To Read or Not to Read
Some folks feel the need to finish any book once started; that this is something “owed” to the author. Some also won’t walk out on a bad film because it’s been paid for, or send back a plate of pricey dog food in this week’s hot restaurant for fear of “looking bad”. But if a close personal friend didn’t write the book, take you to the cinema, or cook the meal, why care?
It got me to thinking about my own reading idiosyncracies and into which camp I belonged to.
I fall into the category of sitting through it – whether it be a bad book or movie (though I will send back food in a restaurant which seems crazy given I worked in hospitality for many years know what happens to returned food!) It isn’t necessarily because I’ve made an investment and feel compelled to make it to the end or to get my money’s worth. It isn’t because I feel I owe the author/director. It is because I feel I owe it to myself to know … what if I missed the one brilliant moment which made the entire bad book or movie worth it.
There have been rare occasions in my life when I have begun a book and not followed through to finish it. Ian Negus’s book on Islam remains an unknown treasure. After reading the same page 23 times after my son was born, I decided (and probably rightly so) I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to tackle a discourse on the subject.
Next came In the Name of the Rose. As someone who is not a fan of descriptive narrative I closed the book, disappointed and frustrated after the pages long description of a door in the church. Who cared? It was the final straw. It was a favourite movie of my father’s in the 90’s and felt sold out by Eco who could not deliver to me the on page version (a few months later I relented and got the movie out which didn’t wallow in pages long descriptions on inanimate objects!) Then there’s Portrait of a Young Man as an Artist. It was put down because I was lost and didn’t feel the need to try and orientate myself. Nothing in any of the characters enthused me to care about them or continuing with their story.
With the Eco and Joyce I felt my time was too precious to waste on them. However they come (individually) recommended as favourite novels by two of the most influential men in my life at the moment. So while I don’t feel indebted to the authors, I do feel indebted to these wonderful blokes to make the time to tackle them again.
Not every book I’ve read in the past two years (since I made a pact to read and finish two books a month) is something I’ve wanted to continue on with. But have been glad for the finis hanging over my head at the end of month and for having waded through narratives which have confused or confounded me. Two of the books have been Leaning Towards Infinity and 100 Years of Solitude.
Maybe with Woolfe’s book it was the relief in the final stretch, for the narrative to finally have found its groove after jolting between the stories of three generation of women or the depth of humanity in the relationships Frances Montrose develops in her “lost days” at in the final chapters.
Then there’s Marquez, his flying carpets and multiple generations all with the same name. It was hard going – and not exactly a short book either. Once I had suspended my hold on reality and sensibility I was able to relish and enjoy the crazy “otherness” of it. The richness of the writing inspired me to turn my hand at writing some magical realism and to seek out writers such as Salman Rushdie. Alls well, that ends well, as they say.
While they say life is too short to indulge in anything “bad” – books, movies, coffee, relationships et cetera, as writers can we really afford the luxury of throwing the bad egg switch and deep sixing a book we’re just not that into.
Are you someone who preserves? Or do you discard a book if you can’t get into it? What books have you pushed aside? Have you ever gone back to try again?