Quitting a Book by Karen Costa
Her name was Farrah Paulson (name changed to protect the identity of the guilty) and she skipped to the end of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. We were in the fifth grade at Central Park Elementary School and our teacher, a bibliophile herself, included copious amounts of reading in the curriculum. I tore through Kit Tyler’s story like fire through dry grass. Farrah, on the other hand, proudly announced that she had been bored by it, and had decided to skip to the end in order to write her book report.
“How could you?” I asked. It was as if Kit herself was standing next to me, as if Farrah had planted a disrespectful slap across both of our faces. I was an introverted and too-tall ten-year old girl living in white-bread suburbia: reading was everything to me.
Farrah rolled her eyes and laughed. “Who cares?”
I did. My older brother was a huge Guns ‘N Roses fan at the time. I told Farrah she had no patience, and took to whistling the tune of the similarly-named G ‘N R song whenever she crossed my path, my own personal punishment for her unforgiveable sin.
Before the Farrah incident, I’d never read a book I didn’t love. I was the child sneaking a book and a flashlight under the covers after bedtime. And in the decades that followed, Farrah’s folly helped me recommit to my personal philosophy: finish every book. Didn’t I owe it to the characters inside the book’s cover?
Then, four and a half years ago, that thing happened that changes everything: I had a baby. My life as I knew it exploded and was rebuilt upon a new foundation that consisted of things like sleep schedules, food allergies, and balancing love and affection with structure and discipline. I vaguely remember the days when I would morosely declare myself “bored” after having spent the day in bed watching a Law & Order SVU marathon. Boredom is the most extravagant indulgence isn’t it?
After years spent as one of the world’s most dedicated and patient readers, the straw of parenthood finally broke this reader’s back. When I came out of the stupor that results from surviving a newborn baby, I picked up a book to find that my attention span had decreased to the level of a gnat. If the first sentence didn’t thrill me, it took every ounce of energy I had to read on. If the first paragraph included anything less than 90% pure plot, I would fall asleep, book in hand, lights still on.
With each year that passes my son becomes more independent and is prone to more regular sleep habits, and with these changes my attention span has grown back, though I’m not sure it will ever return to the singular and intense focus I was able to maintain before becoming a mother. Still though, if I’m trudging through a first chapter, I find myself looking around the room at my many piles of to-read books. Isn’t my time too precious, too limited, to waste on reading a book I don’t love?
Yes and no. Because if I’m willing to give up on every book that doesn’t bolt out of the starting gates like Secretariat himself, then I must also accept the fact that I might miss out on a book like The Witch of Blackboard Pond, a book that became a part of the fabric of who I am today.
A couple of years ago I began to read Dodie Smith’s, I Capture the Castle. It was slow to start, not quite what I had expected, and the to-read pile of books began to call my name. Fifty pages, I said. I would give it 50 pages to woo me and if it didn’t pop the question after that, there were plenty of other fish in the sea. After 50 pages the most wonderful thing happened: I found a book that I adored.
For all of the readers who are busy living in the real world, as well as the ones we imagine in books, it’s okay to put down that book in order to move on to greener pastures. Your time is valuable and not every book is meant for every reader. Just make sure you are absolutely positive that you aren’t missing out on something wonderful.
Karen Costa is a writer living in Massachusetts. She is also a proud adjunct community college professor. Her novel-in-progress, The Reunion Date, is a romantic comedy. She loves her family and reading and dislikes lakes and ill-fitting pants. Check out her blog dedicated to short stories at http://shortygetdown.blogspot.com or connect with her on twitter: @KCoWrites.
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