April 15, 2021

Reading, and not reading

This weekend, I was excited to crack open a new book. No matter how many stories I’ve read, there’s always something about that initial rush that hits me, a world of possibility at my fingertips. It’s a book I’ve had on my TBR pile for a while now.

But before long, my enthusiasm waned. The writing didn’t work for me, and the exposition was too dense. I didn’t believe in the main character. At about 12%, after one particularly egregious line, I put the book down, and it felt good.

It’s important to understand that for me, this story is unusual.

I’m a completionist. Have been for as long as I can remember.

When I start something, I will finish it. It’s been a mark of pride.

But I’m happy that I’m breaking away from the trend. Putting the book down this last weekend was the right thing to do.

Initially, I’d intended to write a post about quitting, but that seemed too negative, and didn’t quite capture what I wanted to say. My experience this weekend made me think about reading, and why we do it.

Read.

I’m not sure there are any better forms of storytelling. Please don’t misconstrue that statement. I love so many forms of storytelling, from a great movie to videogames to graphic novels. But I believe reading is still the most powerful form of story.

Why?

Because it’s a conversation, a joint construction between an author and the reader. It’s two imaginations, working together to form a story. You can ask an author what they meant when they wrote something, but at best you’ll only get half the truth.

I don’t reread books often, just as a matter of preference. When I do, it is usually several years (if not decades) between readings. And I’ve learned something. It’s almost impossible to read the same book twice. Sure, the words might be the same, but I’ve changed, and thus I create a new story.

The same is true for other mediums, but I think to a lesser degree. Our imaginations play less of a role in the watching of a movie. I think it’s also why so few film adaptations live up to our expectations. Our imaginations will always be richer than even the most expensive computer graphics budgets.

There are plenty of good reasons to read. Read for inspiration, or education, or entertainment. Read to find yourself in a new world, or to understand this one better. Read because it makes our lives richer. Only through story can we live multiple lives in the time allotted to us.

But know when to put something down.

The choice to quit is a personal one, and I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules that should be followed.

I do know there are terrible reasons to read a book.

Never read a book because you feel like you’re supposed to. Or because everyone else is reading it.

Read the books that make your life better, and feel free to put down the ones that don’t.