In my experiences with physical endeavors (running and yoga), the most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that being able to plow through anything is not the ultimate sign of development or maturity, it’s knowing when to pull back. I’m not sure why I’ve been so hesitant to apply this truth to my reading life as well. There’s always a certain guilt, or maybe just a disappointment, when you pick up a book, especially one that’s been lauded far and wide, and you know you’re going to struggle to stay with it. You don’t connect with the narrator, the style feels too laborious. It reminds you too much of something else you recently read and you’re not in the mood for another book that deals with X, employs the same plot device, etc., etc. Still, we hang in there convinced that we just need to get through those introductory 50 pages to really start to love something.
The number of books I was hesitant about at their start and loved after 50, 30, hell, 20, pages, in is probably hovering around zero, and while there are times that it is good and necessary to read things that we don’t love, without this external obligation or incentive I think I’m finding that the more valuable thing to do is to simply stop reading. Every time I feel guilty about putting down a book, I remember this perfect reflection from Doris Lessing:
There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag-and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.
In case you were curious, the book that is out of its right time for me is War & Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans. Maybe it’ll be right for me next week, maybe in six months, maybe never. But for now, I’m probably, no, definitely, going to put it down and move on. Otherwise, I’m doing both myself and Mr. Hertmans a disservice.
*Photo credit (Doris Lessing): Garoa