Slow Reading, or Books That Don't Work

In the course of reading, we all encounter books we don't like. Our reactions to these books, however, are as varied as the person. For me, when I start reading a book that doesn't end up speaking to me, I invariably finish it anyway (most of the time). I will admit that in grad school I didn't read most of the books we were supposed to, but I did give a lot of them a fair shot.

If I don't finish a book, it's usually for one of two reasons: (1) I am reading other books at the time and forget about it, or (2) I hate it just that much. An example of #1 is The Lord of the Rings. Every time I have started that book, I've also been reading at least three others that grabbed my attention more, and I've never gotten very far in it. An example of #2 is The Scarlet Letter. Granted, I hated it in high school and haven't tried to read it again since. When I told my teacher how much I hated the book, he made me write a paper on why, and then gave me a C on the paper because he disagreed with my arguments. I learned my lesson: the next time I hated a book that much, I read enough so that I could fake it in class.

But now, most of the time, when I find a book I don't like, I do end up finishing it. My reasons for this are that (1) I've most likely spent money on it since I like to buy my books instead of borrow them, and I feel the need to get my money's worth, and (2) I figure at some point it should get good, right? I've been disappointed this way many times. I really hated Twilight, but I read it. I really only read it so that I could continue to mock it, because I always hate when people mock something they've never read. But I do wish for that day back, because that was one of the most poorly written popular books I've ever experienced. Luckily, this one was borrowed. Unluckily, I couldn't tear it apart when I was finished.

A few years ago I bought a book by a playwright called The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. The dust jacket (yes, I was foolish enough to buy a hardcover of a book by someone I'd never read before - I learned my lesson that time) sounded really interesting and right up my alley, and the first couple of pages were intriguing. I liked it at first but then it just got too "out there" for me to want to finish it. But finish it I did, and when it was finally over (768 pages later), it was a relief. The story was crazy and the writing wasn't even that great, but I tried to chalk it up to a first novel and the idea that maybe the transition from stage to paper was too difficult for this writer. Then I saw he had written a sequel, and the story sounded even more far-fetched that it made me wonder what his publishers were thinking. In the end, I gave it to a friend because she enjoyed reading bad books and writing reviews about them. I never did see that review, and I'm wondering if maybe it was just that bad.

Right now I'm struggling through another book that I'm just not liking. It's taking me weeks to read what should have taken me days. It's times like these that I want to give the book up so that I can read something else, but I can't justify giving it up when I'm already halfway through. Another reason I don't want to put it down is because it's something I'd been looking forward to reading for at least a year, by a writer I've been interested in reading for a couple of years. I feel like at some point it is going to get good, and I'll kick myself for missing it. But if it doesn't get good halfway through, when does it?

In the meantime, I have started another book and that one is going much faster. I'm still reading the one I don't like but it's much slower going than the one I do like. That's another thing that interests me about reading. A lot of people will slowly read a book, savoring every word and prolonging the moment when it's over. I tend to rush through books I love, greedily lapping them up and being satisfied (but still hungry) when I'm done. One writer I do this with is Katharine Kerr. I've been reading her books since 1999/2000, my junior year of high school when I found one of her books on the shelf of the bookstore at which I would later work. Turns out, it was the last book in a series and I ended up having to start at the beginning. Luckily my school library had them and I read through them very quickly. Now when she publishes something new, I tear through it like I'm going to die if I don't read it immediately. When I finish her books, I'm sad that they're over, but I'm happy that I read it and loved it.

When I finish a book I don't like, all I feel is relief that it's over. It usually takes too long, it's usually a frustrating process, and I hate doing it. So why do I do it? I put some reasons above, but sometimes I feel like I can't justify them. I'm actually considering turning this book into table decorations for my wedding this fall (if I'm done with it by then), using large paper punches to make flowers that I can strew all over the books I love, as if to say "This is what happens when I don't like a book."

How do you handle books you don't like?

Wilkie Collins, or How An Obsession Starts

How do you choose what you're going to read next? Is it something you're in the mood for? Is it something you've already read? Do you pick something you never thought you'd read? For me, it's like following a thread.

T.S. Eliot wrote a very profound and influential essay called "Tradition and the Individual Talent" in 1919. I first read it in undergraduate studies, and studied it again in-depth during grad school. I wrote several papers on the points put forward in the essay and I also thought about its effects on my own reading life. One idea put forward is that every new work of art draws on what came before, in the same vein of the saying "There is nothing new under the sun." After deep study of this essay, I realized I had been doing my whole life what he described as the normal progression of art: choosing based on what came before.

I have recently begun reading Wilkie Collins with fervor. His writing is amusing, interesting and engaging. I love his style and his story lines are almost impossible to figure out before the end (with the exception of the short book "My Lady's Money," which I figured out by the end of the first couple of chapters). And it seems like it would be normal, given my interest in 19th century British literature and his contemporaries, that I would gravitate towards his books, but the strange thing is that I had never even heard of him until a couple of years ago despite his fame.

In examining how I choose books to read, I like to go back to the previous books I've read and try to figure out how I got to the point at which I am currently. The book that led me to read Collins was Dan Simmons' novel "Drood," which was fantastically dark and gave me a horrible impression of a writer struggling with an opium addiction and his own narcissism. Simmons painted him as a self-centered and devious human being. Why would that make me want to read his books? Because the constant mentions to "The Moonstone," one of Collins' most famous works, intrigued me. I wanted to know what this book was and why it was so important to the story Simmons was writing, and from there I realized that, whatever Collins may have been personally, he was a damn fine writer.

Now, when it comes to Dan Simmons and how I came to read his books, that was pure chance. I found his book "Endymion" on a library shelf while looking for vacation reading, and didn't realize that it was the third book in a four-part series. But from Simmons so much reading has sprung. I read "The Canterbury Tales" (albeit for class but I would have made it there on my own eventually), and from there I bought, with every intention to read, "The Decameron" (it's on my list!). His "Hyperion Cantos" series also exposed me for the first time to John Keats, who has since become my favorite poet, and who also practices the tradition spoken of in Eliot's essay. When you come to the understanding that artists are influenced, whether consciously or unconsciously, by what came before, your reading possibilities are endless. If you want to know where their style and stories came from, check out their predecessors and influences, and even their contemporaries. You may be surprised at what you end up reading.

Store Closing, or Things That Make Me Sad

The bookstore I (used to) work at is closing in two weeks, which is making me very sad. We've gone through a lot together, my co-peeps and I, and I'm going to miss them a lot. Not that I already don't, but now it's sort of permanent. I've worked there off and on for the last six years, but I quit "for good" last year after the suicide of a co-worker I was close to. I was planning on coming back but I needed to tell myself it was permanent so that I could deal with things I was feeling on my own without having to worry about going back there every week.

But now that it's closing, I definitely won't be working there anymore. Which is too bad because I've been going to that bookstore for what seems like forever. My customer history goes back to 2000, but I was shopping there as a kid. My first memory of the store is when I went in with my mom and I went to the fantasy section and picked up a copy of a Xanth novel by Piers Anthony. This was a period of time where my mother wanted to make sure I wasn't reading anything dirty (or so I assume) because I wanted the book but she read the first few pages, realized there was an attempted rape scene, and wouldn't let me buy it. I bought it on my own several years later when this was no longer an issue. Which is kind of good, because I never would have gotten all the puns at that age (I think I was like 10). I still don't think I get all the puns in his book. That man is insane.

I remember the day in 2005 when I was on break from Fashion Bug and went down to the bookstore to get a soda and peek around at the books. There was a sign out front saying they needed an assistant manager, and I was desperate to get out of FB, so I went in and applied. Kim was the manager at the time, she'd been the manager as long as I remembered, and she interviewed me pretty soon after that. During my interview she pretty much said, "Well, you're pretty much hired, so when can you start?" Yeah, it was awesome. And it was so nice to get out of FB, although I still think about those girls a lot.

It was strange to be an assistant manager at 21, when most of the rest of the staff was older than me. I got along pretty well once I settled in, but I think once I found a better job and went down to just sales associate I fit in better with the other staff. I made some really great friends that I love to death. Most of us have been there for five or more years, so it's hard to be suddenly parted from all of that (even if I hadn't worked there in recent months).

Today I had a migraine and wasn't feeling all that hot otherwise. After I napped on the couch and lounged about watching Say Yes To The Dress episodes all day, I decided I needed to get out and visit the bookstore before it closes in 14 days. The store is half empty from the sale/return of the stock, and it made me very sad to see it like that. Half of the shelves have been taken down and much of the stock has been condensed. It is really a hard thing to go into a place that was once so full of customers and see two other customers in there besides yourself, and realize that nobody wants to buy books from us anymore, and those who do just can't keep us afloat. There's nothing happy about "moving on," about a business you have grown to love so much shutting its doors and forcing you to go to a big chain that doesn't know you from Adam. We know so many of our regulars by sight, if not by name, and can tell you what they're going to get if they come in for magazines, or what books to recommend to them when they run out of their own choices. You just don't get that at Borders or Barnes & Noble. And you certainly don't get that from Nothing can truly replace the presence of an independent bookstore, and nothing can fill the void that the closing leaves.

The district manager asked me if I wanted to help do book returns after they close in a couple of weeks, and I jumped at the chance to come in and work in the store one last time. She said that one of the guys is coming who knows how to do everything with the computer system, so I'm going to see if he can print my customer history. I really want a print-out or at least a copy of all the books I've bought there since I started my own account in 2000. It will be a sort of tribute to the bookstore I've lost and hope at finding another one (or opening my own, if the market starts to favor that).

In the meantime, if you're local, please go to Friar Tuck Bookshop in Delaware Plaza in Delmar and pay your respects to an icon that has been supporting this community for more than 20 years. I'll certainly miss it, will you?

Review: Glow by Aubrey Hadley

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