My room is a junkyard of half-read, never-read books. Bookshelves are full to the brim with rows of books placed vertically-the way books were intended to be placed in bookshelves-and stacks of books placed in front of these rows, spilling over the lip of the bookshelf like cheese and lettuce from a cartoon sandwich. Last week my pug legitimately almost sustained a concussion when three enormous books on trauma, of all things, plummeted from the top shelf and conked her on the head.
Some of these books are bought online, delivered, unwrapped, and promptly placed on a shelf never to be opened again. Bibliophilia aside, it is another, not unrelated question, that has plagued me of late. How much energy to you devote to a book before deciding it is not worth your time? After how many pages do you feel justified in abandoning the author’s efforts, of forgoing your own hopes of meaning and beauty? Are you one of those people who finishes a book, quality, readability or enjoyment be damned!!??
This is the question people. If you hate a book halfway through, do you finish it? When my sister and I were online dating, we used to have a rule: give every halfway decent guy three dates before pulling the chute. Perhaps a similar rule should apply to books? Finish 100 pages before cutting ‘er loose?
This is seemingly a question about books, but it is also of a decidedly existential nature as well, because what I’m really asking is: how should life be lived? How should our precious time be spent? In a hedonistic spirit, with a thing’s only value derived from the immediate pleasure it affords? Or with protestant work ethic, where hard work and determination give access to treasures not available to those unwilling to struggle?
When I don’t finish a book, I worry I have missed out on something. I become concerned that the Internet has fractured my attention span and compromised by ability for sustained focus. I worry I am destined to spend the rest of my life flitting from click bait to click bait, incapable of reading more than a headline or a Tweet. I become concerned about cerebral atrophy and I get existential FOMO.
Then again, when I’m reading a book I hate, I curse myself for being a goody goody rule-follower. I can be self-punishing and masochistic in my insistence on finishing truly tortuous pages and I realize that in another way, this could also add up to a wasted life. What could I be writing if I weren’t reading this trash? What else could I be reading? How many hours of napping could I be doing with my geriatric pug who after all has a limited amount of time left on this earth? What happened to living in the moment and the only time we have is NOW? If the only time we have is now, do I really want to be spending it reading something that makes me want to gouge my eyes out with toothpicks?