Last year when I was working on my dissertation, I only managed to read something like eleven “fun” books, and two of those were at the very end of the year after I had deposited. For myriad reasons I was incredibly excited when I finished my degree. One of those reasons was that I would be able to read “fun” books again. I had missed being able to cozy up in bed or on the couch and just read. Of the books I read last year, very few of them held me captive. I had missed staying up until the wee hours of the morning or standing up to find my legs cramping due to having been in the same position for hours, because I was so into a book that I forgot the rest of the world existed. Mostly, I read a little before I turned the light out to fall asleep. It was more habit than insatiable thirst.
Well, it is almost March, so presumably I have consumed many books and have been able to scratch my reading itch, right? Well, let’s evaluate. Of the books I have finished, one of them was a non-fiction book (which. truthfully, was rather captivating) and the other was a graphic novel. Yes, that is correct: So far this year, I have only finished two books!
Why? What is wrong with me? I want to be a writer (on which front, I am not doing very well), and writers read! How am I supposed to write if I am not reading?
Starting what I don’t finish…
A couple of days ago I started a new book, which is what led me to this revelation. I start books…all the time. I have probably started twenty books or more since the beginning of the year, albeit most of them were non-fiction. What I have been having problems with is the finishing part.
Generally, my rule is that if I have read at least 100 pages of a book, I should do my best to finish it. I realize this is not the best rule to have, but it has served me well for most of my life. However, this year, I believe it may be part of the problem. I have a book of which I have read ~400/575 pages: A Discovery of Witches. I really want to finish it, mostly because I have devoted all that time to reading it (since I started back in mid-October). It started off really good and I thought I had something special on my hands. I even looked up the sequel to see if it was out yet, and I almost bought it right away. I am glad I did not, because this book pulled an Outlander on me.
Romance books in disguise
I never finished the first Outlander book, but initially I thought it was an incredible book: Claire,a strong, independent woman is thrown back in time and Gabaldon, the author, included all this wonderful detail about how Claire navigated the experience…Until she fell in love and married Jamie. It was all downhill from there. All those details dried up, Claire started making decisions that went against her character and it seemed to matter little what century she was in, other than to drive the plot forward. What started out as a brilliant historical novel/fantasy turned out to just be another romance novel with gratuitous sex and unbelievable relationships.
A Discovery of Witches is very similar. It starts off with what I found to be an exceedingly interesting premise. Diana, a repressed witch, is also an academic who is in England doing research. The author, Deborah Harkness, is a history professor who specializes in the history of science and has studied alchemy and the occult. She uses this knowledge as the premise for her novel, and Diana, if not based on the author, has the same skill set as the author. I found this incredibly exciting, because some day I would like to be able to use my academic knowledge to flesh out a fictional world. The book starts off with an exciting mystery surrounding magic and witches, but at some point the book makes a soft turn and I suddenly find myself reading a romance novel again.
To be fair, A Discovery of Witches does oscillate between being a romance novel and a fantasy novel, which is part of how I made it to page 400; every time I was ready to give up, something exciting happened again, or caught my interest and I read on. I also believe that it was Harkness’ intention, rather than to write a romance novel, to stretch what should have been one book into a trilogy. This may be why the story runs like my 70-year-old mother drives: speed up, slam on brakes, speed up, slam on brakes…
Apart from this problem of the 100-page rule, I think there is something else going on. I have not read more than 100 pages in most of the books I have started but not finished. This is only true for two of them. So, why do I keep starting books and then not finishing them? Are they just boring? I don’t think so, I think my procrastination tendencies are working to my detriment.
Generally I manage my procrastination well. Now that I have recognized the problem, perhaps I can do something about it. A couple of posts back I talked about how I jumped into this year with all kinds of motivation to not waste it. What happened was that I immediately overwhelmed myself. First, I had little time to read, then after forcing myself to slow down, I allowed my procrastination monster too much latitude. So, instead of finishing what I start, whether it be planning for the novel I want to write, or doing research for said novel, or looking for a job, or cleaning the house, or finishing that scarf for my husband before he doesn’t need it anymore, I simply move on to a new project or a new book.
This is a common problem for me. I know a lot about a little, because I get it into my head that I want to do this or learn that, but after I have started down that road I get distracted with something else. Every shiny new interest makes me forget I had a previous pursuit.
My reading reality
So, what’s to be done about this? I am not really sure. Do I force myself to finish these books before moving on to another? Do I set aside a time during the day that is not right before bed when I have to read for at least a half an hour? Do I shelve all these partially read books I have piled by my bed and start a fresh pile? Do I work on the other things in my life that I feel should take priority (like finding a job) and hope that it helps satiate my procrastination monster? Should I *gasp* unplug my televisions? Should I not worry about it and let it work itself out?