Reading Books is hard work...
I’m reading a book.
And yes, I can hear everyone who has ever known me sigh, “I know”.
In the past days I’ve been wondering if I haven’t been reading the wrong in way lately. Not because I'm reading sideways, I’m not trying the Chinese way - but maybe I have been doing it the wrong way nonetheless?
I’ve been struggling with finishing books lately. This has been going on for over a year. I start all these great books (and they really are great books a lot of the time) but my attention span doesn’t last and I leave them in a shelf somewhere, in my “to be finished” pile. It’s become so big now that I don’t have a pile but whole bookshelve dedicated to books I haven’t yet finished but want to.
Reading has never been easy for me. I’m a slow reader, it takes me a long time to get through a book and I don’t actually want to develop any speed reading habits because I enjoy saying each word "loudly" to myself in my head. But starting a book after book without finishing anything? Surely that’s not the right way to do things?
Beside that I have a rule that if I don’t finish a book I don’t feel as if I can judge it or talk about it. I won’t easily give my impression of a book that I haven’t yet finished. I may tell you if I think it’s great so far, but if I stop mid-book, then what does that say about the book?
A few days ago it occurred to me that it was just a matter of thinking of it differently. I am not an advocate of the idea of finishing a book even if I don’t like it, no matter what. If I’ve stopped, there has to be a reason, so maybe it's good to just let it be. Move on to other books, better books - life is short, there are a lot of unread books in the world.
But what if that too - is a somewhat a faulty way of looking at things? Maybe it’s not about finishing the book, but enjoying the text you’re reading RIGHT NOW. Maybe it's just about enjoying the prose.
That would mean that I don’t care too much about the plot, just as long as the sentences are satisfying. And god knows there are such books. But a good plot is often, almost always in fact for most people, what drives you to continue reading. But what if that’s the wrong way for me to look at it right now?
I started a book today that starts with the single word “Bitch.” And this created within me such a glee that I put the book down (actually my phone as I bought it on Kindle) and thought I’m going to really LOVE this one. (Actually I knew that already - It’s the new book by the fabulous Sarah Pinborough, go buy CROSS HER HEART, I'll wait.)
But right now I’m reading another book - and that takes precedence because I’m actually ploughing through it at the speed of -, well slowly, but I haven’t actually been able to put it down which feels great. The last book I read this way was BRUCE DICKINSON'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY that I mentioned here in January I believe.
Yet I’m not exactly enjoying the prose in this one. What I am enjoying is the ideas the book has to offer. They tickle me greatly and I find myself in a land somewhere between Clive Barker's HELLRAISER and GOD'S DEMON by Wayne Barlowe and for me that's a wonderful land to be in. (The book is called DÖDEN ÄR BARA BÖRJAN by G. Jonsson and M. Petersén) I am completely in love with this one, not the text so much as everything else.
So I am contradicting myself. This comes as no surprise to anyone, I’m sure.
Turns out - a good book is a good book, no matter the reason.
I have been reading a sort of a self help book called DARK NIGHTS OF THE SOUL, and while the prose in that isn’t exactly poetic, the text in it gives me pleasure at times. It turns feelings and ideas about feelings into words and at this moment in time I really like that.
There’s a book by André Brink called THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE that has been in my “to be finished” pile for over 10 years. It’s made its way to the garage and back, because I really want to finish it but never do pick it up. It's a sickness.
It’s like my relationship with Monty Python, I always think that there will come a time when I will enjoy their movies and then I’ll be able to sit down and have a great laugh, but each time I try I find them just as dull as the last time I tried.
In the meantime I don’t think there’s a short story collection nowadays that I don’t want to read and given the chance actually finish. I used to think that Short Story collections were harder to finish than novels, but not now for whatever reason.
So maybe it’s time to cull the to-be-finished pile and just accept the fact that some books are meant to be left half-read, at least by me and it's ok to enjoy those half-read books, even though they will never be finished.