Monday, March 05, 2007

Kicking and Screaming

So, I've been discussing last week's post with several people, and I was reminded of the secondary reason that we do get around to reading the books that we love. Namely? We do not get around to quitting the books that we don't.

Personally, I always feel like a little bit of a cad setting a book down half-finished. I always pick them up with so much bright-eyed enthusiasm, so much of a fetishist's touch. And then, after feeling my way through a couple of hundred pages I yawn, grow disinterested, find my affections waning. What about that new Murakami novel that just came out? I might think. Maybe I'll just stop by the bookstore...

And then I suddenly sense that I'm being somehow evil. It isn't, interestingly, the author that I feel any allegiance to, it's the book itself (often a specific copy of the book). I know that setting it down to read something else decisively slims the odds that I will ever pick it back up again. And - much like those childhood episodes in which every single stuffed animal in my room slept on my bed lest one of them feel slighted - I feel that I am doing some injustice to the story itself. So I rally, pick it back up, and power through.

Now, most avid readers have been advised at some point in their lives to avoid falling into that kind of trap. If you don't like it, people say, put it down and leave it there. You don't have to finish every book. Otherwise they will turn into evil entities, and come to consume you.

Both frames of mind are ultimately compelling to me, not because I am a rational human being, but rather specifically due to my feeling that the stories themselves are entities, individuals, somehow alive. There are times that you don't want to be around your dearest friends because their personalities somehow clash with your mood or your schedule - sometimes this can go on for weeks.

And sometimes, it's the best feeling in the world to commune with your most fiendish enemy. The point is, just like with people, you won't always be in the right frame of mind for a book. The volatile moodiness of a human being can color and texture whatever they're reading, thinking, doing. But the colors aren't indelible. They'll shift like your mind, they'll shift like the sea.

And so, while I'm glad I finally buckled down and finished Anna Karenina (containing by far the most irritating and least endearing heroine ever to be illuminated by the centuries - I'm a Dostoevski girl, if you couldn't tell), I'm not to sad that Swann's Way (note, James!) fell by the wayside for a little while. I love Proust, and I'll pick him back up again. You know, when I feel like it.

***Also, check out the new Venus Zine for a small essay by me, alongside another by the inestimable Ms. Mairead.