Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Putting Aside a Book You're Actively Enjoying

I'm currently reading True Grit. Also The Book of Ebenezer Le Page; The Complete Claudine (an omnibus of Colette's Claudine novels, which I put down halfway through Claudine Married); Rebecca; The Rachel Papers; The Third Policeman; The Tenth Parallel; Half of a Yellow Sun and One D.O.A, One on the Way. I've enjoyed almost all of these books - and "enjoyed" The Rachel Papers - and none of them are particularly long or demanding, but I've also set down each book before its ending - sometimes only chapters before. This is a bad habit I've had for many years, but I figured for this, my first blog post, I would try to figure out the source of this habit and possibly come to some conclusions about how to squelch it. I know I'm not the only one who does this.
I think there are several factors at work here. I work in a bookstore and am constantly surrounded by new temptations. (My six boxes of unread hardbacks, softcovers and advance readers, gathering dust for want of shelf space, will attest to this.) I spent most of my teenage years clicking around between message boards and writing on a Livejournal, and, as a result, my brain is full of swarming gnats. I want to feel my language pleasure center firing off, and novelty - starting a new book whose insight, or character development, or plot, or delicious prose I really love - assists in giving me this wonderful feeling.

What really prevents me from finishing a book that I'm enjoying, though, is a sense of investment, and, therefore, pressure. With books that I'm Reading reading, I need to feel like I've fully taken in every word. If I'm tired or unfocused, I'll find myself reading a sentence five times with a mounting sense of frustration. This is where my lovely co-worker Barry - if you've been here on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday in recent years, you know Barry - would advise me to "get on the Prozac train." (Barry speaks openly about his experiences with OCD and is very warm and helpful to both sufferers and family members, and, yes, I OK'ed this with him.) At the same time, I'll usually have books, comics or magazines on hand that I read during in-betweeny moments - before bedtime, at meals - and I usually read these quickly and effortlessly, because they somehow don't count. (Barry could tell me whether making this artificial distinction between Reading and reading is a symptom of something.) I also find it much easier to finish books that I'm indifferent towards or actively dislike.

I'm trying to read Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities alongside my boyfriend and two of my co-workers, and it's about 1,700 pages long, so the problem of how to finish what I've started is especially important right now. Sentence for sentence, it's giving me more pleasure than anything else I've read recently. It's plotless, but that's fine - while a lot of the books I've finished have been more plot-heavy, I tend to be aware of this and it puts me off (with the exception of PG Wodehouse and some mysteries), in the same way that a piece of music can be too sing-songy. So far, I've been reading slowly and carefully and haven't gotten stuck on any sentences. It helps that it's hilarious. (I don't have fond memories of reading Young Torless for class a few years ago, so this was a huge, wonderful surprise.) There's also this logic - for me, at least - to many of the sentences where you are walked very methodically from start to a really fresh and surprising finish. So now I just need to sustain this feeling of engagement and delight for another 1,600-something pages. No buying additional books that look so great, I just have to read them right now. Any tips?


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