If I were to take a picture of the binding of my copy of The Portrait of a Lady you would see that the white marks stop right around page 234, where I put in a bookmark (with unicorns on it, no less) sometime in the fall of 1993 and never opened it again.
I do remember moments of enjoying this book while I was reading it, moments where I wanted to keep reading and didn’t mind it. I remember some of the writing was beautiful. I also remember that not much happened and I was bored a lot. This was the first book of AP English that I didn’t finish, and because of that it has been like this monkey on my back for over nineteen years. My boss always says that life is too short to finish books that you aren’t enjoying, but I’ve never been able to let them go. I have a bookshelf on goodreads.com for books that I’ve started but never finished. There are nine of them, including the tome in question: Crime and Punishment, The Island of the Day Before, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Their Eyes were Watching God, Paradise Lost, The General in his Labyrinth, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook got Wrong, and The Age of Innocence. In a lifetime of reading, that’s really not very many books to have given up on. I blame vet school for at least three or four of them. I blame Anne Rice for Crime and Punishment, and the others? Well, I blame the books.
The Portrait of a Lady also has the dubious distinction of also being only the second book of my entire school career that I didn’t finish. The first one was Great Expectations freshman year. And I didn’t finish that one again senior year. I actually took a nineteenth century British novel class for the opportunity to force myself to finally make it through Great Expectations. Unfortunately, there was no nineteenth century American novel class for me to take. Not that I would have, because The Portrait of a Lady has become to me the epitome of everything that was wrong with our AP English syllabus, a constant source of derision and mockery. I sometimes wonder if I mock this book because I’m mad at myself for not finishing it. I’m sure that’s more than a small bit of it, but it was also just so boring when I was sixteen, and I couldn’t get past the pages and pages where nothing really happened. I started reading through the first few pages a couple weeks ago and still found it long winded and slow-moving. I think I read ten pages and nothing was said or accomplished other than a stroll around a garden.
I hope that this book surprises me like Lord Jim did, I really do. But I’m worried I am going to get stuck again. I suppose the deadlines are more flexible than they were in AP English, but it’s a long-ass book, and I’ve got the new Kim Harrison book coming in the mail in a few weeks.
PS: I’m using Bethany’s picture of her copy of the book in question because none of my cats are around to take a picture of with my copy. I promise an adorable book-cat picture for my progress report.