Friday, May 28, 2010

Unfinished Business

There are so many books I’ve started but have yet to finish:

Redwall by Brian Jacques
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

In addition, I’ve only finished two books so far this year, Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli and Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. So it’s been slow-going in terms of reading recently, and that’s my fault. What’s to blame? Procrastination? To some extent, yes, I have been putting my reading off. But I do read. Here a little, and there a little. I have made some progress, but it’s still not enough. So if it isn’t all procrastination, then what is it?

First off, you shouldn’t feel obligated to finish every book you start. Don’t torture yourself if you don’t like a book. Reading is supposed to be fun. If it helps, there is one rule that helps me decide whether I want to finish a book or not. Whenever you begin a book, you should read 100 pages before giving up on it entirely. (If the book is less than 100 pages, I’d try and read at least half of it.) One hundred pages isn’t that much, and I think you’ll find that if you really looked into it, most books are barely getting started at that point. But every book deserves at least that much before you dismiss it. Whether you like what you read depends on the book, or even the mood you’re in while reading the book. Don’t always blame the book if it’s not capturing your attention. Sometimes the reader is at fault, but that’s okay. Try again later.

So you’ve decided you like a book. What next? Because I should mention that all the books I’ve listed above are all good books and ones I sincerely want to finish. And I do get around to them occasionally. So why haven’t I finished them yet? The answer: Too many books. Yes, I read, but only a little at a time, and when I do, it’s always a different book. Also, perhaps along the way, I’ve lost interest because I can’t get lost in a book the way I should when I have so many others I’m reading too. Doing too much at once can be just as unproductive as not bothering to do something at all.

I hate multitasking. It’s a vice as pernicious as procrastination, in my opinion. Personally I think there’s no such thing, or if it does exist in some form, that it doesn’t get as much done as people would like to believe. In my experience, you just end up with a bunch of undone or half-done tasks, and when you do manage to complete something, you risk it not being as well done as it should be. Like my books. It sure sounds like procrastination, doesn’t it? You get the same results anyway. Okay then, if procrastination is the lazy man’s weakness, then multitasking is the busy man’s weakness. Both are poor excuses.

In conclusion, reading is like any other task or goal in life. You have to commit to doing it if you want to get it done. Once I hunker down and decide that a book is worth finishing, and concentrate on that ONE book, I find it’s more likely that I will find it interesting because I’m fully invested in it. Therefore, it becomes more likely that I will finish it. But I say again, don’t feel obligated to finish every book you start. Finishing is not the point. Reading is. Don’t feel guilty if, after an honest effort, you find you don’t want to finish a book. You gave it a try, and that’s all the author can ask for. So take it one book at a time, and breathe.