Well, I’ve done it again. I have failed to make it through Cryptonomicon. So far the third time has not been a charm. Interestingly, I stalled at almost exactly the same place as I did during my last attempt, right around page 600 in the paperback edition. I’m somewhat ashamed giving up on the book, especially since I made a big deal of announcing my third attempt to get through it. So I am giving myself one more chance at redemption. I’ve got a long drive today and I plan on listening to the book the entire way. I should be able to come close to finishing it. But this is really the last chance. I can deal with shame. What I can’t abide is spending time on a book that just isn’t doing it for me, when there are too many other books I want to read.
Most of what I read these days is nonfiction and it is unconscionable for me to spend as much time on fiction as I have on Cryptonomicon. I spent at least 10 days trying to get through it. During that same period of time, I could have made it through three nonfiction books. I made the sacrifice because the themes in Cryptonomicon would seem to be right up my alley. It’s got late 1990s tech, so there’s nostalgia from the dot com boom. It’s got crypto; it’s got information theory, which I ate up this summer. It’s got World War II history, which I enjoy reading. So why can’t I get through it? I don’t have an answer.
Actually, I broke my own rules this time. Long ago, I learned the importance of knowing when to say when with regard to a book. If a work of fiction doesn’t catch my interest after a few pages, I’m out. With nonfiction, I like the rule I once heard: give it 100 pages minus your age. This year, that means giving a book 51 pages, and then I bail. Time is too precious to waste it on books that aren’t good fits. This is by no means a slight to the authors. In just about every case, I’m sure the fit is bad on my end. Cryptonomicon is teetering on joining a cadre of eight other books I’ve failed to make it through this year, including:
- Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
- Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotages the Nazi’s and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre
- Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age by Annalee Newitz
- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- From Here to Eternity by Sean Carroll
- The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing by Mark Kurlansky
- Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter
- Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes
To be honest, the pressure was already on even before I started reading Cryptonomicon. I should have had 50 books read by June 30. As of this moment, I’ve completed 48 books and I’m about 9 books behind my pace for the year. I gave Cryptonomicon far more time that I should have. I didn’t trust my instincts, and that always gets my into trouble, where books are concerned.
So, with Cryptonomicon finally set aside, what is on tap for me? Here’s some of what I am looking forward to reading over the rest of the summer:
- Billy Summers by Stephen King
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark
- Small Giants: Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham
- Metropolis: A History of the City, Humankind’s Greatest Invention by Ben Wilson
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Annie Lamott
- Abigail Adams by Woody Holton
- William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDunough
- Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity by David Foster Wallace
- Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game by John Thorn
- Apollo 1: The Tragedy That Put Us on the Moon by Ryan S. Walters
- Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams by Louisa Thomas
- We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
- Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematicians by Roger Clark
- The Tao of Seneca by Seneca
My usual caveat about the butterfly effect of reading applies here. But this is the list that I am currently looking at tackling the rest of this summer.
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