I love books and I love to read them. There’s very little—aside from sitting at an outdoors café drinking coffee, spending an afternoon talking with a friend, or spending the day swimming at the beach—that gives me as much pleasure as sitting on my couch or a quiet place in the park to read a book. It’s one of the finest pleasures in life, I think. On any given weekend you can find me walking up and down the aisles of a bookstore looking for new titles, searching the online bookstores databases for hard to find books, or walking around the city visiting my favorite independent book shops for nothing in particular. Most of my paycheck (aside from rent and bills) goes into buying books; fiction, history, metaphysics, acupuncture manuals, travel logs, or any title that catches my interest. If I see something I like, I’ll get it then and there, or I’ll run home to purchase it for my Kindle.
The problem with having this kind of passion is how expensive it can get. Books are not getting any cheaper and year after year publishers of hardback and paperbacks ask more and more money for their titles. Even the discounts found on online book stores don’t add up to much when you add the shipping and handling charges. EPubs can also get pricey if you’re like me: you binge purchase your books on impulse and don’t read them until many months later. A trip to the bookstore or clicking on the shopping cart button can set me back a couple of hundred dollars a visit.
I would not miss all the spent money if I read the books though. The problem with my compulsive shopping is that most of the books I buy sit by my bedside or in my reader unread for months at a time. Did I mention I am a book hoarder? For one reason or another, once the book gets home it doesn’t seem as interesting to me as it did when I found it at the store. I may read a chapter or two, sometimes get a third of the way through the volume, and then I’ll grow bored, tired, or fed up with it.
Sometimes it’s not the story that bothers me but the telling of it. Half of the time I wonder what the author is trying to do and why his or her story is more about them than the characters they are writing about. Deceptive narrators are becoming the main trend of modern stories, tricking the reader with lies and half-truths, often wearing fantastical plots that defy common disbelief. More often the not, writers are trying to show off instead of allowing their the main characters and supporting cast to fashion a tale that marvels and entertains instead of baffle and bore.
That’s partly the reason why my attention shifts from one title to another. I’ll try reading more than one book at time, skipping from my iPhone to Kindle, because e-readers are so much easier to carry around. This works for a few days until I settle on the more interesting of the two books. I’ll read as much as I can but soon after I find myself picking up and reading a new book unrelated to the one I was reading.Presently, I have about eight books I’m reading, none of which I am anywhere near finishing. From Mark Twain’s account of his travels abroad, to one gay man’s sexual odyssey through the bars and backrooms of London; from Dickens’s misadventures of the members of the Pickwick club, to a Cold War potboiler between dueling spies; my mind is trying to keep the different stories and plot lines straight and separate from each other almost to no avail. Half of the time I end up starting the books over again because I’m expecting one character from one book to appear in a time and place that does not belong to him, or forget who slept with the narrator several backrooms ago. It’s a very messy reading process.
I’ve suffered from this malady or compulsion for years. I think the habit began in college when my teachers assigned me books to read I didn’t care for. Instead, I picked up saucy novels to keep me entertained in between classes or biology lectures. For weeks, I switched from assigned readings about genetics and rock formations to my own list of potboilers and bestsellers that held no literary value. At the time, I only wanted to read in order to escape and take time off from homework. The more I read the more varied my reading list became and soon after I graduated from graduate school my book list ranged the gamut from classics to pulp fiction. Once I started dabbling with computers, I began adding manuals and how to books to my reading list while the pile of books by my bed grew without check. I can’t help it. It’s my shameful little habit.
This morning I put aside yet another book I started reading a few weeks ago and traded it for Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. I’ve started the damned book about eight times now and I keep getting stuck in the same chapter. I don’t know what it is about the telling of his journey across Europe and the Holy Land but every time we reach Paris I lose interest. Perhaps it’s the city or the fact that a lot hasn’t changed in France since the publication of the book. The French are still as rude as they were back in 1869 and I simply don’t care for a city that would be far more interesting if it was empty and not populated with such pedantic folk.
Still, because it’s a paperback and because it doesn’t weigh my cargo shorts pockets as much as my iPad, I decided to give it another chance. This afternoon, I got past the Paris chapters and moved on to Italy. I actually found myself chuckling out loud at some of the passages Twain wrote describing Notre Dame, Versailles, and French tour guides. Once he stepped on the train and began his journey to Genoa and Milan, the travel log became interesting again and I didn’t mind following him as he commented and offered his frank opinions about places, people, and curiosities he found along the way. Maybe this will be the book that ends or at least respites my malady and breaks me out of this habit or not finishing the books I start reading, but with my track record, I wouldn’t count on it.