Monday, March 9, 2015

When to Quit: Reading and Guilt

I know some people who have a hard and fast rule about finishing any book they start. No exceptions. Others have assured me there are guidelines: To find the minimum number of pages you must read before giving up on a book, you must deduct your age from one hundred. I've assigned enough required reading to know that taking choice out of the reading equation multiplies the reluctance. I have also pressed on through a long, slow exposition to discover a great payoff.

When my mother handed me her copy of James Michener's Centennial, she warned me that I had to get through the first couple of chapters about rocks and buffalo.  She was right.  Eventually, I even understood why he had found it necessary to tell me about those two topics.  When I taught Cold Mountain to AP English students, I had to nudge them to get through the first two chapters because I knew that in the rest of the chapters, they would discover the threads he was subtly weaving into his narrative.

The cartoon page "Sunday Funny" in this week's New York Times Magazine hit the nail on the head. I'm glad to low I'm not the only avid reader who feels angst occasionally.  I find myself stuck right now, in the middle of a book I am reading for book club (which I should have finished two weeks ago but, in fact, still have 300 pages left), and I just can't get through it.  I won't mention the title because someone else may love the novel.  (By the way, I know not everyone loves Michener, but I do. Or did. So there.)  Meanwhile, I've returned two books on CD, one after listening to five discs, because I just didn't care what happened next.

I don't know how listening time translates to the 100 minus your age rule, but for now, I figure there's no way I get to all the books I want to read.  I see no sense in wasting time. Until I find a good audiobook, I'll be listening to music.

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