Yesterday, two different people in two different conversations told me quite independently of one another that they always finish a book once they start it and that they never start a new book before they’ve finished the one they’ve started.
I thought about my friend Jeanne who has said on occasion when being asked if she’s read a book, “Read it? No, I haven’t even taught it.” Jeanne was quoting another friend who was quoting another friend no doubt. I’ve heard it said a hundred times, and I laugh every time. Good teacher humor, and truer to life than you might guess.
I also thought about a time when I answered a professor’s question about whether I’d liked the book by a visiting writer with, “Oh, yes. I read that whole book.”
I was mortified. I didn’t actually mean to admit to my professor in a PhD course in literature that I didn’t always read the whole book.
But of course I don’t. I read like I do everything else…with a touch of haphazardry. I never force myself to finish a book if it doesn’t grab me. I don’t know why I would when there are so many other books to read in this world.
So many books, one friend’s coffee mug says, and so little time.
I read a lot of books, but I also read a lot of pieces of books. I think it was Moby Dick that taught me you can skip whole chapters and still understand what the book is about. Sorry, Dr. Richardson. I never did read the whaling chapters.
Now there is no one to demand whaling chapters of me, and I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on any consequences to my college transcript for this confession.
I don’t read whaling chapters if I don’t want to. I don’t finish books if I don’t want to. I think this makes me a liberated reader. At the very least it makes me a liberated English major, though possibly liberated is another word for lazy in this case.
If you are a book in my hands you have 50-100 pages to convince me I want to read you. If I see you as insignificant and boring or unreadable in some way, I’ll quit at about 50 pages. If I think I really ought to read you, I’ll stick with you up to twice as long.
Around page 100, skipped whaling chapters aside, I start hearing in my head, “If I don’t love you by now, I will never, never, never love you.”
I admire people who do commit themselves to only one book at a time. As for me, I like to read around. I’m not ashamed. I think it just means I get to meet more books.