Procrastination, or, Why I don’t belong to a book club
I love to read. I love books. I love the cover art and the heft; I love the way they smell and feel. I love short stories and novels. I like nonfiction and I love fiction, especially science fiction. I’ve never been too fond of short poems but I love the epic ones. If I manage to turn off the TV, I can finish most books in a weekend.
All of that makes it sound like my “books I’ve read” list should be pretty damn impressive. It is if I’m allowed one small cheat – it can include books I’ve started but never finished.
I can’t blame this one on the TV, or my job, or spending time with friends. I start every book with the intention of finishing it. A coworker of mine starts every book with the same trepidation of someone testing the water with their big toe. If he likes the opening lines he’ll stick his whole foot in, if there is an awkward sentence in chapter two he beats it for the hills.
I like to jump in cannonball style. I can let a flat character go — maybe they’ll improve later on and I just have to get there. I don’t mind rereading a sentence that doesn’t seem to make sense. If I get the gist of it I can still follow the story. But then I set the book down. Sometimes in favor of a new shiny book, sometimes because I have to go to sleep. The problem is when I never pick it up again.
A different coworker of mine can’t not finish a book. If she opens it she finishes it, but she also reads quickly. I blame her years of law school. She doesn’t pause over well-written sentences or reread heartbreaking scenes; she skims. She comes into work at 11 in the morning and says, “Oh A Crack in the Sky? I read that this morning, it was good, you should read it.” Granted she shelves the Young Adult and Intermediate sections so a lot of her reading material is intended for a younger audience, but she finished Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus in record time as well. I’ve been halfway through that particular book for about a month.
If a book is great (in my opinion, of course) I’ll try to finish it in a day or two. I recently lost a day reading Never Let You Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I had hoped for a little more of the science fiction element when I started, but looking back I would change nothing about that book. The imagery was amazing. His style is so fluid and captivating that it took me half the novel to notice he mentioned light whenever good people or actions occurred and dark for the corresponding bad elements. That type of imagery can be heavy-handed or obvious to the point of making a book unreadable but Ishiguro dealt with the story so beautifully that a ray of sun falling across someone’s cheek felt natural. I think I got up for food but other than that I was rooted to the couch until the last page.
Other books get a less rigorous treatment. I never finished Catch 22 (Joseph Heller), Shadow of the Wind (Ruiz Zafon), or Geek Love (Katherine Dunn) when I was in my short-lived book group. I barely started Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell). The group shed a few members and turned into a Margaret Atwood themed book group and I finished Oryx and Crake, and Year of the Flood but not Cat’s Eye. Since then I’ve started The Handmaid’s Tale but it’s moving a little slowly so I put it down and now I’m not sure where it went. The book group fell apart when the leader moved out of state, but let’s face it: I was barely keeping up. I am the queen of procrastination.
There is something about being given a deadline to finish a book that makes my inner four-year-old throw a fit. I just put it off for “a few days” in favor of something else. I finished dozens of other books in the time I was in the book club, but the second my eyes fell on the book I was “assigned,” reading turned into a horrible chore. Of course, reading on my own isn’t much better. With no one to keep me in line I can pick up books and set them down all over the place. My house is a mess of stacks and piles. The shelves are too full to fit the new books I bring home (working in a bookstore means there is no not bringing home new books) and I have the perverse need to organize them perfectly “someday.” That day is not today.
I do a delicate balancing act between throwing a book out the window if it’s not beautifully written and suffering through endless pages of tedium just because I had the misfortune to start it.
I know I will finish Perfume (Patrick Suskind) because the story is daring and dark. I know I will love You Don’t Have to be Evil to Work Here, But it Helps (Tom Holt) the next time I try it because I loved his other books, I just wasn’t in the right place for goofy science fiction when I started it. And I know I’ll finished Great Expectations because I love Dickens’ other books, but right now I really don’t care about Pip.
As for books sitting by my nightstand that I’ll never finish I think Crossed (Ally Condie) tops the list. The first book in the trilogy, Matched, was fantastic. It’s Young Adult, but she created a world that was believable and characters who were touching and new. I like to believe Crossed was rushed out by the publishers so people wouldn’t forget about how much they liked the first one and that’s why it falls flat, not that the author lacks talent. Either way, I was very disappointed.
I could list a dozen more books I’ve started and stopped. I like to have more than one book going at a time in case I’m in the mood for something different from one day to the next. Part of the problem with this technique is that if I get too far removed from a book, I’ve forgotten what happened. But the idea of starting over is exhausting. Everything will be vaguely familiar and then I’ll have a bookmark from where I stopped the first time, halfway through, and a bookmark at page 30 because I couldn’t do it again. Maybe I just need to wait a few years and hope that I’ll have forgotten everything about the book. But by then I’ll have enough books to build a small house, with too many new ones to bother reading old ones.
I don’t think I’ll fully commit to one way of reading or the other; never giving books a second chance or forcing myself to read one that I don’t like just isn’t in me. I think all books have their good points — great descriptive paragraphs, funny characters, poignant situations — but that doesn’t mean I want to slog through pages of bad prose just to find the gems.