On quitting

At one point in college I was simultaneously reading something on the order of twenty-three books. Then I stopped. Some of the books I finished, others, most of the others, I simply removed the bookmark from, closed, and put away. The problem was not that I couldn’t remember what was happening in the majority of those books, but that it dawned on me one day that I was often going weeks or months without picking up some or most of those books and so my gleeful romps though so many books was doing more to prevent me from finishing a book and getting the pleasure thereof than it was enabling me to read widely.

Since then, I have read at most two books at once and usually just one (class and research excepted, of course). Even when I do read two book at once, it is because I am reading one non-fiction book and one novel, and, as often as not, the non-fiction book is a new monograph on a topic related to my studies or peripherally to my dissertation and thus is me staying current–I have a stack, though I also dream of being able to read some other non-fiction books once I finish these. I justify the novels because they help keep me sane and because most of them help me become a better writer. Too, since I put this policy into place, I have given up on three novels: a thick review novel that bored me to tears, The Brothers Karamazov (during a particularly busy semester), and, most recently, Don Quixote, an unabridged version.

I am almost certainly going to give The Brothers Karamazov another shot when I have a brief respite, although perhaps with a better translation. Don Quixote I am not so sure about. The novel is funny, even beyond the relentless beating taken by the knight and his insistence on tilting windmills. For instance, there is a book-burning scene to rid the house of the novels that rotted his brain, and the hijinks of everyone around the wayward knight. But it is also allusive and repetitive, in a way that I found difficult to read quickly. There is a case to be made that I was simply busy, but I found the repetitive nature of the story and the antiquated language mind-numbing. So I skipped to the end and read the last few chapters, which seemed to lucidly tie the whole novel together. My main problem was that I didn’t know most of the Romances that Cervantes alluded to and without that, I felt that I got the bulk of his satire early on and thus that I was reading filler until the story came to a close some nine hundred pages later.

Nevertheless, putting down Don Quixote was an admission of defeat. What has made the decision easier to bear was to move on and read other, shorter books. Most importantly, reading these other books has reminded me why I read these novels, not to slog through something that just wears me down, but because there are fantastic books that help me escape from those things that stress me. Thus it was the right decision to quit.

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