Friday, June 24, 2016

So Many Books, So Little Time

Once you start a book, do you feel compelled to finish it? If not, what causes you to put it down?

by Paul D. Marks

No!

And ditto for movies.

I used to feel not only compelled but obligated to finish any book I started. (Okay, a little compulsive I know.) But as I’ve gotten older that just doesn’t work anymore. Life is too short. There’s too many books and too little time, as has been noted here all week. I won’t even say there’re too many good books, because I won’t claim that every book I finish—and even like—is a “good” book. It might just be something I enjoy. A guilty pleasure.

I read a variety of things, non-fiction and fiction and various genres within that. These days I don’t often read a non-fiction book cover to cover like I used to. I bounce around, sometimes looking at the table of contents or the index for subjects I might find particularly interesting. And sometimes I just open to a page and start reading.

Fiction is, of course, different. You really have to read it from head to tail if you want to get the full flavor and depth of it. I’ll usually give a book about 80-100 pages. But I have to admit that I might read beyond that even if I’m not enjoying the book because hope springs eternal. And I guess I still have that expectation that it will get better. Unfortunately on some books I’ll read all 400 pages until hope turns to despair.

For movies, I’ll give them about a half hour. That should take me to the end of Act I, give or take. If it doesn’t grab me by then: bye-bye.

However, when I’ve been a judge for various competitions I have felt obligated to read every story from stem to stern. And I’ve pretty much succeeded at that, though it can be extremely time-consuming. But I have to admit there was one story that I just couldn’t finish. Because it wasn’t a “story” but more of a political diatribe disguised as a story and the characters were just mouthpieces for the author. But one clunker out of the tons I’ve read for various contests isn’t a bad batting average I’d say.

There is one very well-known book that I have been unable to finish. Three times. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I really want to read this book and I really want to like it. But I can’t seem to get past page 100. But maybe the fourth time (if there is one) will be the charm. Or maybe I should just read Gravity’s Rambo instead (and no, I didn’t make that cover).



And like Catriona mentioned yesterday, sometimes I’ve started a book and for one reason or another just couldn’t get into it. Picked it up later and wow, what have I been missing.

A book doesn’t have to be a fast-paced, rip-roaring page turner either. One of my favorite books is The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, about a soldier who is stationed at a remote outpost and spends his life hoping and waiting for the glory of battle. Though that’s really just what it’s about on the surface. Now, I admit this book is a slow read, so you’d think I would have stopped at some point. But I just loved it and it’s well worth the slowness in my opinion.


On another note, I don’t always finish novels or stories I start to write, but I guess that’s for another time.

***
Here are some pictures from my book signing last week with Pam Ripling at The Open Book in Valencia:


And my radio interview at KHTS AM 1220. Click here for the podcast.


16 comments:

Stephen Buehler said...

Paul,
I find now that I'll start a book and put it down - not because it's bad but because I find I'm not in the mood for that kind of story right now. After a dark thriller I like to change it up with something lighter. But if the new read is moving too slow for the mood I'm in, I'll put it down but with the intention to pick it up later.
I still have to fight the feeling of obligation of finishing once I start.
- Stephen

GBPool said...

It must be age or maybe even wisdom that allows us to put down a book that is really lousy. I read mainly mysteries, but they do come in all sizes and shapes. I like the variety... sometimes. Obviously we have gotten wiser, because I, too, have put down a book or even thrown one across the room. They do make nice donations to the Good Will. I have even bought good books there myself.

Bruce said...

When I pick up a print book, I usually read page 57. I'm taking it for granted that the author has polished and polished the book's opening and first few chapters in order to sell the book. By page 57, s/he better have something going. If that page works, I finish it more times than not. (I always feel a little nervous clicking "I'm not a robot on these comments." If I were a robot, would I be conscious of it?)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Stephen. And I know what you mean. I like to switch it up too, changing genres, etc. And, as you say, you have to be in the right mood for the book at that moment. But there’s still that feeling of obligation to finish…

Paul D. Marks said...

I love it, Gayle – throwing the book across the room. That must have truly been a stinker. I don’t think I’ve ever done that, but maybe have felt like it sometimes :) .

Paul D. Marks said...

That sounds like a good plan, Bruce. I haven’t thought of or tried that. Page 57. I’ll give it a shot, ‘cause you’re right, the opening has probably been polished more than the rest of the book. As to knowing if you’d be conscious of being a robot, I think you have to check in with Philip K. Dick on that one.

Jill Amadio said...

I'm with Paul. I spend too much time reading but what better occupation is there? I devour mysteries and biographies, plus a few unusual novels such as Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon's brilliant story about a mysterious writer. I like exposes like Aussie Derek Maitland's The Fatal Line about Channel Nine's scandalous suppression of news hen he was a reporter there. I often re-read the newer classics, Capote, Greene, etc. My method with mysteries, though, is to read the first and last chapters and if I am satisfied, I will read the entire book. I know it's cheating to read the ending but fun to see if the middle bits really lead to the killer. I buy eBooks by the dozen for reading in bed and ease of removal from my kindle if I can't stand a book. Yes, I've wasted some bucks but it means a sale for the author.

Paul D. Marks said...

I like your attitude, Jill, about sales for the author :) . But I think if I read the ending I wouldn't be motivated to go back and read the rest. It's interesting to see what works for different people. And, as you say, what better occupation is there?

Jacqueline Vick said...

Ahhhh, the political diatribe. I tried to read two mystery novels like that. I even agreed with bits of what one character was spouting, but nobody likes to be lectured. I gave up after 30 pages.

M.M. Gornell said...

Timely post for me, Paul. Looking at several physical stacks and my Kindle electronic stack and constantly faced with which one next--or should I go back to one or the other and give them another try.(within my modest means, I LOVE buying authors books) consequently my stacks grow faster than I can read. And unfortunately, if the opening doesn't grab me, that's it these days. Gosh, are good openings so important! Good post.

Paul D. Marks said...

I agree with you, Jacki. Even if I agree with the diatribe that’s not what I’m reading for. An author can get subtle “messages” in, but that’s just it, they should be subtle imho. I don’t blame you for not wanting to be lectured and giving up after 30 pages.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Madeline. And the TBR stacks can be intimidating. Like you, I also like buying books, both from people I know and people I don’t. So with the little time available they do have to grab us quickly.

Stephen said...

I bet only a small percentage of those who hvae bought GRAVITY's RAINBOW have finished it.

I found the movie adaptation of Buzzti's most famous book, the 1976 "The Desert of the Tartars" haunting, and Coetzean (before Coetze, none of whose books I have started and failed to finish...).

Paul D. Marks said...

I think you're probably right, Stephen, about a small percentage of people finishing Gravity's Rainbow. Makes me feel better :) .

I like both the movie and the book (Buzzati), but I think the book gets into so many more layers than the movie could.

Deborah Starling said...

I usually give myself small TBR lists so I don't get too overwhelmed and this summer has been dedicated to mysteries and thrillers so I was really happy to come across this site. Thanks for the recommendations! My most favorite summer read so far has been "Naked Ambition” by author Rick Pullen(http://rickpullen.com/). The novel follows a reporter trying to make a name for himself. He “outs: a corrupt politician and gets involved in a scandal that is over his head. The author did a wonderful job of humanizing the characters and really getting to the root of their motivations…and seeing the fallout of some of the decisions made throughout the book really had me on the edge of my seat. The book has it all; corruption, murder and tons of plot twists and turns. I hope you will check it out! Would love to hear your opinion

Rand Careaga said...

I threw Pynchon's first novel, V., across a room in frustration after a little over a hundred pages when I first attempted it around 1973. I returned to the book (in a different room) five years later, after I'd read and enjoyed Gravity's Rainbow, and finished it in two long sittings. And I also count myself a fan of The Tartar Steppes, although I think it spoke to me in my sixties more eloquently than it might have forty years earlier.