02 April 2013

Thoughts about reading books

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” - James Baldwin.
Illustration by Maggie Appleton, via 22 Words and Going Beyond Survival in a School Library.  She also created this graphic -

- which is more relevant to my age demographic.  She adds these thoughts:
I am unsure who came up with this rule of thumb, but I know it’s one my mother likes — one of the benefits of hitting 50 is you get to give up on books earlier on. There has to be a balance between giving books a chance and hitting that point when you just ‘know.’ And it makes sense the more years you spend on this earth, the quicker you can figure out where your point of knowing is in a text.

It feels harsh to give up on books — the accomplishment of completing an entire book is so vastly impressive that I almost feel guilt for implying anyone might have screwed the gargantuan task up. It suggests a failure on a rather large scale. Each time I relegate another half-skimmed paperback to the shelf, I also feel I must be some sort of ‘bad reader’ for not giving this creation the due respect of finishing it. The only solace I have found in response to this problem was in Linda Holmes NPR piece, The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything, which exactly articulates the need for all of us to Let. Go.

This idea was also mulling around as I read Tim Parks’ Why Finish Books? (a good essay if you have the time…), here’s a taster:
“One can only encourage a reader like this to learn not to attach self esteem to the mere finishing of a book, if only because the more bad books you finish, the fewer good ones you’ll have time to start.” – Tim Parks


  1. Having survived book avalanches working in libraries, I have no problem stopping reading a book. So many more waiting to be given a chance.

    When the fish is bad, stop eating. When the book is bad, hurl it across the room, and waste not a moment more on it.

    1. I strongly agree. I was much younger when I tried to read Ayn Rand, but it didn't take very long to realize the books were a waste of my time.

  2. All good points, but gah, independent variable on y axis >_<

    1. Yeah, second graph makes me feel kind of seasick! I do appreciate the sentiment being expressed, though.

  3. The one good thing about growing old, the only good thing about growing old, is that when you say you really don't give a flyin'- you really don't...

  4. I, too, have been saddened at times when I consider that for all the reading I do (which is quite a bit), I will never get close to having read everything. This in turn reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode of the man who just wanted time to read, to read, to read. Some sort of apocalyptic event takes place, and he is left alone in the world. He goes to a library and rejoices that the thousands of books. Then he breaks his glasses...and that's that.

    However, I do know that books often touch on the same themes. So while I cannot perhaps read every book on, say, redemption, you can get the gist of that wonderful concept by reading just a few books. Also, if you focus solely on a particular subject (say Shakespeare), you can read enough to become an expert.

    I tend to classify my books (now that I think of it) as ESSENTIAL, IMPORTANT/GOOD, and FUN. The essential books are the ones that I feel have proven themselves as classics, etc. For me, the Bible, Shakespeare, some Tolstoy and the such would fall here. I try to have a solid foundation here. Then there are books that are important because of their effect or content. These may be ones that help fill up the gaps in my knowledge about certain events. For fun, I might read Ludlum or Cussler, etc.

    Lastly, it may not be our purpose to read it all...but to read enough of it to make our own contribution to society in some way. I think it is likely, though, that in the future we will be able to to "download" all the world's books (or a whole lot of them) into our minds. Consider how we would see connections that we have not seen before, due to the time it takes to read books. To immediately, for instance, have the entire contents of the Bible in your brain, well, you're going to see things that others likely have not seen, because it can take weeks or months to get through it all, allowing this or that fact to slip away or seem less important.

    Who knows?

    1. "Then he breaks his glasses...and that's that."

      Starring Burgess Meredith. Yeah, the ending is not believable in that it is "gratuitous irony." Comes out of nowhere, is just plopped into the plot. And if there were any part of the drug store still standing, there'd sure to be reading glasses, if they had those in ca. 1963. Ending just didn't work for me. In fact, too many of the _Twilight Zone_ episodes have not withstood the test of time or of viewer maturity ("Probe Seven - Over and Out" is so bad, it doesn't even attain the ranking of "execrable"). The original _Outer Limits_ episodes, however, do in the main fare pretty well.


  5. As you age, you realize that the only thing that is precious in life is time. There's no use wasting it on anything that isn't optimal for you.


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