In Which There Is No Greater Tragedy Than That

End of Story

by Will Hubbard

I’m trying to die correctly, but it’s very difficult, you know.

– Lawrence Durrell

Not finishing books is the kind of terrible habit one acquires from an ex-girlfriend. She’s gone, but her vices stick around. It’s in the same category as drinking exotic fruit juices, or taking muscle relaxants.

In a certain way, beginning a book resembles travel to a foreign country—new tastes, new values, new forms of devotion and sacrifice. Devouring the four books of Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, for example, is hardly distinguishable from actually visiting the rueful, coy Alexandria in which they are set. And as is true of any vacation, packing up prematurely and leaving such a world of fiction diminishes the experience only slightly.

There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.

It must be that the vast majority of our comprehension and awe in a new environment happens within moments of making its acquaintance. Three days pass, and while there will always be more to see, there is little left to learn. And so the last days of many vacations, like the last 100 pages of many novels, seem capricious.

My own bookshelves hold more books abandoned than read all the way through. Books I’ve told people were dear to me, books I’ve taught, books for which I’ve written glowing reviews – all only partially apprehended.

So, what is in an ending?

As many have suggested, endings are a truce the author makes with her talent – an agreement to begin living again outside the story, to return to ‘real’ life. Endings are a purely artificial constraint (pure and artificial), and philosophically speaking, the characters simply must go on living regardless of even the best endings.

It’s hard to think of a greater tragedy than that, which perhaps is part of our desire to finish a book—to feel the cathartic brunt of having to separate from its persons, its tastes, its devotions. The other part must come from the vanquishing of the text itself, from the leaving of no stone (word) unturned.

For those of us who happily choose to forgo those pleasures, blaming any one distraction or temperament would be folly. Book-abandoning is surely in greatest evidence among the non-obsessives and quitters, but those who work or love too much are equally susceptible. Most often, of course, it is the exhilarating beginning of a new book that intercedes, and yet another aborted Alexandria is added to the bedside stack.

Will Hubbard is the contributing editor to This Recording. He tumbles here.

woody guthrie

“Two Good Man” – Woody Guthrie (mp3)

“Vigilante Man” – Woody Guthrie (mp3)

“The Rising Sun Blues” – Woody Guthrie (mp3)

“Lindbergh” – Woody Guthrie (mp3)

“Red River Valley” – Woody Guthrie (mp3)


Music was invented to confirm human loneliness. – Durrell

“School of Kraut” – Peter, Bjorn and John (mp3)

“Next Stop Bjursele” – Peter, Bjorn and John (mp3)

“Favour of the Season” – Peter, Bjorn and John (mp3)


Will Hubbard on the Alphabet

Summer Reading Part One

Brittany Julious on Kazuo Ishiguro

Summer Reading Part Two

Tao Lin on K-Mart Realism

Summer Reading Part Three

Good Will Syllabusing


George met BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh.

A.C. Hawley turf-talked Friday Night Lights

We are trying to break your heart.



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