Back in 2001 a Canadian Newspaper, the National Post, published an article on “the stress of being a reader.” I’d like to link to it here, but unfortunately haven’t been able to find a working link. At any rate, they introduced a term to describe the thing I have to confront every time I sign onto my goodreads page: my “reading mortality.”
|Ok, so if I start now and live a really healthy lifestyle, I could probably live to at least 100, right? That's plenty of time! Now, where's that book on "super foods"...?|
For those of you who don’t read Canadian newspapers (or listen to the awesome radio show “A Way With Words,” which, really, you should be doing) your “reading mortality” is the idea that you’ll never be able to read all the books you’d like to in a single lifetime. There are so many amazing books out there--more are being published every year--and there’s simply no way to read them all if you plan to do anything else with your time. You know, like, say, eating or sleeping.
|Better get a move on, kid|
Going back to my goodreads page for a moment, I recently calculated that if I stopped adding books to my to-read shelf today and then proceeded to read through those already on my list, it would take me between 6 and 7 years to finish if I read about a book a week. I’m sure I could read some faster than others, but I have a job, my own books to write, and four kids to keep alive throughout the week as well, so I’m trying to be conservative. Anyway, 6ish years may not be all the time I’ve got left, but I certainly don’t intend to stop adding books to my to-read shelf anytime soon, either. One of my favorite authors, Maria V. Snyder, just announced that she’ll be releasing three new installments of the series that made me fall in love with her writing in the first place. Do you think I’m going to just let those slip by so I can make a dent in my list? Heck no!
So, what do you do when there are so many books and so little time? You break up with the ones you don't like! If a relationship isn’t working, is almost painful to be in, and is definitely making you miss out on things you really might enjoy, you don’t stay in it, right? The same should be true for books! Now, I completely understand that icky feeling you get from not finishing something you start—and this seems to be particularly intense where books are concerned—but bear with me, because I honestly think your literary lives will be better.
As writers, we’re often told to start where the story starts. Backstory is super important for the writer to know and understand, but that doesn’t mean readers wants to spend time plodding through a hundred pages about the main characters formative years before they watch her rebel against societal limitations and kick some ass, right? A few flashbacks here and there will tell readers what they need to know about that time the MC overheard her parents talking about the evils of the Prime Directorate before they mysteriously vanished, or when she had a lesson on “obedience” in her indoctrination pod that just didn’t sit well with her. Anything more would be overkill, and, simply put, really boring to read. Similarly, the action may be top-notch, but the characters may just be plain unlikable, or unrelatable (at least to you), so why waste your time? If you’re not compatible with one book, move on to the next—there are plenty of fish in the sea, after all.
|I think I can get through the rest of this if I physically hold my brains inside my head...|
Walking away from a book without finishing it may be especially hard if you’re a writer as well as a reader. When you know the agony of pouring your heart and soul into your own work, it’s a little more difficult to give up on someone else’s. But honestly, if a reader were to pick up something I’ve written and finds it's not right for them, I’d much rather they put it down and forget about it then slog through it, hating every minute, and then resent me and my work for all the time and effort they had to put into reading it.
So, this is my challenge to you (and to myself): face your reading mortality, and give every book 100 pages. If, after 100 pages, the book just isn’t doing it for you, walk away. But (and this is the tricky part) walk away guilt free. Enjoyment is the key to productivity, and reading a book that makes you wish you were having a root canal instead, slows you down. The time you waste on a book you’re not enjoying is time you could have spent on a book you’ll love forever.