Monday, January 3, 2022

So many books, so little time

 Q: When reading a book (or watching a movie or TV series), how long do you give it to grab you before giving up? Is your tolerance level different in the different mediums? Has it changed from where it was ten or even twenty years ago? How much of this tendency has to do with your reader/viewer self and how much is due to the writer self?  Do you wish you were different in this regard, and if so, how? 

- from Susan

 Less and less time, no matter what medium. 

I started stockpiling books in my 40s against the imagined day when I would be completely housebound from old age. I have a fairly impressive, multi-room library and have only read about two thirds of the books in all genres, fiction and non-fiction. A number of already-read books are so admired that I intend to read them again in my dotage (wishful thinking?). I browse for fresh reads, greedily fingering the spines as if they were varieties of Sees chocolates. Periodically, my habit forces me to cull some books to make room for tastier volumes. Today, it’s restocking some Joan Didion essays that I read and passed along ages ago. Watching the documentary about her and reading some trenchant reviews of her work, I think I plan to revisit it. 

 All of this – I refuse to see it as hoarding – means I have zero tolerance for books that don’t engage me pretty quickly. If they’re fiction, I now quit at about 50 pages if it’s been heavy slogging or eyebrows raised in disbelief at the characters or plots. I don’t mind slow as long as the author has me in her capable hands for the journey. If it’s non-fiction and I realize the dive into science or history is too deep for me to follow after about four chapters, I acknowledge to myself that I’m not going to get a passing grade in that topic. 

It’s more dramatic with movies and TV/streaming material. Most of that, if it even engages my interest by looking at the trailer or seeing the snippets that the streaming services push at me, is dead to me within ten minutes. Ninety-nine percent of rom-coms, so-called comedies, “family” fare…just no. Bad writing, bad acting, trite plots, mediocre directing. I do not have enough time left on this planet to waste on tripe. I graze, then give up, grumbling about why I spend money on streaming services anyway when I could be reading. The why is that every so often something surfaces that I love.My fallbacks for visual storytelling are the small, highly curated DVDs and streaming purchases that I enjoy so much that I screen them at least once a year. The newest among them, to give you an idea how picky I am, is “Moonlight.”

Was I always like this? Probably not. Until a few years ago, I seemed to have more patience with run of the mill fiction, especially in the genre I also write in. But the more I write, the more I read crime fiction – everything from soft to seriously hardcore – the more I understand about what makes a good book shine. I want to leave room for those and respectfully set aside the rest, honoring the work that went into them and the author’s pride, but saving space in my personal library for the works that I fantasize will sustain me, enlighten me, challenge me, make me laugh or cry to the end. 

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