Reading Interrupted*

Of late, I haven’t been able to finish the books that I don’t like. Usually I take the time and the energy and effort to plot through books even if they haven’t exactly excited me. And sometimes I have been rewarded for it. However, nowadays I don’t even try to push the boredom barrier.

Earlier, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of books I had left unfinished – exactly one. That was Gita Hariharan’s ‘When Dreams Travel.’ I love revisionist writing but this one I had to give up midway. The Post Colonial ride this book was taking me on was inducing boredom at an alarming rate. I still shudder to think of that book with its pink cover. That was of course years back.

In the past few years, I have noticed that I left countless books midway merely because I haven’t the energy or the time to push myself to do one more thing that I don’t want to do. I’d rather watch an enjoyable film or even stare out the window than look at the book which does not enthuse me.

Is this a problem that is peculiar to me or my decreasing patience levels? I wanted to find out. So I asked two readers who were close by – Rita and Obi Wan – if they faced the same problem. Rita says that she had little patience for books that don’t grab her attention and has always been unable to finish books she didn’t like. Obi Wan has left 4 books midway in the last 6 months. He believes that the value of time in terms of opportunity costs increases as we grow older and busier.

The last book that I didn't finish reading. I am on page 272.
The last book that I didn’t finish reading. I am on page 272.

That makes sense. I have a finite amount of time to give to reading. So, why should I spend this finite time on something I don’t like? Why would I do that ever? But that’s possible in an ideal world. Unfortunately, we don’t live in it. Earlier as children or even young adults and even into my 20s, time was an infinite resource and the days appeared long and also we didn’t have so many things clambering for our attention.

Today I have to fit my reading into what Umberto Eco calls ‘interstices’. (Thanks Asuph for bringing my attention to this beautiful idea! Do read his take on living the interrupted life.) I confess I cannot fit it in while say waiting for the elevator, which is the example Eco gives, but in between I do read before starting work, during lunch time and before going to bed. Perhaps as years go on, I will perfect this art as Eco did and can actually finish a blog post/poem/outline of a book while waiting for the elevator! Right now, I am writing in the middle of my work day by ignoring work completely. What’s the best part about that? I don’t have a shred of guilt.

*Perhaps I should write about Blogging Interrupted next?

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14 thoughts on “Reading Interrupted*

  1. I had an exchange with a reader friend on Facebook sometime back. She was of the opinion that the bad books we read define us as much as the good books. Unless we read bad books, we will never appreciate the good ones the way we do. I agree with Obi Wan that her argument may have been true for a decade old me, but not anymore. There are too many books around and too little time to waste on something you don’t like. Move on!

      1. Amit: Oh yes! Good to see you again, Rita! And also glad to know that am not the only one disappearing! 😛

    1. Hey Rita! Oh yes! Bad books are perhaps like the road not taken. For that matter everything we have not done defines us in the same way. I understand the argument but I don’t buy it. Exactly, time. That is the clincher.

  2. I’m going to use a variation of Glenn Frey of The Eagles: “For the record, we never broke up, we just took a 14-year vacation”. Yup. I never leave books, I just keep them aside. Especially the bad ones. But, alas, even good ones. I’m democratic that way.

    I don’t know if I’m putting more books aside as am growing old (note I did not say growing up, to avoid controversies). My patience has increased, actually. And I’ve picked up a few that I had kept aside and finished them. Very few books have disappointed me at the end of them. However long it takes. But then I’m very choosy about what I pick up in the first place.

    And I recall you being very excited about Lives of Others. What happened? Or do I remember incorrectly?

    -Amit.

    1. Amit:

      Haha! That’s brilliant! The 14 year vacation and democratic reading practices.

      You seem have evolved a system that works for you. This picking up the book again hasn’t happened to me except for If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller. So maybe I should let these unfinished books be and then pick them up another time.

      I think you are right. I was looking forward to the Lives of Others because of the whole Naxalite angle. My mom lived through that time and I have been hearing about the danger and excitement since childhood. (The same reason I got Lowland, which I haven’t started reading.) Mukherjee has a neat turn of phrase. I kept underlining the lines that leaped out at me. But something happened in the middle. I felt a great weariness creep over me as I picked it up to read and the pace reduced to a stop. Maybe I should go back and pick it up and give it another chance. Second chances. You are right: we do become more tolerant and patient as we grow older.

      PS: Why do I get the feeling you have more to say?

  3. I think a combination of what Amit does (being choosy in the first place) and what Obi Wan and Rita Says says (not a typo) is what we really need. I’ve seen that Amit usually ends up liking what he reads – so his choosing algorithm is really good. I don’t feel guilty leaving books half-read. Well, I’ve created a shelf for them in Goodreads! 😀

    Will you please write about Blogging Interrupted? 🙂 I’d read that all the way through!

    1. Atul: Good point! However, I am already choosy about what I read and it’s being choosy that has led me to this dilemma. Because there are so many good books around. So if I leave a already good book because it doesn’t work for me, I feel guilty. Ahh, you are lucky to be guilt-proof like this. Must learn, must learn. I know about your shelf of Goodreads! 😀 Mine’s called ‘Abandoned for now’. 😛
      Hahaha! This (late response) is Blogging Interrupted! 😛 Aww, thanks! I will try to write about it. 🙂

  4. Amit and Atul, thanks for welcoming me back. Rita Says does not say much anymore, does she? 😉 Amit, your perseverance with books that you don’t like is an inspiration. Atul, I’ve thought about creating a similar Goodreads shelf many times but in the end, I end up marking unfinished books as ‘Read’ simply because they don’t deserve as much attention.
    BTW, where is the lady who started us on this topic?

    1. Amit, Atul, Rita: I’m here, I’m here! Commenting interrupted. I want to read about those books you have been reading. I think Goodreads kind of killed my long form blogging. I write everything I want in a paragraph and feel the end of it. Not an excuse: a genuine reason. And oh, I have an ‘Abandoned for now’ shelf on Goodreads. 😛

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