Too Short? November 12, 2009
“Life is too short to read bad books.” I’d always heard that, but I still read books through until the end no matter how bad they were because I had this sense of obligation.
That is, until this week when I tried (really tried) to read a book that is utterly boring and unrealistic. I had to stop reading.
Do you read everything all the way through or do you feel life really is too short to read bad books?
I used to read everything all the way through, too. Then, in graduate school, I had a professor who was also a book addict. He was a legend of my graduate school program, having been there almost from the beginning. His office was so out-of-control with books that he'd been forced to use the room across the hall as a workspace. He was known for his annotated bibliographies -- later, many alums who had been out of school for decades said that they still used them as references. I had my first class with him and he talked about his desire to read every book ever written, but "the bastards kept gaining on me."
I came awy from that class excited about the rest of the semester. Two days later, we had a program-wide barbeque to celebrate the new school year and welcome the new group of students. I was on the porch, having a beer and talking to my friends in the program as people trickled in. The first faculty member to show up was my advisor. From the porch, I saw her grab the first person she saw and tell them to have everyone come outside. When the group gathered, she told us all that the legendary professor, famous for his love of books and the Boston Red Sox, had been killed in a car crash that afternoon.
So, since then, I've never continued with a bad book. I thought about how you'll never really get to read them all, and wondered how much time my professor had wasted with the bad ones, since he was famous for never giving up on a book. I'll try almost anything when it comes to reading, but if it doesn't engage me, I give up. I even quit on a 120-page book last year.
I try to give them a fair shake. Some books, like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, take a while to gel. But when it becomes obvious that the book and I are just not right for one another, I go on to the next one. I guess that's part of the reason I tend to check out so many books when I go to the library. I'll take anything that grabs my interest at the time. Sometimes, they don't grab my interest anymore by the time I get home. Sometimes, they turn out to be ugly or boring or full of bad right-wing cliches (Doesn't She Look Natural, anyone?) and I wind up putting them aside. It's good not to have to make another trip in these cases.
And I don't feel a sense of "obligation." The book will forgive me for not finishing it. I'm not letting the author down by returning the book to the library so that someone who might actually like it can read it. I'm not letting myself down by failing to torture myself with a boring book. Reading isn't my job, it's somehting I do for enjoyment and to expand my own mind. Indeed, from that point of view, I'm letting myself down by continuing with something I really can't stand.