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June 25, 2008

When Not to Keep Reading

Posted by carol
Contributor Esther Bushell offers some food for thought in this post about whether or not you should keep reading a book if it just isn't grabbing you, along with some of the titles on her summer reading list.

Reading is contingent on weather, biorhythms, setting, and any other variable that can interpose itself in our lives. For that reason, I can start a book, not get into it, and then put it down. Very often, when I do pick it up again, I have no problems and I go right through it. Many people talk about reading issues with me, and I think where we are, emotionally and physically, can determine what we read. Sometimes we just have to fall back on pick up/put down kinds of reading: periodicals, short stories, and the like. Other times, we can get into a tome and not even put it down.

Years ago, I read an end-piece essay in the New York Times Sunday book section called "DIVORCE THAT BOOK," and it's been my reading mantra ever since! If the first 50 pages of a book don't grab me, I put it down with a bookmark in it; that's my signal to pick it up again and try it another time. Now my friends and I can talk about the books we've divorced; life is too short to stay with a book that's not satisfying.

Another issue that applies to me --- and that I hear about often, is beginning a book that can't meet the standards of the book you've just finished. That was a definite pattern of mine until I recognized the problem --- and then came up with a solution. When I finished The Human Stain, I couldn't get into anything else; everything seemed silly and superficial after Philip Roth's masterpiece. The solution: read some periodicals or short stories --- even catalogues --- and let the masterpiece be absorbed so that it really sinks in. Once it's settled in and is a part of you, you can take on another really great book. Try it --- it works!

My husband and I were away for most of May and the worst happened --- I ran out of my books! By the time I got home at the end of the month, I was so hungry for literary fiction that I've been on a real reading tear. The following are the books I've read thus far this month:

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir by Elizabeth McCracken (coming in September)
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

Now I'm going to the galley of A Mercy, Toni Morrison's new novel scheduled for a November publication, and then to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I'll keep you posted. Happy summer --- and satisfying reading!!

---Esther Bushell