Read Like You’re Speed Dating by J.D. Horn
Author J.D. Horn on how to walk away from books without shame or anger.
When I was 20, I had, in exchange for doing odd jobs and running errands, the opportunity to spend the summer living near Lake Michigan, in one of the more modest houses of a highly affluent Chicago suburb. The home where I was staying belonged to one of my favorite people I’ve ever met, an octogenarian lady with a sharp wit and a dry vermouth sense of humor. One of her many claims to fame was that while at Brynn Mawr, she had been Katharine Hepburn’s roommate, at least until my host’s father yanked her out of school. Evidently her education ended up being cut short because her father didn’t appreciate the radical feminist ideas Katharine was putting in her head.
We discussed things, this lady and I. Love and politics. Travel and history. Books.
One day she asked me if I was reading anything “special.” Her tone and turn of phrase suited themselves more to prying into my love life than to an inquiry as to which dog-eared paperback I had on my nightstand. I was a Comparative World Literature major undergrad, and I felt the responsibility to spend the summer months catching up on classics not covered in my coursework. At the moment she posed the question, I was struggling, slogging my way through Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. My feelings toward the book were nothing so simple as dislike. I loathed it, but I felt ashamed to confess that to my well-read host, sure that my inability to appreciate a book deemed far and wide as a classic pointed to some deep and irreparable flaw in my character.
After she managed to drag the admission out of me, she shook her head and laughed. “Why are you reading a book you aren’t enjoying?” she asked. “Life is far too short for that type of nonsense.” Her deep blue eyes twinkled. “Put it aside. Move on.” After a lifetime of book reports and pop quizzes and term papers and being prepared should my name be called, someone was giving me permission to read the works that spoke to me, and set aside those that didn’t.
Now, I’m not proposing that we abandon exposing young readers to a wide and varied body of literary works, but I am saying that I think the way many of us were educated has left some of us with a compulsion to read a book—even one that holds no charm for us—through to its final period, as if we’ve been forced into some kind of shotgun marriage versus a relationship of choice.
As a writer, I can tell you that no author sets out to disappoint a reader, but no one writer’s style can hold universal appeal. I would invite you to think of pleasure reading as a kind of speed dating. You know what you’re looking for in a partner; you know what you’re looking for in a read. Maybe this is a shallow approach, and maybe that guy with the mismatched socks and bad comb over, who rhapsodizes over his butterfly collection and keeps texting with his mom, really is your true love. But chances are good he isn’t. So pick a limit, a number of pages, a number of chapters, whatever feels right to you, and if a book isn’t keeping up its end of the relationship, put it aside. Move on.
What books have you been ashamed to put down?
J.D. Horn was raised in rural Tennessee and has carried a bit of its red clay with him while traveling the world, from Hollywood to Paris to Tokyo. He studied comparative literature as an undergrad, focusing on French and Russian in particular. He also holds an MBA in international business and worked as a financial analyst before becoming a novelist. Along with his spouse, Rich, and his furry coauthors, Duke and Sugar, he divides his time between Black Butte Ranch, Oregon, and San Francisco, California.
Horn is the author of the Witching Savannah series and the latest book, Jilo, is out now.
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