Tag Archives: Adult Fiction

The Indubitable Value of Reading Without Finishing the Book

There is, without a doubt, a stigma against not finishing books. Unread tomes on our bookshelves are often alluded to in hushed tones, guilty secrets only we know about, like that dentist visit we keep putting off. (Who would do such a thing? Not me, of course.)

Lately, I’ve had the conviction that this is nothing to be ashamed of. I have started and not gotten to the end of many a book in my time, and I will most likely do so for the rest of my life. I read a book up until the point where I decide it’s not worth its remaining hours. There is also a different sort of timing to consider. As in the realm of relationships (what is reading if not a relationship you have with a book for a period of time), sometimes you’re not at the right point in your life’s trajectory to connect with a story and appreciate it for how great it is.

As a result, there are several books that I have spent a good chunk of time with and never finished. Many of them I would recommend to anyone, but I just reached a point where my interest waned. More than that, I felt satisfied by what I’d read up until that point, like a seven-course tasting menu that fills you up by the third dish. I’m highlighting them here because they are all worth any amount of time you have to spend. Given that there are so many books in VPL’s collection, especially when you include digital subscription content, you don’t always have endless hours to read everything to completion. Nor do you necessarily want to. Don’t let that stop you from reading or listening to an audiobook of whichever work has grabbed your interest in the present moment. Seriously, don’t.

Conversations with Friends

Book cover image for Conversations with Friends.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Normal People — Rooney’s literary romance bestseller. I listened to it on audiobook and found it quietly heartbreaking, an almost ironic lack of romanticism audible in the Irish narrator’s voice. That sharply trained focus on realism and melancholy vision of high school love kept me listening the whole way through.

Before Normal People, there was Conversations with Friends. In the beginning, I was really excited about its narrative voice, which was dry, witty, and intelligent. The main character is Frances, best friend to Bobbi and aspiring professional writer. The two become entangled with older couple Melissa and Nick (a successful journalist and actor respectively). I read to about halfway, to a point in the plot where it’s clear where the relationships are headed. This is often where I leave stories like these. Once I know where we’re headed and the majority of how we’ll get there, it’s hard for me to persevere to the end. I very much enjoyed the part I read, however. As they say, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, and this book was like a road trip filled with stimulating dialogue and gorgeously-written scenery.

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Help! I’ve finished the Discworld Novels!

The Cover of The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

Okay, okay, that’s only half a cry for help. I am a librarian1, after all; If I can’t find my own reads, how can I help others? Beyond making for a snappy title, though, it really is a call for suggestions. I’ve been working through the 41 Discworld books for… over a year now? I’ve taken breaks and read other things in between. Still, eventually, I dive back in and binge five or six in a row, mainly reading in publication order. As of writing this I haven’t quite finished but I’ve only got a few books left. Snuff, locking up Vimes’ story, Raising Steam, Most Von Lipwig’s final con, and The Shepherd’s Crown putting the main Discworld novels out to pasture. I wish there had been one more Death/Susan book after Thief of Time, but, I said goodbye to them as main characters months ago. As I’ve been reading digitally, I’m also missing out on Eric and The Last Hero, the two illustrated novels that I can’t find in library databases, so there’s still some Rincewind and Cohen the Barbarian stories I could seek out. If all these character names mean nothing to you, read on. If they do, and you miss them, please tell me in the comments what you’ve been reading to fill that hole.

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The Sleeping Car Porter: Canada’s Hidden Black History

February is Black History Month! To celebrate, VPL has put together programming for all ages, including Black History: The Music and the Message for kids, and an adult book club where we’ll discuss The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole. For more programming options, check out our What’s On Magazine.

Suzette Mayr’s The Sleeping Car Porter uncovers a portion of Canadian history lost to time—more specifically, Black Canadian history, lost to time due to institutional neglect. The 2022 Giller Prize winning novel follows a young Black man in the 1920s named Baxter, who has come over from the Caribbean for a job as a train porter in order to save up money for dental school. The novel’s timeline is a single cross-country train journey, from Montreal all the way to Banff, during which Baxter’s lack of sleep results in a blurry delirium made worse by the constant demands of his customers.  

I’ll admit I knew nothing about sleeping car porter history prior to reading this novel, but there were enough intentionally placed, specific references to suspect that there was likely a well of history behind Baxter’s story. Why, for example, did (white) customers keep calling him George? What was this Brotherhood they keep mentioning? Turning the last page over to Mayr’s extensive bibliography was the final clue that this novel is very, very heavily based on real Canadian history. So like any good nerd, I went on a bit of a deep dive and checked out They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada by Cecil Foster and My Name’s Not George: The Story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada by Stanley G. Grizzle, two titles from Mayr’s research that are available at VPL. They Call Me George is a particularly useful companion read to The Sleeping Car Porter, as it often answers the questions brought up in the novel. What I learned took me by surprise: Black porters were not only part of the Canadian cultural consciousness of the early to mid-20th century, they were also instrumental in instigating a Black middle class, and even helped cement—not by accident, but by will—our identity as a multicultural nation, on which we now pride ourselves.  

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