Perhaps I have asked this question before. How do you read? Some books I consume in gulps filling all the possible moments until it is done. And for me, those books have been serendipitous choices, odd linkages between something read recently and what is on the shelf in front of me at B&N. Other books, I sip, especially near the end when I recognize that my moments in that world are regretfully coming to a close. Reading Raymond Chandler was like that, once I finished his last book, there would be no more. For vanishingly few books, I read a chapter and discard it – no need to waste more time. Usually, for me, discarded books have issues of style. And then there is my current book, which I am sloughing through in a way that is disciplined and disappointing. Why am I continuing to read this book?
In distinction to my gulps or sips, I parcel out a set amount of the book, a chapter or section, to read every day – like an assignment. It was a joy to discover the last 50 pages were footnotes and references, now the goal post was that much closer. It is non-fiction, my usual choice and is a topic that I find interesting. But I have the gist already; the author will provide numerous additional examples and ‘proofs.' Am I holding out for some unique insight that has yet to be uncovered? The writing style will not improve; I have 250 pages of proof on that position. And to be fair, the writing style isn’t bad; it’s just that he spends so much time on detail, like a pointillist painting. I was hoping for a bit more broad strokes, a Van Gogh of sorts.
Sunk costs are payment I have already made, never to recover. The week that I have spent with this book is a sunk cost of my time. You would think that I would just put it down, discard it. At this point, 75 pages till the end I may be more motivated by reaching the finishing line then concerns about lost time, what is another hour or two? I am reluctant to apply the measure of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – does it bring me joy? Usually, I would take this moment to try and make a larger point about perseverance, a virtue better appreciated by the successful than the failed. I will not but instead end with this additional reading conundrum. Why do I keep books after I am done reading them? I rarely re-read them. And in some discriminatory way, it is easier to toss a paperback than a hardcover book. But even for paperbacks, I try to find them a new home, the library or a friend; the landfill is too harsh a fate. I have moved four times in the last few years yet I can measure my bookshelves in feet or yards. What is it about them that lifts them from clutter to remembrance?