So many books….so little time

Are you a carry-on-to-the-bitter-end reader, or a mid-chapter abandoner? I used to read every book I started from cover to cover, regardless of whether or not I was enjoying it, because I reckoned that I owed it to the author to finish what they’d written before I rushed to judgement. Not anymore. It all started with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, an unexceptional book (in my humble opinion), which I tried to read many years ago when I was less discerning in my reading habits. It’s well researched and beautifully written but it didn’t grab me and couldn’t get into the story at all. Encouragement from fellow readers kept me going when I wanted to abandon it on more than one occasion. I didn’t trust my judgement. The book was a best seller. It was being made into a film. How could I not like it? Couldn’t I imagine myself in the Greek Islands it so accurately portrayed? Well, yes, up to a point. I’d been to Cephalonia on holiday, but identifying with the place wasn’t enough. Something was missing. It was only when a friend advised, “Oh, it’s a great book – it only gets going about three quarters of the way through,” that I put it to one side, unfinished. Sorry, Louis.

It’s a dangerous mixture of age and impatience. These days I’m firmly of the “life’s too short” frame of mind to waste precious reading time on something I’m not enjoying. There are just too many books and not enough time. These days I give a book about 17 pages, sometimes a little more if I’m feeling generous, to grab me. If it hasn’t done so by then, it’s on to the next one. The availability and comparatively low cost of downloads and charity shop buys must be partly to blame for my throwaway mentality, and I’ve noticed that since visiting the public library much more regularly, I don’t feel guilty at all about not finishing something, because I’ve only borrowed it.

I know that this makes me sound a bit of a hypocrite: I’m annoyed when readers trash my novel without finishing it. But I do give all books an equal chance before putting them aside. I appreciate a good writing and a well-constructed strategy, but beautiful prose won’t carry the tale by itself and I get impatient when the story isn’t moving along, or the plot revealing itself. I used to enjoy reading for the appreciation of the words themselves, so I suppose it’s a failing in me that this will no longer sustain my constant reader.

That said, I’ve just read to the very end a novel that had such a forced, convoluted plot that the whole thing was utterly unbelievable and very disappointing. Why did I carry on reading? Beguiled by the writing, I suppose. Anyway, didn’t Buddha say that it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive? I enjoyed the journey, but I couldn’t ever recommend the book

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