I Can’t Get To The End of A Book

Of all the things I miss because of my all-consuming blogging hobby (having a clean house, spending time with my husband, etc.), it’s books I miss the most (sorry, Jeff).  Specifically, the endings of books, because I haven’t reached an ending in months.  Not since I finished Sara Connell’s Bringing in Finn, have I found those two sweet words on a page: The End.

Last year, with a newborn, I finished 30 books.  This year, I will be lucky to finish 15.  And with some of them, I am so close.  Here’s my current in-progress reading list:

My Un-read books

My Un-read books

I am only 50 pages away from finishing The Finkler Question, which I really love, but you know what slowed me down? Goodreads. I curse Goodreads for ruining this book when I was on pace to finish it before Obama gets re-elected.  But, I perused the reviews on Goodreads last week, and there were so many negative critiques of the book: “too ponderous,” “I just didn’t know enough about Judaism to ‘get’ it,” etc.  Ever since, I experience less pleasure when reading it, which confirms how sensitive I am to negative criticism.

The Pale King? I adore it and recognize it’s no small feat to work my way through David Foster Wallace’s prose and footnotes.  But, I can’t seem to push.  I don’t spend my late night glued to a book these days; I spend them writing or eating pudding (or both).

But, when I scour writing advice, it always says that good writers are voracious readers.  Does blog reading count?  I read at least a dozen blog posts per day, and many of them are better written than the books on my shelves.  (Am I talking about you? Yes, YOU, I am talking about your great writing.)  I read the newsletter from Sadie’s preschool, and I read my students’ papers, which have sparks of inspiration.  That’s writing, right?

I hadn’t thought deeply about my inability to finish a book until I read this post on The Variegated Life that looked a little more critically at this.  (Here’s another post that questions what we read, why, and how it changes over time, just like our writing.)   I don’t mean “critically” in the sense that I suck because I can’t finish Name All The Animals, but I like asking the question Why? or What does it mean?  Now, I even assume it might mean something wonderful is emerging from me, like my own writing.

Speaking of, let’s bring my novel-in-progress out of the closet.  I have about 34,008 words written.  It’s a glorious, chaotic mess that I am totally in love with.  I haven’t let a single person read a word, though I have discussed the “big picture” with my husband and some friends.  I haven’t done much re-reading of what I have written so far, because I am afraid it will scare me off.  “There will be plenty of time to edit later on,” is what I say when I want to peek over at Chapter 4.

Just yesterday, I started a chapter from the point of view of a character that I wasn’t planning to give that space to.  It was a thrill to imagine what he was thinking after meeting the protagonist.  I even thought about what was in his pocket (lint, because I write realism, people).

So the other books will have to wait, because my characters need space.  I need space.

There will be plenty of time for the endings.

Right?

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37 thoughts on “I Can’t Get To The End of A Book

  1. You are an ambitious girl, aren’t you? I have found that the key to reading well with a crazy life is that I quit any book I’m not feeling a third of the way through. I also don’t set my sights too high. DFW? Hahahahahahahahah!

    But this way I can go back and forth from fluff to more serious stuff back to some comforting fluff and still get some good stuff in. It can be done. Promise. But it does require a different approach.

  2. YES! I am struggling with all of this but I find your experience so inspiring. I can’t believe you have that many words done. You are on your way to a solid first draft. PUSH THROUGH woman. Get them out on paper and then work with it. I was reading one of Tropper’s early books (one I am certain I will never finish, not because it’s unworthy because I just can’t find it in me) and I was thinking this isn’t really so good. I just want to start so I can get better. You, my friend, are on the way!

  3. Yes, I believe there will be plenty of time for endings. I felt joy hearing about your “in progress novel.” Brought a huge smile to my face. Thank you. Keep on writing/reading . . . wherever and whatever brings you joy!

  4. But you have Three Junes on your pile! How can you not want to finish it right now? :) And honestly, anything by DFW earns you credit for, like, 10 books by almost anyone else, so there’s that…

    But I know what you mean about needing space for your own writing to breathe. In one of my writing books (maybe The Artist’s Way, which I never actually got through), the author advises not reading for awhile, clearing your head of other people’s words to give space for yours to grow. I can’t imagine giving up reading; then again I’m not much of a writer.

  5. The problem is that you don’t have any mind candy in that collection. One that makes you laugh out loud and requires little thought. I go through times where I read a couple of books a week, and then times I can’t slog through a book to save my life. I am never too busy to read if I am in the mood, but I also only read about 5 books of substance a year out of the 40 or so that I finish.

    If I could make one suggestion it would be “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.

    Blogs count. they better count.

  6. You’re amazing! And you eat pudding! I have no E/S/H to share on this topic cause the only way I finish books is if I’m too sick to do anything but read. I love that you and your characters are getting space to breathe – happy and inspiring.

  7. This sounds like me…a stack next to my bed of to be read. And a loaded Kindle with books partially started. But the good news for you…30,000+ words written for your own novel. When I’m writing for myself (not the time sucked up from blogging), I tend to read far less even though I’m interested in my book. It just doesn’t happen. I really want to finish “Gone Girl”

  8. I’m not doing any reading anymore, now that I’m seriously working on my novel. I need to devote all my mental and emotional energy to my characters, not to someone else’s. I love how much you have done already – amazing! Good luck :)

  9. Just the other day I commented on another blog: I’ve always liked writing, but I’ve never been much of a reader. And sometimes I feel guilty about this. Like I need to read more in order to earn the right to write. And than I chuckled about the phrase ‘right to write.’

    You think 15 books is bad? In a good year I’ll read maybe 5. Tops. That’s before the baby. And you know what? I think I should still be allowed to write! I, quite frankly, don’t care how much you read either. I’m reading your blog because you write well. Just trust me on this. You write well.

    • I have been thinking about the different comments people are making about this. Where did I get this rule that I have to read X amount of books to earn the right to write or to be “well read.” I got super goal-ish on this when I stopped working. It’s like I have to prove I am smart or spend my time with literary or learned things. Such bullshit. Enough already. Why can’t I just have pleasure and not turn every damn thing into a contest? If you know the answer to this, you can have my therapist’s check for the month.

      • If I had the answer to this I wouldn’t be writing a check to a therapist of my own (figuratively, insurance magically pays for my therapy) because I do the same exact thing. Being overly goal-ish and turning things into contests an such.

  10. I’m having the same problem with my reading. Luckily Kellie keeps dragging me on cruises. During the last one I managed to read three books, but nothing since then. I guess it’s time for another cruise.

  11. I have so many books to read, so many to finish. Last year I counted 56 I have purchased and not started but want to RIGHT NOW.
    I just wandered through the house and tallied 16 I’ve started but not finished. Some I just don’t care to finish. 50 pages from the end of 2666. Don’t care. 30 pages from the end of Gravity’s Rainbow. Meh.

    I started Pale King but can’t bear to keep going past page 60. I will. But I adored Infinite Jest as much as any other book I’ve ever read, and I’m just devastated he’s dead. Still. Reading that book will make it final. And I just can’t do it. The first fifty pages were wonderful and I want more but I can’t. I was thrilled to see you liked it, though. Maybe since he didn’t finish it, and felt it was lacking in a lot of ways, you can stop where you are, know that you got the gist, and let it go.

    See how I just cleared one book off your to do list?

    Aloso…30 books with a newborn? Woman?! I don’t think I finished one. (thinking…) Nope. I read all but 50 pages of 2666 that year. That’s it.

  12. Reading is one of the little pleasures I refuse to reduce no matter what else is going on. Don’t be hard on yourself. I’m voracious, and sometimes I plow through a couple of books a week, but sometimes a book takes more than a couple of weeks. I think what you get from reading is more important than the pacing of pages read. Would love to hear your thoughts once you finish Finkler. I didn’t get the hype, although the writing was quite good. Perhaps I plowed through too fast…

  13. I haven’t seen any theories anywhere about writers needing to actually finish the books they’re reading, just that they read. Right now, I cannot put down The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which an awesome friend let me take on my vacation before she even got to read the first three quarters of it herself.

  14. Now, I even assume it might mean something wonderful is emerging from me, like my own writing.

    I like that you go there, instead of thinking along the lines of I suck, which is my tendency.

    As for me, since I wrote that post (ten days ago?), it’s become clear that I’m not finishing things because I’m reading (or, trying to read) the wrong things.

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