The Joy of Not Reading
I recently started reading a novel that won the Booker prize. That none of the characters had proper names, instead being called “Oldest sister” or “Third brother-in-law,” immediately irritated me. I thumbed through, noting the exceptionally long paragraphs, often over two pages. I thought, Maybe I need to open my mind to appreciate the skill of this prize-winning author, only to realize I had lost focus partway through one of those droning paragraphs. Back on track I slowly deciphered the lines. Okay, I thought, this is okay. Then I asked myself: Will this be okay for the next three hundred pages?
And I put it down.
I’m learning to trust that what a book shows me at the beginning is what I’m signing onto for the rest of its pages. I used to think, Be patient, Allie, don’t be so judgmental, it might get better. When a book became a slog, I’d blame myself for my lack of attention. I just had to keep trying! What time I wasted on books who showed me who they were in the first twenty pages, yet I kept turning to the next hoping for something different.
Now I know that I don’t have to. If I don’t like a book, I can stop reading it.
A book is not a person. As I experience it over time, it is not thinking, learning, evolving. Once in my hands, it is not capable of change. It makes no promises to do better or try harder or break a bad habit.
Similarly, a book is not a pet. If I ignore it or neglect it or give it away, I will not cause the book to suffer
I’ve come to realize that while I may read to learn, ultimately I read for the fun of it. I’m not a grad student stuck studying obscure texts that few people know or care about. This blog is no PhD thesis. I read books and write about them for pleasure, and as soon as there’s no joy in it, count me out.
In life we inevitably must do things that we don’t want to do. Let reading not be one of them. Read the books you want to keep reading, and leave the rest behind.