Last Sunday, Edith asked about books we couldn’t put down, the ones we kept on reading, no matter what.
I’ve been contemplating the ones we don’t keep on reading.
Or do we?
I’m not sure when exactly I stopped reading every single book to the bitter end. Sometime in college, maybe. Oh, yes, definitely, because I know I didn’t read everything I was supposed to–at least not during Stage One. Being very immature, I needed two stages to get my degree. During Stage One, I was too busy partying to read the incredibly boring Moby Dick, for instance. (And no, I don’t regret the partying: It taught me some things, like Quit Partying and Get a Real Life.) Anyway, Jude the Obscure went by the wayside then, too.
I got back to Moby Dick some years later, and loved it. Thinking back, I’m seeing a connection between general immaturity and low boredom threshold. The less you know, the easier it is to be narrow-minded. When you start learning about being in the world and making a life for yourself, your mind can open up. Then you can learn some more things. Moby Dick wasn’t boring at all, once I’d matured enough to get it. So I’m glad I didn’t give up on that one completely. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to Jude the Obscure but don’t hold your breath. Hardy and I, we’re not likely to have a good relationship. We see the world in completely opposite ways.
This is one of the keys, of course, to what makes us keep turning the pages and what makes us stop, say, three chapters in. When you read a book, you’re forming a relationship. And you’re just not going to communicate with every single author. You’re simply not going to want to spend time with every one of them.
The question is, do you stick it out to the end, even if you don’t want to be there?
I don’t. Despite the lesson learned about Moby Dick, I still don’t read to the end. Not everyone is Herman Melville. And I know, deep in my heart, that Jude the Obscure is not going to make my comeback list.
Life is short, books are many. If I see no potential for a relationship with the book, I close it and go on to the next. Sometimes I can tell very early on that things are not going to work out between us. Sometimes–as was the case recently with a work of non-fiction–I was halfway through the book when I sighed and gave up.
This doesn’t happen very often. I’m not the callow youth I was in my callow youth. I know what I like, so I’m not likely to have books in the TBR piles I won’t finish. And I’m not as narrow-minded as I used to be, so when I try something new, I’m more forgiving. Too, I have this job that involves reading tons and tons of non-fiction, some of it written in a style that is, not to put too fine a point on it, awful.
Here’s an example from The Mirror of Graces (1811): “Women in every country have a greater influence than men chose to confess. Though haughtiness of mind will not allow them always to acknowledge the truth, yet we see the proof in its effects; and, in consequence, must exhort women, by yielding their deference to the laws of honorary precedence, to teach men to obey them; and, rather to emulate such distinctions, than seek to pull down the possessors to the level of the common herd.” As is painfully obvious here, not everyone in the early 19th C wrote the way Jane Austen did. This is a great clue to why she’s lasted and no one’s ever heard of the hundreds of others writing at the same time.
Betcha anything only a teeny tiny minority of readers would read The Mirror of Graces from the beginning to the bitter end. And let me say, I am not one of that minority. I skim, wincing as I go along. But I’ve got a reason to read it. This is my job, and you never know what fabulous idea will come from it, once I can figure out what the heck she’s saying.
How do you deal with the good, bad, and ugly in books? Do you apply the 50 page rule? The three chapter rule? Or do you keep on, right to the end?