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You Don’t Have to Finish Every Book

January 16, 2014

Picture1Last night I made the decision not to finish the book I was reading. I don’t do that very often – in fact, I can’t remember the last time. It’s not that it’s not a good book. It is. It’s this month’s selection by my church book group and, like most of the books we read, is relevant and informative. In short, it’s a fine book; I’m just not in the mood for it right now.

Right now, I need something light. By light, I don’t mean weightless. The book I picked up instead was Anne Tyler’s If Morning Ever Comes. Eighteen pages in, I’m totally hooked, charmed by Tyler’s characters and the insight she brings to her writing. That this book was at hand is serendipitous. I had lunch with a friend yesterday and, because she knew I’d be going past the library on my way home, she asked if I’d return the book for her. I read the back of the book while I was walking from the parking lot to the library (no, I didn’t run into anyone). Those few words, plus the fact that I really, really like Anne Tyler, convinced me that I had to read this book, so I checked it in for my friend and then out for myself.

Back to the book I didn’t finish. I know I’ll read it some day. It came highly recommended by someone whose judgment I trust, someone I admire and aspire to be more like. I only got to page 48, but that was enough to form an opinion. At the point where I closed the book, the characters were in a heart-rending situation, but I could see that it was shaping up to be an inspiring story, a story about the need for second chances and the possibility of redemption – the kind of book I usually love. But, at the moment, I couldn’t stand to be in the skin of those characters. Such is the power of a good book to transport.

I can’t help but reflect on the similarity of my reading life to my writing life. I just finished another round of edits to the book I’m working on and have put it aside until my critique partners have a look at it. In the meantime, I’ll work on another book, one I started some time ago and put aside because I didn’t know where the story was going. I knew the story I wanted to tell, but couldn’t figure out how to make it come alive. I think I know how to do it now. Not every detail. Surprises are part of the fun of writing. But I have enough of a direction that I’m eager to get back to this book.

Just like the book that set off this reflection. I’ll come back to it when my mood is different – when I can enjoy it. Reading and writing, like most of life’s great pleasures, are meant to be enjoyed, not forced. I don’t mean that you should never push yourself beyond what’s easy for you, just if you need a break, take it. Don’t work so hard that you forget the joy.

Happy reading, everyone.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. terryshames permalink
    January 17, 2014 10:37 PM

    Sandy, I have no problem putting down a book, sometimes for good. Being an author, I know it’s hard to write a book, and I don’t want to be disrespectful of an author, but my time is painfully limited. If a book doesn’t hold my interest with characters, plot, atmosphere, voice or setting, I’m outta there. I have a system. I give a book about 50 pages. If I’m not hooked by then, I can easily put it down. But it depends on the kind of book and the kind of problems with the book. I like to read really dense, difficult fiction (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoot). I know that David Mitchell can take a long time to lay out his case and I’m willing to take the ride with him. But a book with stilted dialogue, a preposterous plot, characters I can’t believe in…I have no patience for it.

    Like you, I sometimes realize I’m just not in the mood. That’s the book I’ll put aside for later. This happened with an Ian Rankin book a couple of days ago. I read a few pages, and although the writing was excellent as always, I simply wasn’t in the mood for a book about the Irish troubles. One day I will be.

    • January 18, 2014 7:25 AM

      My sentiments exactly, Terry. Sometimes the books with the most to offer are the hardest to read when I’m working really hard on my own book. You have to choose where you put your intellectual energy. Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

  2. January 18, 2014 3:57 AM

    I know what you mean about feeling obligated to finish books once I’ve started them. What helps me these days is the fact that, as a work-at-home mom of an energetic 3-year-old, my time is limited. I simply can’t afford to throw precious reading time away on something I’m not truly enjoying!

    • January 18, 2014 7:27 AM

      I hear you, Alyce. I read mainly for pleasure and if it’s not a pleasure … forget it. Enjoy that 3-year-old! They grow up fast. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. January 18, 2014 8:59 AM

    For the first time ever, I am putting down books. I used to read them no matter what. But nowadays, if I CAN put them down, I do, I just put down books by some of my favorite authors and authors highly regarded by others like Margaret Atwood, Wally Lamb, E. Annie Proulx, Joyce Carol Oates, and Joan Didion. I couldn’t get through any of them without having to force myself. I’ve been going through my collection (I picked up hundreds of books a library was giving away) and I read a few pages and if it doesn’t get my interest, I stop. I don’t get rid of them. Maybe I’ll like them at another time. That has happened. But I’m not trudging through anymore. I just don’t have the time. Honestly, this worries me. I wonder if my attention span is a lot shorter and my need for a fast high is due to the Internet and all the other technology we have today. Like your other commenter said, I just don’t have the patience anymore. Could be a problem….

    http://www.GreenerPastures–ACityGirlGoesCountry.blogspot.com

  4. January 19, 2014 5:57 PM

    Lol. You’re a good person, Debi.

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