A Man Called Ove and The Martian, both as e-books. Couldn't get into either one. Ove was really slow and Martian had too much science that went over my head. I didn't finish more than about 30 pages in either one.

Several months later, I saw that my library had both on audio CD. Ove stayed slow but I enjoyed it enough to finish it. Martian made me laugh so much in certain places that there was a time when I had to pull over to the side of the freeway because I was laughing so hard I couldn't see to drive.

french sojourn said...


I was studying Architecture in Boston, and I read Ann Rand's Fountainhead. Well I was seduced by her arguments for purity of design versus cookie cutter fabrication. Twenty years later, I reread it and was mortified. It was like she was taking the stance that it was wrong to kill kittens, but she was going to be a martyr, with her unpopular belief. ( everyone knows harming kittens is evil) But she seemed so smug. I also found the character development monochromatic.

When I first read "Go set a watchman" by Harper Lee, I didn't care for it at all. Once it became evident that it was the rough draft of "To kill a mockingbird" I appreciated it so much more as an example of rough draft versus finished work. I could hear Truman Capote's voice clearly in certain passages. An incredible learning tool.

Craig F said...

Just about everything I was told to read in high school. I didn't have enough of a world view to get into them. I also had not yet been bitten by the want to read bug.

I have Jonathan Strange somewhere around here, but for some reason I can't remember anything in it. I'll have to check it out again, eventually. Currently hung up on Katherine Arden and going to give R.A. Salvatore another go.

Fearless Reider said...

I almost missed not just one book but a whole beloved author before enlightenment hit. Despite my husband’s avid recommendations, I never got around to reading anything by Ursula K. Le Guin until I picked up a copy of The Telling at an airport shop almost two decades ago. I could not get past the first three pages. In my defense, I was 1) on an airplane 2) with two small children and 3) in more of a Raymond Carver phase of my life, and I just couldn’t get oriented in her lyrical world. Two months before Ms. Le Guin died, my husband and I were facing a long road trip and, on a whim, I downloaded the audio version of A Wizard of Earthsea. Within three minutes I knew I had been dead wrong about her, and I’ve spent the past two years tearing through her splendid works.

Setting can make a huge difference in our responses to books. I picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for the first time in a tent on a rainy, dreary morning and I was crushed when the sun came out that afternoon and broke the enchantment. I couldn’t wait to get back from hiking and pick it up again. It’s exactly the kind of book to read while luxuriating in a sleeping bag, in between naps and mugs of steaming mocha. When I gave it to my sons, I warned them about the leisurely start (and I admonished them not to skip the footnotes — they get better and better!). The audiobook is also terrific. I hope the second time will be the charm, Janet!

Curt David said...

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Read first three chapters as a young teen, regrettably put it down. Over twelve years later, after the 8th movie came out, picked it up again as a young adult. Loved the series, but wished I didn’t watch all the movies first.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I have never, ever forced myself to continue on with a book that wasn't compelling. Nor can I recall a title I once set down, then tried again at a later date. Maybe I'll ponder that a bit more and consider something from my past that I should give another chance.

Lora said...

The first time I picked up House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, I got a few pages in and decided I just didn't care.

Flash forward about ten years, I tried it again because (as a horror fan) I knew I was supposed to love it. Suffice it to say, HOL is one of the most deeply, strangely disturbing books I've ever read and I think it is bloody brilliant.

Adele said...

confession time: I read The Left Hand of Darkness when it came out in 1969. Ursula K. LeGuin was a woman and I was a rebellious teenager who was stopped from taking shop classes at school because I was a girl. Man, I was pissed. But here's the thing - you'd think I would have slurped up TLHoD and clamoured for more, but no. I read it because Ursula K. LeGuin was a woman and she was winning prizes for what she did. That didn't happen much back then, and when a woman did something you supported her. So I read TLHoD but I didn't understand it. Maybe I was too young, maybe too angry. Where I lived we had demonstrations against the war in Vietnam all the time, and plenty of women fighting to have any place in the world. When I read about the society in TLHoD I missed the theme. Totally missed it, as well as some other features: Yeah, yeah. war. Same old, same old. Women, men, both, neither ... arguments. Same old, same old. Until recently, I thought TLHoD was one of the most boring books ever written. Recently I read a memoir about what TLHoD meant to someone ... and I realized I was totally mistaken in pretty well every thing I've ever thought about that book. I haven't re-read it, not yet. But it's on my reading list.

Mister Furkles said...

Not exactly on topic, but I was in used bookstore twenty some years ago and found one of my favorites in hardbound with the dust jacket. First edition first printing. Well I wanted it just for the novelty but it was nine dollars and I still had a paperback copy. So I didn't get it. Darn!

Last year we sold an art book to a rare book dealer in Las Vegas and mentioned it to her. She ask, "Have you got it?"
"No, I passed."
"I wish you hadn't because for a first printing of "To Kill a Mockingbird", with dust jacket, I could give $20,000.00 right now."

If'n ya' really want somin', jest get it.

Fearless Reider said...

It’s a shame so many people read Go Set a Watchman as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird instead of an early draft,Hank. It shows the value of an insightful editor and an author who’s receptive to major revision. I wonder how many would-be classics have missed the mark because a MS didn’t reach the right editor, or an author was too stubborn to take wise advice. My most trusted beta reader recently suggested that my MG novel might end up as adult fiction with a MG protagonist. I’m not sure yet, but I’m listening.

KDJames said...

I've tried three times to read Trinity by Leon Uris. I just couldn't get past the first chapter. The wake? Is that how it began? It's an old, faint memory now. Decades have passed and I see no need to try again. One of a handful of books I felt no regret purging from my collection. Life is too short.

Interesting how different times in our lives can change our perception. When my daughter was in high school she had to read Conrad's Heart of Darkness. She HATED it and was SO vehement in her opinion, I decided I'd better read it too. It was dark and violent and awful, full of ugly symbolism and metaphor, and I could see why she hated it. I thought it was an interesting, although difficult, read. One of those books that reveals as much about the author as the characters, perhaps.

Colin Smith said...

My brother sent me a copy of JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL some years ago. I just took a look at the flyleaf. "First US Edition, 2004." Hmm! How much did you say these things are worth?? ;)

I did read it, btw, and enjoyed it. I don't remember which I read first, but I also enjoyed THE NIGHT CIRCUS, and have often recommended the one to fans of the other.

I've probably told this story before (how long have I been hanging around here??). When I was 13/14, our English Lit class at school was assigned TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I read the first few pages and could not get into it. When it came to writing a book report, I cribbed the basic plot off a friend and, arrogant little twerp I was back then, boldly asserted that "To Kill a Mockingbird is a boring book." My teacher responded with the comment (in ink on my report): "Saying To Kill a Mockingbird is a 'boring' book is a Philistine remark."

I re-read TKaM many years later and, to my shame, I had to admit that my English teacher was correct. I had been an ass. And, in fact, TKaM is, in my humble estimation, one of the best novels ever written. A masterclass in writing.

There's my confession. You may laugh at me. I deserve it. :)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Loved Piers Anthony's Xanth books as a teen. Came back to them as an adult and was much appalled at how awful I found them.

Because of that, I am now afraid to read all those books I loved when I was young, including the Anne McCaffrey's Pern books and The Scarlet Letter. I want to always love these books, even if it's only loving the memory of them.


P.S.: I'm doing Inktober this year (as an artist), and it's rather eye-opening in a perception kind of way.

Joseph S. said...

Timothy

Did you mean Slaughterhouse 5?

NLiu said...

I used to finish every single book I started, but lately realised that was a waste of good reading time. Now, if I don't want to finish a book - it's not gripping, I don't click with the main character, I can see how it all ends, etc. - I don't.

Colin Smith said...

* Correction to my earlier post. I didn't mean the flyleaf, I meant the copyright page. The flyleaf is the blank page. Clearly there was nothing written on that. :)

Laura S. said...

I'm glad I read Go Set a Watchman if only because, when you compare it to the masterpiece into which it developed, you have proof that writers can get better overtime. Great topic!

Sandra J. said...

I'm an avid reader of a very prolific author, and while I love most of his work, there is the occasional book where I can't get past the first couple of chapters. I'll put the book down (page held with a book mark) and come back to it, sometimes months/years later, only to find that, meh, I still don't care for it.

I've learned to just shelve a book or give it away if I can't connect with it - there are too many good books out there and not enough time! How will I ever get to them all?!?!

Barbara said...

For me, it was A Tale of Two Cities. Had to read it in high school and couldn't get past the opening pages. Even the teacher gave up on it and assigned Turn of the Screw instead.

I read ToTC later as an adult. It's one of my favorite books now.

I also tried Jonathan Strange when it came out and couldn't get through it. I never went back to it. I've been trying to get through Moby Dick my whole life and I can't make myself do it.

Aphra Pell said...

My shameful secret is the Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. I adore Terry Pratchett - I've read the whole discworld multiple times (although not a massive fan of the first two). And I am typing this with a big old gentleman rat wedged under one knee and another perched on my shoulder. A Pratchett story about highly intelligent rats should be my exact cup of tea.

But tried multiple times and I just can't get into it.

I read Strange and Norrell ages ago and enjoyed it, but I haven't been able to get into rereading it since. Partly perhaps because I have one of the original hardbacks and it is huuuuge. Not something that can be easily read in bed. Tbh for anyone interested in the plot, but not sure about the book I'd try the tv series first - it was very well done.

Ryan Neely said...

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

I tried four times over the course of a decade and was never able to get beyond the prologue and first chapter. Then I needed I needed something to read aloud to my wife during a particularly grueling road trip and sue thought it sounded interesting. We forced our way through and now that book and series are one of my favorites.

I'm sure we'll all be eager to jear how your second tour with Jonathan Strange goes. I made it over halfway and had to put it down. I'm usually not the type who doesn't finish a book. The author and everyone involved worked hard on the thing, there must be something to it but I couldn't get behind that one.

JulieWeathers said...

When people rail on Diana Gabaldon about how much they hate her books, she simply replies, "Not all books are for all people. I hope you enjoy the next book you read more."

Tolkien. Blasphemy, I know. I couldn't stand his style. I tried again and once I got used to it, the story enthralled me.

Pericula Ludus said...

Shakespeare. The high school curriculum mandated we read Macbeth. Our teacher decided it had to be the version without any translations. Which meant the entire class understood zilch. I understood slightly more than that because I had just returned from an exchange year in the US. So the teacher had me read the whole thing out loud to the class. Which didn't help anyone's enjoyment or comprehension. I figured there were limits to what you can do as a non-native speaker and Shakespeare was one of those limits.

Left it at that for years. Until my local cinema showed a performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company live. With an actor I didn't mind ogling for a few hours. My reasoning was I could slip out if it got too incomprehensible.

To my surprise, I got it. Not just the language, but the meaning. I laughed at jokes! Who knew Shakespeare was funny?? Not me! A first tentative toe dipped back into Shakespearean waters, I soon started attending plays in actual theatres and even read them for fun. A few years ago I shocked my students (and myself) by reciting the St Crispin's Day speech to them. Apparently that's a thing you can do as a non-native speaker!

Nate Wilson said...

Timothy, no need to be embarrassed -- the internets tell me many people make that mistake.

Cat's Cradle, on the other hand? Yeah, I didn't like that one, either. Maybe I'll give that another try along with the Salinger...

Megan V said...

There have been many books that I've started one day, couldn't make it past X page, and so put down, only to come back days, months, or even years later to find that I loved them. It's made me think a lot about subjectivity and how even one day can make a difference.

I've also been in Her Grace's boat and found myself shaking my head over books I once loved. (Xanth was among those too!)

Konnie Enos said...

I can think of books I've read and wished I'd never done so and I've never picked them up again. One such book was one my stepmother gave me as a gift saying it was a great story and I'd love it. I hated it and made sure I lost that book somewhere along the line. Come to think of it, all the books I've regretted reading were recommended by her. I've also learned to to listen to her recommendations for movies. I think the only stories I've picked up at her recommendation and like were James Herriot's books. Still wish I had copies of them, I'd give them to my daughter who is studying to be a Vet.

Sherryl said...

For me it was Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things". I couldn't get into it but I suspected it was because my head was too full of teaching and work etc. So I waited until the Christmas break and tried again, and loved it.
At the moment I have "Milkman" (Anna Burns) and "The Luminaries" (Eleanor Catton) on my pile. It's the language in both - it almost holds you at arms length from the story. I haven't given up on either ... yet.

LynnRodz said...

I commented awhile back that I couldn't get into the widely acclaimed All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If I remember correctly, I found that not much was happening and it was repetitive and I had read well over one hundred pages. Several Reiders told me to hang in there, I wouldn't be disappointed if I kept reading. They were right, the second part of the story was beautifully written and I was glad I had persisted.

Everyone's tastes are different, but it makes me wonder how some books make it to print when the first part of a story isn't as good as the last part. I can't see agents wading through hundreds of pages.

Will MacPhail said...

American Psycho. I tried multiple times to read it but couldn't push through. Then I lost it and from time to time I would rip the house apart looking for it because I refused to buy it again. Then I bought it again. I got through it this time. It was a hard read but later I found the first copy hidden away in a dank dark corner of my closet where I imagine a copy of that book would hide.

Waverly said...

I actually wrote a blog post about this because I've had the same experience. At the time I wrote that, I mentioned The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Wolf Hall. In retrospect, I think I was annoyed by the showy voice of each of those--it seemed like the author really wanted to impress me--but once I gave them a chance I fell in love with those novels.
Nancy Pearl, the celebrity librarian from Seattle, has a rule which says you subtract your age from 100 and that's how many pages of a book you need to read before passing on it. So if you're 90, you only have to read 10 pages (too many books to read and not a lot of time) but if you're 20, you have to read 80 pages. So according to this rule, Janet, you've already read enough of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
However, that's one of the books on my top ten list of all time favorite books. And yes, the first 100 pages are really, really slow.

shanepatrickwrites said...

"One Hundred Years of Solitude." I quit at a hundred pages in my mid-twenties and ten years later was chastised by a friend whose opinion I valued. I quit again at a hundred pages.

Now I'm in my mid-forties and I cyber-hang with writers quite capable of sucking me in and spitting me out in under a hundred words.

jallyn said...

I'm still angry at myself for finishing a Dan Brown novel.