I’m reading this book, right?
No, I’m not going to tell you what it is, because then I’ll have to be all sympathetic and encouraging, and you might be tempted to go and read it yourself. Or you may have read it already and you might shoot me down in flames in the sincere believe that it’s actually the best and most beautiful book ever written and nothing can ever surpass it’s greatness. And…in my humble opinion it’s not that great. And THAT, my friend, is the interesting thing.
I’m reading this book, right? And it’s not that great. And that’s interesting primarily because I want to keep reading it. Have you ever experienced that? I don’t think it’s the same if you’re one of those people who’s got all the time in the world to read books, or one of those people who diligently reads to the end of everything simply because you don’t like things left uncompleted. I am NOT one of those people (although I wish I was sometimes). I’ve long held the belief that if a book isn’t that great, or doesn’t grab me, or doesn’t threaten to stop me from breathing unless I read it NOW, or gets bypassed by something faster and more immediate, then I’ll happily put it down. And life is busy. I have a shelf (yes, I had to graduate to an actual SHELF) next to my bed with a large pile of books on it– many of them excellent, highly acclaimed, wonderfully crafted tomes–that for various reasons I haven’t finished. They’re there because I will get back to them eventually, when life is calmer and time is richer and thicker than it is now, and when there’s more than a two-minute window when I put my head on that pillow before I fall asleep.
But then there’s this book.
The thing is, the thing that baffles me most about my inability to put it down and read something better, is that nothing actually happens. Nothing’s happened so far that I care about. No great story-questions, any will-she-or-won’t-she, are hanging over my head. No life or death situations. I can walk away any time I want…if I want…if I could.
See? My trouble is that I can’t.
It’s not so much that I’ve fallen in love, it’s just that I’ve…well…I’ve got involved. It’s like the lady at the bus stop who always tells you stories about her grown up kids who you’ve never met and have no particular affiliation with, but because you catch the same bus every day, and because SHE catches the same bus every day, on the weekends you find yourself wondering how those grown-up kids are going, and whether they will decide to send their son to a school a little further away, or buy that second car.
Should I care? Can’t help it. Just do. I’m human.
It’s like friends, I think. I’ve written here before about how my cat simply moved in to our lives and expected us to love her, and we did. People do that too–the mythical lady at the bus stop, for instance. And now, apparently, books.
There are books on the shelf next to my bed that I may never finish, and that saddens me in one way. Although in another way I’m pleased. Unfinished books are the friends I keep nestled close to my heart even though I may not see them regularly; the friends I know will always be there, and I can always come back to, no matter how far I travel. I love them for who they are, for what they’ve meant to me in the past, and I love them simply because they’re mine.
I wil finish this book I’m reading, I know it. But I’ll always keep these characters close to my chest, whether or like it or not, because somewhere in this reading process I began to think of them as friends. And, to tell you the truth, just as long as I don’t start thinking of my friends as storybook characters then that’s quite all right by me.
I seldom read. Once in a great while, I cannot put a book down until I have read it–rare, and it is meeting a need.
I wish you well with your must read book that does not knock you out of your socks.
Thank you. Interesting to talk with someone who seldom reads. I do have friends who tell me that they don’t read much, but I still can’t quite get my head around that. As much as anything else, reading has become a habit in my life that I feel lost without.
This is perhaps the most perceptive post I’ve ever read about the magic hold that books can have on us.
I generally read nonfiction (history and memoir), so the dynamics are a bit different, but yes, I’ve gone through books that were not Stephen Ambrose…but I wanted to know what happened, and how.
With books like this, not terribly well written, or with poorly drawn ‘characterization’ (of real people) I give them a second read after a few months, and get much more out of them. The second time, the narrative can come alive.
With novels, I’ll sometimes return to read them again just to spend more time with the characters. “The Caine Mutiny” is one of these – it’s not terribly fast-moving for most of its length (and it’s looong) but one starts to care about the characters early on. There are some characters that are disagreeable, but no real villains. I wonder if that has something to do with it?
(And I should add that I read Wouk’s other ‘great’ work – “The Winds of War” – once, and it was enough. It was fast-paced for an epic, but nothing in the milieu or the characters commended me to return.)
Interestingly, it’s not the characterisation that doesn’t hold true here – probably the opposite. And that’s probably the reason I’m still reading it even though nothing’s happening – the characters are so real and so beautifully drawn.
I’ll have to look up The Caine Mutiny.