Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I Changed My Mind About: Finishing Every Book I Start

I've said this before. I'm a serious reader. I love to read books. I love to read about books. It's one of my favorite things to do.

I keep a list of books that I want to read. When I read about an interesting book in a blog, Facebook or a book review I love adding it to my list.

I usually put books I want to read on reserve at the New York Public Library. Sometimes I just know that a book is something I'm going to want to live with and refer to often. Then I buy it. Occasionally I'll be in an independent bookstore and this happy browsing will lead to a purchase.

However, the library is very important because if I purchased every book I read I would be in the poorhouse.

I have a couple of friends in the publishing industry and they have sent me books just because they know I will like them. To receive a brand new, just published book in the mail from someone who spends all day long working with authors, manuscripts, and books - a book this individual has selected for me -is a great thing. That is when it's exciting to open the mail.

A typical scenario goes like this. I'll get an email from the library that the book I've reserved is in. I'll take an enthusiastic walk there at my first opportunity. I find my books on the reserve shelf. I'll also take a look at the shelves of new releases to see if anything strikes my fancy.

I'll take the books home with happy anticipation.

Usually the book will be engrossing.  Oftentimes I'll say that it is hard to put down. If I'm reading on the subway I have to be careful not to miss my stop. A book like this makes waiting on line a fine experience. Reading in bed before going to sleep is my reward after a day of hard work.

Some books are just as good, but are more taxing. Maybe it's the flowery, fancy language, the meaty information, the dense storyline. Maybe it's exceptional in some new way. Perhaps I need to stop reading it for a bit in order to process it, then go back in a day.

A few years ago I loosened up one of the reading rules I had for myself. Previously, I'd always read one book at a time. I don't know why I had this rule. I just did.

Then I realized that I could have more than one book going at the same time. Once I tried it, I loved it. So now you'll find me reading the deeply thought provoking We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication, the paradigm-shifting Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and RelationshipsThat All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward, and I can't wait to see what happens next in a book called Girl In The Dark: A Memoir. Each book feeds different parts of my reading mind. I dip in and out of them. Some books are great when I'm at my peak of energy and brainpower. Others are perfect for winding down and forgetting the cares of the day.

Some excellent books are best read a little at a time. Others are enjoyed quickly, single-mindedly and exclusively. There is room in my life for all kinds of books.

Once in a while, a book enters my life that sets up a conflict in my own mind.

It will be a book I really want to read. I've read intriguing reviews. It has all of the elements of a book that will engage me.

The book will be surprisingly slow going. At first I don't think anything of it. Not every excellent book is a page-turner. Some exert demands. Some do their work more quietly. Many a book pays their dividends later on.

I stick with it. I stick with it no matter what. I am a reader who finishes the books I start. I've always been this way. I thought I'd always be that way.

Until I wasn't.

I started noticing that even with two or three books going at once, there would be that book I wouldn't naturally pick up again. It would feel like a trial to read.  The book seemed to have the logical elements of engagement. But it wasn't connecting.

It was like having a romance where every piece was in place except for the spark.

I started admitting that there are books I do not like. In retrospect, I wonder why it took me so long.

My reading life took a turn. I got to be both kinder and more ruthless at the same time. I took two partially read books back to the library. It didn't change everything. But it changed a lot.

I am liberated from my own rules.

I suddenly had all of the good parts of reading without any self-nagging. I read more now. Books move in and out and sideways. Letting go of the books I thought I should like but didn't opened up some good floodgates for me.

I'm a fan of author Gretchen Rubin's blog and podcast. I enjoyed reading The Happiness Project: Or, WhyI Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right,Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun and am looking forward to delving into her new book, BetterThan Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. On a recent podcast, Rubin spoke eloquently about her struggles with the finish every book rule and her liberation. I then searched her blog for more on the subject and found this. 

Once again, it's fun and gratifying to know it’s not just me with long held belief systems begging to be loosened.

So now each book is an audition. The book has to grab me within a window of time. I'm not going to fire a book after one page. But I'm not making a lifetime commitment to it either.

This post is part of an ongoing series about things I have changed my mind about.

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